Last month saw the shutdown of 13 BBC and ITV SD channels, and some viewers had to replace their boxes to continue watching. But the countdown has now begun for the end of the help scheme aimed at assisting those who have yet to replace their box.
And with just two weeks remaining, the window of opportunity for those still clinging to outdated Freesat (and Sky) boxes is rapidly closing.
Launched in response to the BBC and ITV’s shutdown of their SD channels, the help scheme has served as a lifeline for viewers unable to receive HD signals, offering advice, support, and tangible solutions to navigate this significant change.
As we approach the February 16 deadline, which was announced this week, viewers with older Freesat boxes need to act quickly, and there’s an upgrade solution from Sky as well (see full details below).
The Shift from SD to HD
The decision to shut down SD channels reflects a broader industry trend towards higher quality, more immersive viewing experiences.
HD offers significantly better picture quality, sharper resolution, and superior sound, aspects that are increasingly becoming the standard expectation among viewers (although, Freeview still airs most of its channels in SD, unfortunately).
The move by the BBC and ITV to phase out their SD broadcasts on Freesat and Sky was aimed at aligning with these expectations and making efficient use of the broadcasting spectrum.
In 2022, the BBC undertook a major step by making all its channels available in HD, including its regional news on BBC One. Then, the BBC started a multi-phase set of changes, to gradually remove the leftover SD channels from its satellite-based roster.
In the first phase, viewers with SD-only equipment were no longer able to watch local news on the BBC’s SD-channels on Freesat and Sky.
Then, from January 8, 2024 both the BBC and ITV shut down several SD versions of their channels:
- BBC One SD
- BBC Two SD
- BBC Three SD
- BBC Four SD
- CBBC SD
- CBeebies SD
- BBC News SD
- BBC Scotland SD
- BBC ALBA SD
- BBC Parliament SD
On ITV’s end, the SD channels that were shut down were:
Unlike the BBC, ITV did not shut ALL of its SD channels, and ITV1 will continue to be available on SD boxes, for now – but without the regional news, which will be HD-only.
The SD Shutdown Help Scheme
Although the BBC found that the number of households affected by this transition was lower than initially expected – this change was not without its challenges.
A segment of the population, particularly those with older Freesat boxes incapable of receiving HD signals, found themselves at a crossroads.
In response, a help scheme was introduced, aimed at supporting these viewers through the transition by offering advice, resources, and limited support to upgrade their equipment – but that help scheme is going away on February 16, 2024.
At this point it’s easy to know whether you’re affected – if you have an old Freesat or Sky box, you’re no longer getting those BBC and ITV channels at all – as they’re no longer available on SD-only boxes – and “channel closed” message is now displayed.
Of those affected – vulnerable viewers, those aged over 75 and/or those in receipt of one of a small number of particular benefits – are eligible for assistance.
If eligible, they can get a £40 voucher (via e-mail) to use towards the purchase of a new Freesat box – either the 4K box, or the Manhattan SX.
Subject to a financial hardship test, some viewers may be eligible for a voucher to cover the full cost of a replacement Freesat box to enable continued reception of BBC channels – but this voucher can only be redeemed on the cheaper Manhattan SX device.
Furthermore, vulnerable viewers who are not able to install the box by themselves may be eligible for a Home Visit.
Those who are eligible for further help through the HD Satellite Upgrade scheme will need to meet the following requirements:
- Watching services on the primary television in their home via an SD-only satellite set-top box
- Are over 75 or are in receipt of one of the following benefits: Personal Independence Payments (PIPs); Attendance Allowance, or War Pensioner’s Mobility Support.
The BBC says that exceptions to the eligibility criteria may be made: for example, “where a viewer with mobility issues relies on a secondary set”. These will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
To check whether you’re eligible – you can answer simple questions on the BBC’s “Eligibility Checker“.
Last Chance To Get Help From The BBC
This week, the BBC issued an announcement highlighting the ongoing availability of their help scheme for users of SD-only satellite devices who have yet to transition to newer technology.
The scheme is now nearing its end, with a definitive closure date set for February 16, 2024.
The broadcaster is urging those in need of assistance to take immediate action to utilise the available support before it ceases. Post-16 February, the opportunity for help scheme support for upgrades will no longer be available.
Those requiring guidance or support have until that date to reach out to the support line at 0330 123 1876, available from 9am to 5pm on weekdays.
Callers are required to provide their contact details, and a support team member will return their call within five days, ensuring all enquiries are addressed promptly before the scheme concludes on February 16.
What Can Affected Sky Users Do?
The BBC’s support scheme is aimed at Freesat customers – but there’s help still available for Sky customers as well.
The affected boxes and models according to Sky are:
- 4F01 to 4F06 (Amstrad)
- 4E01 to 4E05 (Grundig)
- 9F01 to 9F08 and 9F0A (Pace)
- 0F01 to 0F05 (Panasonic)
- 4E06 to 4E08 (Thomson)
- 4F2001 to 4F2006 (Amstrad)
- 4F2101 to 4F2118 and 9F2101 to 9F2137 (Amstrad or Pace)
- 9F2001 to 9F2024, PVR2, 9F2201 to 9F2235, 9F2301 to 9F2339 (Pace)
- 4E2101 to 4E2141 (Thomson)
At this point, it’s easy to know whether your box is affected – as you won’t be able to watch any of the BBC’s channels, and the three ITV channels that were upgraded.
If you have one of the affected, older Sky SD-only boxes, you can upgrade to Sky Q at no extra cost.
Importantly, Sky says there’ll be no change to your Sky TV package or pricing.
This is important, as usually customers who wish to upgrade their Sky equipment are also asked to upgrade their plans and contracts – and that won’t be the case here (see our guide on Sky’s HD pricing changes).
Once you sign up, the new Sky Q box will be installed by one of Sky’s engineers on a date that suits you.
At that point, you’ll be able to watch all the BBC channels in HD – including all local programmes.
In order to start the upgrade process, Sky customers can call 0333 759 5121, or upgrade online via this link.
Sky has also setup a dedicated help page for this issue.
Remember – Freeview Is Not Affected
These changes will only affect Freesat and Sky users (with older devices).
Viewers using Freeview (including on pay-TV platforms, such as Virgin Media TV and BT TV / EE TV) will see no changes in the BBC and ITV’s broadcasts.
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