With extra Freeview capacity up for grabs this year as the UK completes digital switchover*, but in light of the potential departure of linear pay TV services to IPTV and the ongoing demise of Top Up TV, a516_digital asks who's next for Freeview?
Scripps Networks International today announced a deal that it was to buy Travel Channel International Ltd (TCI) for £65 million. Scripps operates the US version of the Travel Channel, and though its pending acquisition of TCI, will be directly operating versions of the Travel Channel across Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia. Scripps intends to integrate the international versions of the Travel Channel with its own and to establish the network globally.
Scripps has aggressively pursued an expansion course for one of its other channels, Food Network, which launched in the UK in 2009 on satellite, and has subsequently got a four hour slot on Freeview channel 49. Reuters reports that today's Travel Channel deal will expand its footprint in Europe and Africa, meaning that Travel Channel now becomes one of the channels to watch for entry onto Freeview - at least for a few hours a day.
Discovery is reportedly mulling the launch of its TLC network in the UK as a free to air channel. As a female skewed channel, it would complement its existing male skewed channel Quest on Freeview, in the same way that UKTV's freeview offering Dave and Really complement each other, with one male oriented service and one for female viewers. TLC's offering is sufficiently unique to Discovery's premium service on Sky and Virgin Media to allow it to run alongside the pay TV channels without diverting viewers from Discovery's pay TV channels.
Yes, it's already on Freeview. But only for five hours a day. Recent events across the Middle East have brought the channel high audiences, and must surely have considered a 24 hour slot on Freeview. In addition, Al Jazeera, which operates sports channels across the Middle East, is rumoured to be interested in bidding against Sky for premiership football rights. A Freeview slot, that could be later partially converted into a pay per view or pay TV slot during football games, would be the easiest way to reach around 90% of UK households, who are in the coverage area of the commercial digital terrestrial multiplexes. The service could be complemented by an IPTV offering.
Last year, Kids Co CEO said that prices for distribution on Freeview were too high to justify a UK launch of the children's channel, which has expanded around the world. Ironically, Kids Co is based in the UK but doesn't have a presence here. However, with IPTV taking over niche content and the resulting likelihood of there being more slots on supply than there is demand, Kids Co might get a carriage price quote they can live with. With KidsCo likely to be frequently viewed on second TVs or bedroom TVs (and thus not always the main connected TV in the living room), distribution via Freeview must be more ideal than IPTV.
4Sevenand finally, the one that has been confirmed: Channel 4 will be the first to launch a shuffle channel, offering content from its main C4 channel over a seven day period. The schedule will be based on what's making a buzz on social media. How many hours a day the channel will air for is still unknown.
And who is not coming to Freeview?Any hopes from the Freeview viewing community that they might see UKTV's Gold or Watch appear on Freeview have been dashed by today's news that all of UKTV's pay TV linear channels will be distributed on BT Vision. If UKTV was thinking about launching any more services on Freeview, there wouldn't have been a need to sign a deal with BT Vision involving distribution via multicast IPTV, as BT Vision boxes have Freeview inbuilt. It also seems that the existing skeleton Gold and Home service via Top Up TV will come to an end soon.
* Additional Freeview capacity is available on the commercial multiplexes operated by Arqiva. This is capacity currently not in use for other Freeview services, and the inclusion of these extra services would not necessarily result in bitrates for existing services being reduced. A slot on the SDN multiplex operated by ITV plc is likely to become available following a technical change relating to Forward Error Correction. A 12th slot is already in use in Wales, but is unused in other parts of the UK. All additional capacity will not be UK wide until Northern Ireland completes switchover on 24th October 2012.