With Freely, the UK’s main free-to-air broadcasters are preparing to usher in a new dawn of broadcasting.
But with a new TV platform comes one of the same old problems – namely how to group channels.
Freeview’s channel numbering system includes anomalies that date back to its launch. Freesat launched six years later with a different approach, and a cleaner list that grouped channel families and timeshifts together.
Freely, which will combine streaming TV with services delivered via your aerial (DTT) or satellite (DSat) or just streaming (broadband only homes), needs to provide the best of both current platforms.
Following a consultation with industry stakeholders last year, platform operator Everyone TV has produced a final outline of how channels will be grouped.
The new service is more closely aligned to Freeview than Freesat, but with extra genres and more space for most types of channels, due to the expectation that the channel groups will be filled with far more streaming channels:
|First Channel Number
|Last Channel Number
|Reserved for promotional use
|Reserved for promotional use
|Freely Information Channel
|Faith and international
|Hybrid streamed (HbbTV) and text
|Hybrid streamed and text (continued)
|Reserved for manufacturer’s use
|Reserved to mark end of Everyone TV/Freely range
|IP channels delivered by manufacturers
Exactly what you’ll see on the channel list hasn’t been confirmed yet. Broadly it will be either all your current Freeview or Freesat channels plus streaming services.
But your channel line-up will very much depend on how your Freely device is set up.
It’s important to note that current Freeview and Freesat devices won’t support Freely, so you’ll probably have all of ten years to migrate across to Freely when it’s time to upgrade your device.
Hisense will be the first to launch Freely TVs, with further manufacturers launching Freely products soon.
Of note is the new IP range beyond channel 1000. That will allow manufacturers to add their own IP platform at the end of the Freely channel list.
For example, if you have an LG TV, then LG channels will fit in above 1000.
Interestingly, currently Samsung is the only major TV manufacturer that doesn’t support Freeview Play. With Freely, Samsung could integrate its TV Plus service (currently starts above channel 4000 in the channel list), if it signs up to partner with the service (no such announcement has been made yet).
Are broadcasters happy with the decision?
There’s been a lot of disagreement, with Channel 4, UKTV, News UK (owner of TalkTV), Ireland’s RTÉ and TG 4 all among those raising various concerns about the proposals.
So while Freely will finally have a separate shopping genre, there’s no movie or sports section.
News UK unsuccessfully argued that any ‘nostalgic cartoon channels’ should sit in the entertainment genre, not alongside other children’s channels.
And operators of streaming services are concerned about the plan to allocate channel numbers based on BARB ratings data – that would be detrimental to international streaming services and indeed RTÉ and TG 4 in Northern Ireland, who face a worse channel number allocation than that on Freeview.
In its response to concerns, Everyone TV basically said tough: Irish broadcasters aren’t PSBs in the UK. Only a change in the law will change its stance.
In the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, there has been some moves to look into this. A Government White Paper issued in preparation for the new Media Bill indicated as such. But nothing of substance appears to have made it through to the draft Media Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.
RTÉ is preparing to launch its own next generation platform and it remains to be seen if it caters for viewers in all of the island of Ireland.
Freely: a hybrid platform
Freely will launch with the option for viewers to receive either terrestrial or satellite alongside their broadband connection – so one of: DTT + IP, DSAT + IP or IP only.
That means there will be the potential for a lot of variation in the channel list from house to house, depending on what legacy means you’ve got installed to watch TV.
The cost-cutting BBC wants to ditch DTT anyway. The three satellites supplying the UK and Ireland with Freesat and Sky (Astra 2E, 2F and 2G) only have a few years left in service (end of the decade). So in the course of time, more services will have to migrate to streaming.
And with Freely, this can be done rather seamlessly. It’s expected that from the beginning, any Freely TV will opt for IP streams of BBC channels over any BBC channels the TV can receive via aerial or dish.
And in time, other broadcasters will be able to migrate without the viewer noticing (as long as the viewer has a reliable internet connection).
The goal will be to allow viewers to plug and play Freely without giving thought as to how the signal is reaching the TV.
Now that WRC-23 has decided that terrestrial TV services can have primary use of the spectrum currently used for transmission of their service for some time longer, the migration from DTT to IP no longer has to be rushed in six years. Current DTT licences run until the end of 2034.
But Freely will ensure that if terrestrial TV signals are indeed switched off in the mid-2030s, viewers won’t have noticed that the aerial cable leading to their Freely TV doesn’t do anything anymore. The TV will have simply replaced the DTT feed with a replacement IP stream.
PICTURED: Freely logo. COPYRIGHT: Freely.