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More flexibility for Freeview broadcasters in channel numbering reform

New rules will make it easier for new services to launch on Freeview without being shunted down the channel list.

And it will become easier for channels to permanently or temporarily change their names on Freeview.

Changes to how Freeview channel numbers are allocated and what broadcasters are allowed to do with services on the platform are the subject of a newly launched consultation by Freeview platform operator Digital UK. The changes are part of a package of amendments to the current policy, which has led to broadcasters finding creative ways to secure channel number slots.

In the past, broadcasters couldn't change an existing Freeview channel and expect to retain their channel number allocation. In a worst case scenario, any broadcaster who radically changed the content of their channel was threatened with being expelled to the bottom of the channel list. This led to the curious case of MovieMix, which morphed out of gaming and shopping channel Big Deal on channel 32.

In 2012, Big Deal became Movie Mix, featuring one classic movie at 3am, otherwise continuing with teleshopping. In January 2013, the channel started to simulcast the now defunct Sony-owned More>Movies satellite channel, but with separate branding in promotional material. Later, the licence to operate the channel was transferred in several stages until held by Sony Pictures Television. More>Movies was closed earlier this year, with Movie Mix becoming the main channel and gaining carriage on Virgin Media. Over the course of three years, Sony had effectively managed to get a new channel on Freeview through a series of very gradual tweaks so as not to fall foul of the rules.

The proposal is to make such changes easier and more transparent, whereby broadcasters can change the name and content of the channel without fear of losing a prime channel slot, unless they turned an entertainment channel into a news channel, for example, as this would need to move to the news genre.

Channels that want to change their name for a seasonal service, like the many Xmas channels on satellite, will be allowed to do that once a year under the proposals.

Additionally, broadcasters that offer multiple channels on Freeview will be allowed to shuffle/swap their services around twice, instead of once in a rolling 12 month period, following requests by broadcasters who have complained about the current rules being restrictive.

And a relaxation on rules restricting the order of BBC channels other than BBC One and Two (including HD) is also planned. This would give the BBC the right to move CBeebies to the start of the children's section if it wanted to, instead of CBBC. It already has a similar right to do so on other TV platforms and would bring it into line with broadcasters of commercial children's channels on Freeview who can swap if they want to. Interestingly, had this concept been in place earlier this year, BBC Three and Four could have been switched around prior to BBC Three's removal from the platform, keeping channel 7 as a BBC slot.

Meanwhile, channels that only broadcast for an hour to secure a slot will be required to increase their broadcast hours to two hours a day or 14 hours a week or be banished. However this is unlikely to greatly reduce the number of +1 channel squatters, whereby a +1 service actually only broadcasts teleshopping in the middle of the night to keep a channel number allocation, as the current 1 hour slots will most likely be increased to circumvent the changes.

Finally, there will be scope to allow vacant channel numbers to be offered to the highest bidder if a vacated channel number can't be filled using the associated channel rule, that allows sister channels within a channel family to move closer to each other. If endorsed by broadcasters, this would be the first time Freeview channel numbers are auctioned off.

The changes also affect YouView based services (BT TV, Plusnet TV, TalkTalk TV) and EE TV, who use the Freeview EPG for an element of their platforms.

The proposals also see children's and news channels moving to the 200-250 channel range, allowing more space for general entertainment channels in the 100s.

Stakeholders in the digital terrestrial TV platform, as well as Freeview viewers, are invited to participate in the consultation, which closes on 6th January 2017.

How the proposed changes will affect consumers


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