Digital UK celebrates successful year connected DTT; looks ahead to 700MHz clearance
The organisation responsible for operating UK digital terrestrial television has been celebrating a busy year for the platform which has seen the launch of a new connected TV service and international agreements establishing long-term security for terrestrial TV.
Digital UK, in its latest annual report, has declared the new connected Freeview Play service a "success", with viewers able to combine regular over-the-air transmissions with on-demand and catch-up content from the UK's leading broadcasters. Caroline Thompson, chair of Digital UK confirmed that the organisation's next task will be "to work with our partners to extend the benefits of a consistent on-demand offering to everyone."
Chief Executive Jonathan Thompson added that the Freeview Play "was probably the single biggest development since the platform’s launch more than a decade ago.".
He added "As more partners sign up to make Freeview Play products it has the potential to play an important role in creating a fully connected TV nation."
In addition to developments around Freeview Play, the traditional service has been boosted by new and extra channels from major media groups including Viacom, Sony and CBS. And new services from EE, NOW TV and Vodafone that base parts of their offering around the digital terrestrial TV platform have been seen as highlighting the ongoing importance of terrestrial TV.
Subtitles via on-demand services
Technology Director James Jackson also confirmed that Freeview Play would be "the first or one of the first services to actively use" new HbbTV technology based on the EBU-TT-D standard to enable subtitles via on-demand TV.
Work is also continuing to develop the HbbTV specification so that it can be used to replace current MHEG and MHP based systems that deliver on-screen pop-ups and viewer information screens (e.g. off-air slates). The BBC has recently confirmed its desire to move to an all-HbbTV environment on digital terrestrial TV.
In November 2015, delegates at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva secured the continued use of UHF frequencies for terrestrial TV across Europe until around 2030. But the 700MHz frequency band currently used by Freeview will be cleared by 2020, requiring a number of retunes and changes at transmitter sites.
Speaking of the challenges, Kate Macefield, Digital UK's Director of the 700MHz clearance programme confirmed that in May, Digital UK had submitted a full plan to Ofcom on behalf of the UK multiplex operators, setting out these details and a proposed timetable, adding: "It is expected that up to 40 per cent of the 80 main station DTT antennas will need to be replaced or modified, and almost 90 per cent will need the infrastructure on the ground reengineered. There are more than 1,000 smaller relays in the network and it is likely almost all of these will need work also."
"While most viewers are expected to experience no issues following a retune, a small percentage could find they have reception problems and may need to upgrade their aerials. Work is underway to investigate the scale of this impact in more detail, and we are working with Ofcom and the DCMS to propose a series of trials starting next year"
Digital UK is currently awaiting government decisions about the scale of viewer support that will be offered. In the meantime, the organisation is exploring further options for providing additional support to viewers on the platform.