The Freeview Years: 2012

Freeview is ten years old today. To mark the occasion, has been running a series of articles looking back over the past ten years, seeing how the Freeview line up has changed, with clips of channel launches and events over the years.

This installment brings the Freeview Story up-to-date.

Highlights from 2012
Digital switchover rolled through the final regions to reach a final climax on the 23rd October, when at 11:30pm, the last analogue signals in the UK began to be switched off. Just after midnight on the 24th, all analogue TV in the UK was dead.

The switch to digital, and the ability of the commercial multiplexes to transmit in a mode that offered more bandwidth, opened the opportunity for channels to expand broadcasting hours.

Additionally, a technical upgrade to the commercial multiplexes allowed an extra 3Mbps of content to be added to each of the three multiplexes, creating room for up to three more channels. Some viewers criticised the use of reduced 544x576 resolution for commercial channels, something that Sky has done to some of its channels, too.

4seven nabbed some of the extra capacity, and on the 4th July (4/7), the channel launched on channel 47.

4seven launch video

First rumoured back in the winter, the catch up channel was devised under the name "project shuffle" and launched as a "linear catch up channel", allowing viewers to watch Channel 4 content at alternative times - often either two hours after Channel 4 or a day after Channel 4.

By using additional capacity created through technical changes to the commercial multiplexes in post-switchover areas, the channel was initially not available in the Tyne Tees and Ulster regions until viewers in those areas went through switchover.

Food Network UK went 24/7 under similar circumstances.

Al Jazeera English went 24/7
Al Jazeera English also expanded its Freeview operation. Together with London legal firm SNR Denton, the Qatari state-owned broadcaster secured a contract to launch a 24-hour news channel on Freeview in September. It followed a confusing few weeks during late August and early September when a reduced hours recorded content service appeared, broadcasting from 6am to 8am.

Al Jazeera English's main service moved from channel 89, then to 84, then to 83.

2012 was the year IP streamed channels really got going on Freeview. These were brought to Freeview courtesy of Connect TV. Initial services appeared in 2011, but in 2012, Vision TV Network brought viewers a chance to see content from France, Greece, Poland and the Middle East. Turkish channels were initially also part of the offering.

Further niche services have since appeared, including Sony SAB and religious channels, with plenty of further opportunities in the pipeline. However, the number of receivers able to process these internet delivered channels accessed by the Freeview EPG is still limited.

Transmitter company Arqiva saw the opportunity that this method of broadcast distribution would have in the future, especially as more the frequency band looks set to be used for 4G internet rather than TV. In September, it announced that it had purchased Connect TV.

A Humax YouView box
After years of delays, YouView finally became available, appearing in the shops in the nick of time for the Olympics. The new service would provide a hybrid service, combining Freeview, Freeview HD and internet delivered on-demand and eventually live streamed TV to viewers. It's EPG would allow viewers to scroll back upto seven days to watch programmes via catch up TV.  By September, BT and Talk Talk had launched major marketing campaigns, offering YouView boxes to viewers with selected bundles.

It was a big year for sport, and in July, August and early September, Freeview was reconfigured to allow extra coverage of the London Olympics and Paralympics.

The BBC switched off BBC Parliament for the second time in the channel's history to allow BBC Three to go 24 hours a day for the duration of the Olympics. Red Button channel 302 was brought back for the occasion, timesharing with CBBC and broadcasting daily from 7pm. Many standard definition BBC services were reduced in resolution to give more bandwidth to BBC One and BBC Three.

Ahead of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June, Freeview HD had been switched from 1440x1080 resolution to 1920x1080 resolution for what would be a big summer of events. To date, this set up has remained. A fifth Freeview HD channel was active for the duration of the Olympics and Paralympics, with the BBC offering an HD simulcast of BBC Red Button 301 on channel 304. During the Paralympics, Channel 4 took the baton offering one extra Paralympics channel in HD on channel 304.

The offering paled in comparison to satellite and cable though, where 24 extra Olympic channels and 3 extra Paralympics channels were available - both in HD and SD. The BBC struggled with limited bandwidth, forcing it to abandon Red Button 301 during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies as well as during the Men's 100 m final, in order to provide maximum bandwidth for BBC One on its standard definition multiplex and BBC One HD plus BBC HD in 3D on the HD multiplex.

Soundtrack to the games: Elbow's First Steps featured during coverage of the Olympics and aired between coverage on the extra Olympic channels. Embedded YouTube video. Availability subject to copyright holders.

Manchester viewers got an extra choice of channels, after a subsidary of Canis Media took control of the former Channel M multiplex in the summer. Channel M itself had shut down earlier in the year, after its previous owner GMG began to restructure itself, ultimately ending in Global taking over GMG Radio. By September, Movies4Men, Sony SAB (as a linear channel) and Argos TV 24/7 had launched in Manchester on Freeview, with Capital TV following shortly afterwards in October.

Argos TV launched in September
Argos TV became the latest shopping channel to join Freeview. Outside of Manchester, the channel airs five hours a day from 6pm to 11pm on Freeview channel 55.

The addition of Argos TV and extra Manchester channels coincided with a change in the Freeview channel guide. Back in the spring, DMOL - the company responsible for managing the technical side of the digital terrestrial TV platform - announced that it had concluded a consultation on the future of Freeview channel numbering. In July it announced that it would conduct a major reshuffle on the 19th September. However, many proposed changes were thwarted when Sky [because of Sky News] and an adult channel objected to the moves. As a consequence, only a few changes took place on the 19th September, with some of the other moves postponed to the 17th October.

DMOL manages the Freeview EPG
In the end, objections by Sky and the still anonymous adult channel were overruled and Freeview HD and adult channels were moved on the 17th October. Sky partly got its own way, as DMOL decided not to move children's and news channels [including Sky News] until the "general entertainment" section was nearly full.

Finally, S4C announced in July that its HD channel would become a victim of funding cuts to the Welsh broadcaster Clirlun will depart from Welsh Freeview HD screens at the end of November. Channel 4 HD will then appear in Wales.

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