Monday's announcement of a Freeview EPG reshuffle by platform manager DMOL has provided an insight into the leanings of various broadcasters about the way the channels are listed on Freeview and provided additional information as to what we can expect on Freeview in the next few years.
Channel 5: Create a shopping genre
Channel 5 was among the most vocal in support of creating a separate genre for shopping channels on Freeview. It provided evidence showing that the number of people viewing its 5* channel had dropped significantly after it replaced morning programming with teleshopping. The figures from TV ratings organisation BARB showed a fall in share from 0.34% to 0.03% as a result of the change to teleshopping. Channel 5 therefore argues that there is a case to promote channels with a higher audience share, and move teleshopping channels into their own genre, behind the main channels.
Any such move would favour Channel 5's digital offshoot channels 5*, 5USA and Channel 5+1. There are currently three shopping channels ahead of 5* in the Freeview EPG, and removal of such channels would promote Channel 5's services further up the list.
Channel 5 was very vocal about the HD section, from channel 101. It noted that precedence had been given to BBC Two HD, allocating it to channel 102, even though it hasn't yet launched. Therefore it felt that DMOL should offer Channel 5 HD channel 105 when it launches on Freeview HD. DMOL has subsequently allocated 105 to Clirlun, the HD channel from Welsh broadcaster S4C. However Clirlun is to close by the end of the year.
When will Channel 5 be available on Freeview HD?
On its HD channel, Channel 5 stated: "There have been sound regulatory and commercial reasons why Channel 5 HD has not yet launched on Freeview, but we have every expectation that we will do so within the next two to three years."
It is believed that Channel 5 HD has a contract with Sky that would not permit the channel going free-to-air, so that until this contract ends, neither Freeview or Freesat will see Channel 5 in HD, and this may explain the two to three years mentioned in the above quoted response from DMOL. Channel 5 have not confirmed or denied this, and we shall have to wait and see.
Freeview's management responds
The management of Freeview responded to the DMOL consultation, although not necessarily reflecting the opinions of its shareholders. Freeview, as company designed to market the free-to-air offering on digital terrestrial platform, does not have control over the allocation of channel numbers.
It also feels that a shopping genre should be considered in the long term, as it would bring Freeview in line with other competing platforms that have a teleshopping genre. Freeview also wondered if all the changes were really necessary and if there wouldn't be enough space in the general entertainment genre by extending it to channel 69, thus leaving the children's and news channels where they are.
Sky: Party pooper?
Sky's response indicated that they weren't in favour of the changes, questioning if the changes were necessary. It indicated that if genres overflow (as they have done in general entertainment and did until April in the adult section) that new channels should just be given the next available channel number.
Sky stated that it is not satisfied it is "fair and reasonable (in the circumstances) that existing channels be moved down the EPG as a consequence. In fact, Sky believes strongly that the proposed changes would cause serious harm to the affected advertising funded channels, with no immediate or tangible benefits for consumers which could in the medium term reduce the number and variety of independent channels on the platform."
Sky's opinion is not surprising, given its position in controlling the UK's largest pay TV platform and major competitor to the digital terrestrial television service Freeview. Its comments may raise the eyebrows of some channel operators who have had their number on the Sky EPG changed in the past. Sky evidently feels that terrestrial viewers do not "believe in better" when it comes to clear channel ordering when genres overflow.
BT: Integrate IP channels with terrestrially delivered channels
Finally BT, as major partner in YouView, championed the integration of IP channels (such as those to be delivered through YouView and BT Vision) with the regular channels. It did not support the creation of a segregated section from channel 400 where YouView providers could insert their own channels.
DMOL's proposals for the news channel genre is for it to move from channel 80 to channel 131 onward. Interestingly, the proposed line up in the news genre "is subject to agreement from the channels which are being moved, who are asked to contact [DMOL] to confirm their agreement." According to the proposed channel list published by DMOL, Al Jazeera would leapfrog Russia Today and Community Channel, which could be quite controversial, as leapfrogging other channels may not be seen as very fair for those services that weren't allowed to move up the list.