Sky has announced another refresh of its Freeview channel portfolio, to take place in just two weeks’ time.
Sky Arts will be relegated to Freeview channel 36, while Pick becomes Sky Mix – not to be confused with the premium Sky Max channel – and moves to channel 11.
The broadcaster is promising the new channel will feature a range of recent original and acquired content from its premium channel portfolio. In reality though, much of Sky Mix’s initial schedule is very similar to Pick – so fans of daytime border control documentaries won’t be disappointed.
The move is the latest in a series of channel portfolio changes on Freeview as Sky’s relationship with its free-to-air rival has evolved. The launch also reverses a former policy of disassociating Sky’s Freeview channels from the Sky brand.
Sky and Freeview: a complex relationship
At a time when Sky dominated multi-channel TV, its inclusion on Freeview two decades ago was so controversial that it was limited as to how many channels it could offer.
It began with Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky Travel. Such was the popularity of Freeview that by 2005, Sky realised the platform could be used as a promotional tool to get viewers to switch to its satellite service.
Sky 3 replaced Sky Travel on 31st October 2005 with a service that offered a sample of Sky’s entertainment offering, with its now tried and tested blend of shows that had recently been on pay TV.
During Sky 3’s time on air, the channel hosted special evenings and weekends promoting Sky’s pay TV service, with free-to-air showings of top drama and sporting events.
By the end of the decade, Sky was facing increased competition and it focused on a new strategy: with the exception of Sky News, if you wanted a Sky-branded channel, you needed to pay for it.
Sky Sports News was first for the chop. Then in 2011, Sky 3 became Pick. The line-up of Sky’s Freeview channels was completed with quiz channel Challenge, which Sky had acquired when it bought the Living TV Group (formerly Flextech).
To PSB or not to PSB?
In 2020, Sky launched Sky Arts on Freeview, perhaps not coincidentally as it was trying to convince broadcast regulator Ofcom and the Government of its public service broadcasting (PSB) credentials.
At the time, there was talk that Sky might start to offer PSB content. Any hope that Sky might join the club and enjoy the perks of being a PSB have since subsided, so it’s no surprise that Sky Arts is to be relegated down the Freeview channel list, having already been shunted down Sky’s satellite EPG.
And following Ofcom’s recent decision not to allow the main commercial public broadcasters, including ITV 1 and Channel 4 to screen more adverts, Sky no longer faces a threat of losing money as a result of the plan.
A good time then to maximise ad revenue in a challenging ad market by relaunching its Freeview entertainment channel, this time with the weight of the Sky brand behind it and making use of a better ranking channel number.
Satellite and cable viewers
Sky Mix will also broadcast on Sky, Freesat and Virgin Media. Once one of the regional STV HD feeds has completed a transponder move on satellite, test transmissions for Sky Mix HD are expected to start.
For pay TV users, the channel will continue to offer very little extra value. In fact, Sky has tended to dilute its channels in recent years, with Sky Mix the latest ‘best-of’ Sky channel combining content from other services – see also Sky Showcase and Sky Sports Main Event.
PICTURED: Sky logo. COPYRIGHT: Sky plc.