At the beginning of June, the BBC put an end to speculation over what would happen to its channels on the COM7 Freeview multiplex.
This multiplex closes at the end of June 2022 – its frequency is to be reused for 5G.
All affected services would need to move or close. And the BBC confirmed BBC Four HD and CBeebies HD would be saved. It had found “newly identified” capacity for the channels on its own multiplex, PSB3. BBC News, on the other hand, would continue in SD only on Freeview.
Last week, Freeview then confirmed the date for those and other changes. BBC Four HD and CBeebies HD would move on 29th June and viewers would be told to retune.
Anyone who felt obligated to retune, or has a TV that automatically retunes will have been disappointed. For now, BBC Four HD and CBeebies HD have been replaced by an information slate advising viewers that the channels will “return soon”.
How soon is soon? The EPG for the next seven days reveals “soon” is not that imminent.
Meanwhile, the BBC’s own announcement has been amended. The original and new wording are shown below:
Right in the middle of a paragraph, buried in the middle of a long piece of text in the new version is the addition of a new sentence:
“These changes will be coming soon, until then you can watch in standard definition”.
And at the bottom, gone are the recommendations on how to find the two channels after the changes. Instead, a reminder to change any recordings – possibly too late for many viewers.
In essence, the capacity that has been “newly identified on the PSB3 multiplex” isn’t ready in time for the COM7 switch-off.
On 8th June, the digitalbitrate.com website recorded test transmissions on BBC Four’s new PSB3 multiplex slot, capturing a screenshot of BBC Four’s output on the multiplex. These tests soon ceased and haven’t been seen since.
If you haven’t retuned yet, you’ll still see CBeebies HD and BBC Four HD on their old slot for a few more hours.
As it happens, ignoring Freeview’s advice and not retuning today (Wednesday) will make a lot of sense – you’ll still be able to watch all affected channels, including That’s TV UK on channel 91. But if you retune today you’ll get a slate on channel 91 telling you to retune tomorrow (Thursday). Incidentally, That’s TV UK is shunted down to channel 795 if you do retune.
Poor communications epidemic
Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen Ofcom criticise poor viewer-facing communication after the fire at Arqiva’s Bilsdale mast and the fire suppression incident at Channel 4’s playout centre. The latter is sadly another example of how viewer-facing communication from broadcasters has been found lacking.
The evident change of plan should not be buried in the middle of the text, quietly updated a few weeks after being first published. Freeview also gave viewers the wrong impression. To be fair, Freeview will be dependant on the quality of information provided by third parties.
Broadcasters and other institutions seem to have a clear pathway to publish good news. Less so when it comes to admitting shortcomings or inconveniences. In the meantime, the viewer is taken for a ride. Or on this occasion is left staring at a slate saying a channel will return “soon” – whenever that is…
UPDATE: on Wednesday evening, Freeview updated their changes page with the following statement regarding BBC Four HD and CBeebies HD:
“BBC are making some further changes that will affect BBC Four HD and CBeebies HD. Programming on the new channel numbers won’t be available till the changes are complete and both channels will return soon.”
PICTURED: Freeview/BBC Four/CBeebies logos. COPYRIGHT: BBC/Freeview.