If you have a newer Freeview Play TV or box, you may have noticed something strange happening to BBC Four on your channel list.
Since last week, some receivers have replaced BBC Four SD on channel 9 (channel 24 in Scotland) with BBC Four HD. The SD channel is now found on channel 614.
At the moment, this is happening on relatively few TVs and boxes. So, if you bought a Freeview Play TV in time for the last FIFA Men’s World Cup in 2018, or even bought one during the first lockdown, your device will have been manufactured before the new functionality was added to the Freeview Play spec.
What is happening then?
It’s part of a new functionality called Channel List Management (CLM).
Until now, there’s been a one size fits all channel numbering system in place on Freeview, applying to both HD and SD devices. On Sky or Freesat, if you have an HD receiver, HD versions of channels replace SD versions. This hasn’t happened on Freeview.
Alongside the Freeview broadcast signal, there’s data telling TVs and set top boxes which channel number should be assigned to each service – a so-called LCN, or logical channel number. Under this system, if an HD channel was to swap places with a SD channel, this would happen across all devices.
Using the above example of BBC Four, this would mean granny’s old SD-only Freeview box would suddenly move BBC Four to 614, leaving channel 9 (24 in Scotland) blank. This would fall foul of Ofcom channel prominence rules, which stipulates BBC Four should appear in the first 24 channel slots.
CLM gets around this by delivering an alternative channel number allocation delivered via the internet to compatible devices. This then overrides the terrestrially broadcast channel number data.
As a result, newer Freeview Play devices connected to the internet add BBC Four HD to channel 9 (24 in Scotland) – everyone else gets BBC Four SD and Ofcom is happy.
Why won’t it work on my Freeview HD TV?
TVs (and set top boxes) need to support CLM, which they need to be able to obtain the alternative channel number information via the internet. Most devices in use at the moment that are able to receive Freeview HD channels have no way of supporting this feature.
Incidentally, a similar arrangement applies in England and Northern Ireland for BBC Three SD/BBC Three HD and across the UK for CBBC and CBeebies HD/SD.
In England and Northern Ireland, BBC Three HD will appear on 23 and SD moves to 613. It’s not possible to initiate a switch around in Scotland and Wales, as BBC Three HD isn’t available on Freeview in these nations. (You get BBC Scotland HD and S4C HD respectively instead.)
CBBC and CBeebies swap between 201/202 and 204/205. (Moving the SD versions of those channels to the 610s would put them adjacent to the adult channels in the list, which is a no-no.)
The CBBC swap was first piloted on a small number of Panasonic TVs in late-2020.
On many, but not all CLM-supporting devices, viewers will see BBC Three HD and BBC Four HD appear twice in the channel list: appearing on 9 (24) and 23 and again at 106 and 109.
If you’ve got a receiver trained to obtain an alternative channel number online, why not deliver entire channels online?
Indeed, that is one of the next steps for CLM: IP fallback aims to offer viewers the option to access online streams of terrestrial channels. That’s ideal if you don’t have an aerial or insufficient coverage from your local mast.
In that case, what about delivering channels that are online only?
Such channels are referred to in the industry as FAST channels – Free, Ad-Supported Streaming Television channels. And yes, that’s another step that Freeview has prepared for, also under the umbrella of CLM.
You’ll hear a lot more about FAST channels very soon in association with ITVX – as the service will come with a selection of extra specially curated channels not available on other platforms.
Freeview has allocated channel numbers above 300 for these IP-delivered channels.
The rules on this are:
- Only IP-delivered channels originating from an app that’s on Freeview Play can be allocated a number.
- Each channel provider with a Freeview Play app will be allocated ten channel numbers in the IP-delivered General Entertainment range (channel 300 – 449), five channel numbers in the IP-delivered Children’s range (451 – 499), and five LCNs in the IP-delivered News range (501 – 599).
The channel numbers will be allocated in the order that the apps appear on Freeview Play devices – i.e. BBC iPlayer first, ITVX next, All4 then My5. If you live in STV’s broadcast area, then STV Player is second in the pecking order, pushing ITVX behind My5’s allocation.
Other types of streamed channel – i.e., those from the likes of Vision TV, Channelbox, Fail Army and Arise News – will continue to exist in the 260 – 299 channel range.
It is arguable that in time, as devices with the newer Freeview Play spec become common that the case will be made to move these services and portals down behind the PSB-originated FAST channels.
Two-tier Freeview Play
It does however mean that there will be a two-tier Freeview Play service going forward – something that I suspect won’t be mentioned much by Freeview or its broadcast partners.
- TVs/boxes with the pre-2020 spec installed will broadly continue to work as now.
- TVs/boxes with the 2020 spec installed will have the extra functionality of HD/SD swaps, IP fallback and IP-delivered channels.
Of course, some of this two-tier system could have been avoided if the UK had actively pursued a switch to HD. Looking at the UK’s immediate neighbours, it’s striking to see how SD services have been replaced by HD only services.
In the Republic of Ireland, RTÉ One and RTÉ 2 are HD only. France, the Netherlands, Germany have migrated to HD terrestrial TV. There’s no SD/HD simulcast and as a result no need to use something like CLM to initiate a SD/HD swap. Spain is planning for HD migration.
In the meantime, if you’re buying a new Freeview Play TV or box and are interested in the new features, try and find out when the model was manufactured. Look for 2021/22 models.
2020 was a transition year, depending on when the model launched, so if in doubt, avoid. Particularly as Black Friday approaches, you will find retailers trying to offload older Freeview Play devices with the pre-2020 spec.
PICTURED: Freeview logo. COPYRIGHT: Freeview.