To swap or not to swap: Digital UK considers options for new Freeview HD listings

The organisation responsible for ordering Freeview channels has begun preparations for new HD channels joining the platform early next year, raising the prospect of a possible facility to put HD channels in place of their standard definition counterparts in the channel list.

Digital UK is seeking opinions from broadcasters, consumer groups and viewers over how it should assign channel numbers to HD channels in a new consultation that runs until 5th June 2013.

It wants suggestions as to how it should provide prominence to Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) such as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 in the HD listings. Already, Freeview HD prioritises the main four HD simulcast channels in the same order as their standard definition counterparts. But next year will see the launch of further HD channels from the BBC and Channel 4.

Digital UK is considering its options as to whether it should reserve a block of channel numbers for these new PSB channels, or whether the channel numbers should be allocated on a first come, first served basis, with PSB HD channels getting the best channel number that happens to be available at the time of applying for a channel number.

It is also considering whether or not a facility should be in place to allow viewers with Freeview HD equipment to flip the HD versions of BBC One, BBC Two, ITV/STV/UTV HD and Channel 4 to the channel numbers used by the standard definition counterpart.

A straight SD/HD channel swap is unlikely to occur, with Digital UK pointing out that a channel swap would leave the HD channel block (channels 101-119) in a mess with swapped standard definition channels alongside HD channels, especially if some channels only appear on Freeview HD in HD only. Rather, it prefers the idea of moving standard definition channels to a holding space at the bottom of the channel list, if introduced to the platform.

However, a holding space at the bottom of the channel list would leave regional variants, currently not available in HD (including regional news in England on BBC One and ITV, national programming for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on BBC Two plus regionalised advertising on Channel 4) in a less prominent position. Currently, EPG providers such as Digital UK act in harmony with the Communications Act 2003 in giving prominence to the relevant regional versions of the PSB channels at the top of the channel list. No PSB channel currently provides a full simulcast of all national/regional variations.

The option to add potential future children's and news HD channels to the children's and news sections of the Freeview channel listing is also being considered, leaving the HD block solely for general entertainment channels.

Digital UK aims to ensure that the final outcome of the consultation will provide terrestrial TV viewers with a channel number ordering system that gives them the best overall experience of the digital terrestrial television platform in the future and to provide "for the medium-term evolution and competitive positioning of the platform over the next two to three years" as well as certainty to potential Freeview HD channel operators.

The full consultation can be reviewed here: 
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  See Also:
Proposed: More space for internet channels alongside Freeview 
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