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Friday, 19 April 2013

Q&A: Which new channels will come to Freeview and Freesat?

a516digital Comment
Q: Are there any new channels coming to Freeview or Freesat soon?

A: A frequently searched for subject on the a516digital website, so it deserves a few paragraphs to sum up what is known at the moment.

The short answer is yes, but exactly which channels are coming to the free-to-air platforms mostly remain unknown. There is some limited available capacity on Freeview and much more space for Freesat.

Negotiations between broadcasters, satellite and multiplex operators and Ofcom remain generally confidential and commercially sensitive, and sometimes the first we know about new channels is when they appear in the channel list. Some launches, including the infamous aborted first launch of Quest in 2009 can be pulled at the last minute. Sometimes, news releases about new channels are embargoed until a certain point in time.

Editorially, a516digital will mention possible new channels if Ofcom awards new licences and if data is spotted on Freeview or Freesat pointing toward changes, with the warning that there has not yet been an announcement by the broadcaster.

On Freeview, Film 4+1 has been confirmed for this summer. It's new channel number has not yet been announced, but BT still hasn't outlined its future strategy for digital terrestrial TV. With behind the scenes negotiations and planning taking place ahead of the launch of BT Sport this summer, the end result is still far from certain. However, an announcement is expected soon as the new football season moves closer.

UKTV's future plans for the channel slot used for Dave Ja Vu remain confidential at the moment.

Since the termination of content on Vision 2 due to licencing issues, the growth of channels delivered via the internet to certain Freeview HD receivers has stalled in recent months. Internet delivered content integrated into the Freeview Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) could prove to be Freeview's future way of delivering masses of new channels, especially more niche or specialist channels that otherwise would not be able to afford the cost of broadcasting using the traditional system of transmitters and multiplexes.

Reports originating from micro-channel Cornwall Channel earlier this year about launching on Freeview in March remain unfulfilled. The channel broadcasts on Information TV, and there is speculation that such a service would be ideal as an internet delivered service on the Freeview EPG.

Since the publication of a report in Broadcast earlier this year about a possible Viacom/Nickelodeon children's channel on Freeview, all has gone quiet on this front. Viacom's existing Freeview channel VIVA continues to showcase children's programmes during the late afternoon - the time of the day previously ruled by BBC and ITV's children's TV. Ratings for the afternoon slots on VIVA have been very good for the channel, but rumours suggest that high-rating Spongebob Squarepants was taken off the channel because of VIVA going free-to-air on satellite.

In other European countries, Disney and Nickelodeon offer free-to-air versions of their channels. It remains to be seen if any of the big US children's networks want to carry this model of distribution across to the UK.

An announcement about two further multiplexes offering more HD content on Freeview HD from next year, including up to two extra BBC channels and up to two more Channel 4 HD channels is expected shortly by Ofcom.

As for new channel speculation, Scripps Network's Travel Channel remains a hot favourite to try out Freeview, following in the footsteps of sister channel Food Network, as Scripps works to boost the Travel Channel's presence in the UK.

On Freesat, a lot is waiting on the introduction of more UK spot beam capacity later this year, when SES Astra launch another satellite to serve the UK. While the new satellite will not be welcomed by ex-pats, as it will reduce the availability of further UK channels in parts of continental Europe, 4Music is expected to join Freesat once it can move onto a transponder with reduced coverage. Unlike other music channels that have recently gone free-to-air, 4Music's larger selection of non-music programmes means that broadcast rights are an issue if the channel went free-to-air now. Heat and Magic are widely expected to join the free-to-air satellite service.

In the HD department, CNN International HD has been confirmed as coming this summer - but which platforms the service will be available in the UK on remains to be announced. Early next year, any additional BBC and Channel 4 services launching on Freeview HD are expected to join Freesat, too.

From autumn, local TV services will commence in some areas on Freeview and some will also appear on satellite. Whether or not they actually get a position on the Freesat EPG or not, it is likely that these local TV channels will avail themselves of UK spot beams to reduce broadcast rights costs and will be available free-to-air, and thus available in non-Freesat mode, regardless if you are within the terrestrial coverage area of the local TV channel or not.

As for new channel speculation, Sony's free-to-view offerings on the Freesat from Sky platform could make the switch to free-to-air and join Freesat when additional UK spot beam capacity goes live.

As always: time will tell.


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