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Analysis: Sony bags better slots in Freeview channel list tidy-up

Freeview's channel listing had a minor tidy-up today, but most viewers will not have noticed.

The constant cycle of new channel launches and channel withdrawals that the digital terrestrial TV service has experienced in the last two years has resulted in new joiners being allocated channel numbers in the mid to late 80s while gaps have begun to appear in higher ranking slots.

Sony has taken advantage of the gaps by moving two of its services - the former CSC Media Group channels True Movies 1 and Chart Show TV to channels 74 and 75. However, these services are currently only broadcast to a limited number of Freeview homes in the Manchester area, so for the vast majority of viewers, these channel numbers will remain unused.

As both channels reach very small numbers of viewers, the primary purpose of the move is likely to secure a higher ranking channel number, should any of the services be relaunched on a national basis in the future. Alternatively, if Sony wants to launch a new sister channel, it can do so without having to accept a channel number at the bottom of the list.

It has done this before: Sony launched True Crime on Freeview earlier this year (in local TV coverage areas only) using a channel number that Chart Show TV had previously secured by broadcasting to Manchester only.

And despite this latest tidy-up there's still scope for movement on the Freeview EPG for upwardly mobile channels. Following the withdrawal of music channels Heart TV and Capital TV from Freeview in the Manchester area, channels 54 and 56 are still vacant, and are prime candidates for Channel 5 owner Viacom, as the US broadcasting giant can benefit from channel number allocation rules that favour 'families' of channels.

At the end of the genre, channels 79, 83, 84 and 85 are now vacant nationwide, and may provide an opportunity for some of the most recent additions to Freeview, including Keep It Country to gain promotion up the list.

Channel 75 had been originally reserved for QVC+1 HD, but it lost this allocation when it launched a standard definition version of the channel in order to claim channel 36 when it became free in April.

So what does this mean for the ordinary viewer? Probably very little, apart from the fact that some, mostly minor channels near the bottom of the channel list, are very likely to make a move up the list to fill some gaps. And being minor channels, there is seldom any advance notice of such changes, which can be frustrating for viewers who don't have Freeview devices that can handle such changes without manual intervention - i.e. without having to do another retune.

For the newer, smaller broadcasters making an entry on to Freeview, the fear will be that casual viewers skimming through the channel list may give up before reaching them, thanks to the continued presence of services clearly acting as a strategic placeholder rather than to serve audiences in any meaningful way. For these channels, having spent resources on promoting their service on a specific Freeview channel number, the dilemma is whether to try and stay put on a well-promoted channel number or take a promotion opportunity when the next tidy-up is due.