The Freeview Years: 2005
Highlights from 2005
This was the year that Freeview got its first batch of extra capacity, thanks to technological advances in encoding and transmitting the signal. Multiplexes C and D suddenly were able to accommodate one extra TV channel each, meaning that there could now be 5 TV channels on those multiplexes. By the end of the year yet another slot become available, giving multiplex D six channels.
Demand was high for these new channel slots - Ofcom figures confirmed Freeview as the digital platform with the biggest uptake of new viewers. By now, Freeview receivers under £50 were widely available. As the slots were auctioned off, major UK and US broadcasters battled it out to gain access to another slot.
In the end the deep pockets of ITV plc and Channel 4 ensured they got the slots. Prices of up to £12 million per slot were reported at the time. Both broadcasters were eager to neuter the chance that a competitor might launch a major channel on Freeview, which in turn could take viewers away from ITV and Channel 4. ITV launched Men&Motors on Freeview via Multiplex D and Channel 4 brought us E4+1 via its slot on Multiplex C. A further slot later went to Channel 4 and was initially used by More 4+1.
E4 originally transmitted on digital terrestrial television as a pay TV channel, first on ITV Digital and then on Top Up TV - but only between 4pm and 4am. On the 27th May 2005, coinciding with the launch of yet another series of Big Brother, E4 went free-to-air on Freeview 24 hours a day along with E4+1.
E4 launched on Freeview channel 14. E4+1 started off on channel 39. E4 remained encrypted on satellite until 2008, due to a deal with Sky.
Men & Motors occupied channel 38, having launched on the 2nd May 2005. When ITV announced plans that year to launch a male orientated ITV channel, many at the time thought that Men & Motors would morph into ITV4. In the end, that didn't happen. A year after ITV3 was launched, ITV4 made its debut on 1st November, broadcasting between 1800 and 0600 on Freeview channel 30 and time-sharing a slot for the first two months with ITV News Channel.
ITV News Channel faced an awkward year. In 2005, not all of the country was in a position to watch ITV News Channel on Freeview channel 41, later channel 81. To make room for ITV3, the News Channel had to move to ITV's fourth slot on its half of multiplex 2. Except that in most regions, the infrastructure for transmitting a fourth stream on ITV's half of multiplex 2 was not present. What ensued was a region by region rollout of ITV News Channel, which dragged on for months. Viewers in regions where it had not happened got a caption, whilst other viewers regained access to the channel. Viewers in the Border region had to wait the longest to regain access.
This situation, plus the fact that ITV News Channel had been downgraded to broadcasting for just 12 hours a day from November 2005, didn't bode well for the future of the channel. Platform-by-platform viewing figures for ITV News Channel showed that the bulk of viewers were watching on Freeview. The fact that most potential viewers couldn't watch the channel, led to low viewing figures. ITV concluded its money would be better spent elsewhere. It finished broadcasting just before 18:00 on 23rd December 2005.
The closedown of ITV News Channel
Channel 4 had no obvious difficulties in launching a fourth stream on its half of multiplex 2 and gave us... Quizcall- via production company- Ostrich Media from August 2005 on Freeview channel 37, a phone-in competition channel of the type that gained notoriety in the following two years. Here's a reminder of how bad it was:
Quizcall only lasted as a standalone channel on Freeview until the 15th November 2006 when Film4+1 took its slot on multiplex 2. Quizcall's owner Ostrich Media had by then been sold off by Channel 4 to iTouchMedia, but initially continued in the late evening on ftn, before going off the air in January 2007. It returned later in the year on Five.
More 4 was launched on 10th October 2005 on Freeview, tantalisingly branded the "adult entertainment" channel from Channel 4. What that actually meant was that it would transmit more mature programming as opposed to sibling channel E4. Appearing on channel 13, it had to boot S4C2 off that channel number in Wales. More 4+1 briefly made an appearance on Freeview from late 2005 as yet another slot on multiplex D was made available, bringing the number of streams on multiplex D to six.
On the 18th October 2005, Freeview's EPG was given its first major overhaul since its launch three years earlier. News moved from channel 40 to channel 80, Children from channel 30 to 70 and Radio moved from 70 to 700 onward. Notably the children's channels had become surrounded by non-children's channels such as Men&Moters, ITV3 and E4+1.
Sky Three replaced Sky Travel in November 2005, giving Sky an opportunity to showcase a wider variety of content to entice viewers to pay TV. Apart from Futurama and a belated showing of drama series 24, output was seen as being disappointing. The channel is now known as Pick TV, which continues to be very hit and miss with regards to interesting programming - unless you like watching documentaries about customs officials in far flung airports opening bags containing suspicious items...
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