Q&A: Top Up TV is closing

Top Up TV is closing. How will this affect subscribers, what alternatives are there and how might the closure affect the Freeview channel line-up?

Last updated: 11/11/2013

What is happening?
Top Up TV has sent its remaining subscribers a letter confirming that the service will be closing at the stroke of midnight 30th/31st October.

What happens to subscriptions?
Subscriptions to the service will be stopped at the end of October and direct debits cancelled.

What happens to Top Up TV boxes?
Equipment used to receive Top Up TV can continue to be used for Freeview channels. The Top Up TV Anytime box, introduced in 2006, can still be used to watch and record Freeview channels. Unlike its predecessor ITV Digital, all subscribers had to buy their receivers, so they are theirs to keep.

Will the 14 day TV Guide on Top Up TV receivers continue?
(updated 16/11/2013) No. Viewers must now use the main 7-8 day Freeview EPG. See http://www.a516digital.com/2013/11/freeview-advises-ex-top-up-tv-dtr.html  for an update.  You will need to move to the standard Freeview EPG if you have a Top Up TV recorder in order to record Freeview channels. See the link for more information.

Is there an alternative service available?
Later this year, VuTV will launch on Freeview channel 238 for owners with recently-built Freeview HD devices connected to the internet. It will offer some pay TV channels for a low monthly subscription. Details about pricing are yet to be confirmed. A preferably unlimited broadband connection of at least 2Mbps is required.

Alternatively, Sky's Now TV via a Roku box will provide Sky services, including Sky Movies, Sky One and Sky Atlantic.

YouView is another option, especially if you have your broadband and telephone with either BT or TalkTalk, who can offer you extra channels via a YouView TV bundle.

The PictureBox element of the service is still available on Virgin Media, BT TV, Talk Talk TV or via Samsung Smart TVs.
Top Up TV itself is recommending a switch to Sky.

What was Top Up TV exactly?
A pay TV service that used capacity on digital terrestrial TV and broadcast alongside the Freeview service.

Top Up TV changed its service several times during its nine years in existence. Originally it provided part time linear access to popular pay TV channels using capacity assigned to Channel 4 and 5 that was still unused on digital terrestrial television, before broadcasters cottoned on to the fact that distribution on Freeview would secure large audiences and before Channel 4 and 5 wanted the capacity to launch their own offshoot channels.

When Channel 4 and 5 came asking for their slots back, Top Up TV slashed its part-time channel service, replacing most of it with a download service. Ahead of its time, the Top Up TV Anytime box downloaded premium content at night for viewers to watch during as they pleased during the following week or fortnight. What services such as BBC iPlayer, 4oD and Sky Player can now do via the internet instantaneously.

As on-demand content via the internet took off and Sky launched its own, more comprehensive Anytime service, Top Up TV shifted direction again and branched out into the wholesale of sports channels. The Anytime service, along with the last remaining rump of the old linear channel service began to be wound down, with content gradually disappearing as content deals with distributors expired.

In 2010, Top Up TV launched its premium sports service, allowing viewers to gain access to Sky Sports 1 and 2 plus ESPN. Viewers could choose to get all channels, or subscribe to individual services. Sky Sports was hosted on digital terrestrial TV by BT, who needed the digital terrestrial TV capacity to distribute the channels to its BT Vision subscribers, as fibre broadband hadn't yet been rolled out. Top Up TV gained access to this BT hosted service, and in return BT got access to the Top Up TV-hosted ESPN UK.

This all came to an end in 2013, when BT pulled the plug on Sky Sports on digital terrestrial TV, bought ESPN and no deal was reached with Top Up TV to offer BT Sport 1 and 2 and ESPN from August 2013.

All that was left was the remaining few hours of overnight downloads, plus a few hours of Gold and Home on channels 26 and 54.

What happens to Gold and Home?
(updated 11/11/2013) Owner UKTV has taken these channels off the platform. UKTV does have a  licence to broadcast a timeshift of Yesterday on Freeview (Yesterday+1), but this option has not been taken up.

Was the closure unexpected?
No. Top Up TV's service has been gradually declining over the past few years. It's original part-time linear service was reduced to a maximum of three hours of Gold on weekdays and an hour of UKTV's Home channel. The Anytime / TV Favourites services now consists of a few hours of content every week, plus movie service PictureBox. Sports channels ended during the summer. There was very little left to offer; Top Up TV were not accepting new subscriptions for several months; no new hardware to watch the service was being sold in the shops.
An autumn close down date was already anticipated, due to carriage contracts expiring around that time.

Is this the end of pay TV on digital terrestrial TV?
For the time being, BT is continuing to distribute BT Sport 1 and 2 via channels 58 and 59 for BT TV subscribers outside of its Infinity network. As Infinity is rolled out in more areas, it is possible that digital terrestrial television (DTT) distribution may end at some point.
Pay TV services continue via the streamed channels, available on the most recent Freeview HD devices from channel 225. Unlike their predecessors, they are not broadcast over the air, so don't count as pay DTT services.

Now that Top Up TV is going, will new Freeview channels take over the spare capacity?
In the end, Top Up TV only had one full stream left. Other capacity it controlled was handed back to Channel 4 and 5. 5* and 5USA, for instance use capacity previously used by Top Up TV.

The current full time Top Up TV stream is used by Marketplace, Top Up TV Anytime 1, Gold, Home and BT Sport Preview (ch.57). This capacity is a prime candidate to be taken over by Channel 5 for its new channel, 5 Later - but nothing has been confirmed yet. In the past, Channel 5 has used former Top Up TV capacity to launch Five Life (Now 5*) and Five US (Now 5 USA).

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  1. Now that the 14 day guide has ceased it appears that there is no way to preset the Top up Anytime boxes to record programmes? Does anyone know how to do this?

    1. Please see: http://www.a516digital.com/2013/11/freeview-advises-ex-top-up-tv-dtr.html with an update.


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