Freeview channel numbering challenged as new channels rush to launch on the service
The launch of dance music station Clubland TV on Freeview in the Manchester area this week has intensified the need for another reorganisation of Freeview channel numbers, with the existing channel structure filling up rapidly.
Clubland TV has taken channel 89, and although it can only be seen by a small number of Freeview households, centered around Manchester, it fills another channel number that can't be used by a national service.
In recent weeks, Digital UK, the company in charge of allocating Freeview channel numbers, has been busy co-ordinating a shuffle-up, which has seen channels moving up to fill empty spaces left behind by services that have themselves moved or closed down. Without this, the current space for entertainment and shopping channels would have overspilled.
Earlier this year, the addition of children's channels in some parts of the UK filled up the children's section, forcing a separate section to be added between channels 95 and 99. With any new entertainment channels now going to be allocated numbers in the 90s, space is running out.
As the number of channels available on Freeview varies depending on location and transmitter used to receive the service, and on whether or not a viewer is using a newer DVB-T2 compatible device (e.g. Freeview HD), not all of the channels will appear to be taken from a viewer's perspective, even though they are allocated to broadcasters.
The last major change to Freeview's channel numbering system took place in September 2014, when the children's and news channels moved from 70-99 to their current channel range, between channels 120 and 149. News channels were assigned a range of 20 channel numbers, but the genre has shrunk to just four standard definition channels, while children's channels were given 10 - assumed to be more than enough after nearly a decade of just having three children's channels on the platform.
At the same time, the streamed channel section, serving channels delivered via broadband, has continued to spread, but with many empty numbers from channel 225 upward as channels and portals launch, but then close abruptly.
Earlier this year, Digital UK indicated it would be 'instigating' a consultation with broadcasters on options to reunite the children's genre on Freeview, while allowing the children's overspill section to be filled with regular channels if slots were free, as part of a temporary arrangement, but hasn't provided any further information in public as to how and when it intends to make the changes.
In this regard, the digital terrestrial TV platform, the home of Freeview, has been a victim of its own success, following a rush of new services being set up on the platform in the last couple of years, with Sony/CSC, CBS, Turner and A+E all turning to the terrestrial service to deliver their TV channels, alongside new content from niche operators Vintage TV, Keep It Country and Talking Pictures. Meanwhile, Viacom has also been increasing the number of slots on the service following the acquisition of Channel 5. The latest major launch - of A+E Network's Blaze channel - takes place later this month.
Most major TV broadcasters have been at the same time strategically building a portfolio of Freeview channel numbers, so they can launch new services in the future without being bottom of the list. This has resulted in numerous part-time services, including +1 channels only operational for an hour or two each day.
Capacity for new services looks set to become possible in the coming four years, with a planned switchover to the newer DVB-T2 standard alongside further changes to encoders and multiplexing. Already, the main commercial multiplexes are looking at 16 standard definition services per multiplex, plus additional capacity being created this week on the local TV multiplexes, providing local TV operators with much needed revenue from a third semi-national channel, broadcast alongside the local TV signal. There is however, very little movement regarding new HD channels on the platform at present.
Even when the children's overspill section is removed, the appetite and capacity for new services on Freeview will continue to challenge the numbering system in the coming years. For viewers, the importance of buying a next-generation Freeview device that will self-retune has never been more important!