The End Of Freeview As We Know It: Ofcom Unveils Plans

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Freeview, the UK’s popular free-to-air TV service, could be facing a major overhaul in the coming years, or even disappear completely, according to a new report by Ofcom, the country’s communications regulator.

The report, which was submitted to the UK Government, highlights the increasing shift towards on-demand and broadband-based streaming services, particularly among younger audiences, and the challenges this poses for traditional TV platforms like DTT (Freeview) and Freesat.

As more viewers switch to online streaming services, Ofcom has outlined three potential paths for the future of Freeview: upgrading the platform to improve efficiency and performance, streamlining it to a core “basic” service, or phasing it out entirely in favour of a transition to internet-only television distribution (such as the new Freely platform).

Each scenario has its own set of challenges and implications, signalling significant shifts in how UK viewers will access TV channels in the coming years.

Maintaining Universal Access to TV

One key point of agreement is the importance of preserving the universality of public service broadcasting.

New Freeview Play 2022 mockup

This means ensuring that everyone in the UK can access channels like BBC One, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5, regardless of their platform.

Freeview and Freesat have long been the backbone of free-to-view TV in the UK, providing free access to a diverse range of channels via an aerial or a satellite dish.

However, as viewing habits evolve and more people are switching to streaming, questions arise about whether these platforms can continue to deliver this universal service in the long run.

Three Potential Paths For Freeview

According to Ofcom, the current setup for Freeview (Digital Terrestrial Television) might not meet viewers’ needs as well over the next 10 to 15 years.

There are also concerns about whether it can continue to be the main way we get our TV in the long run. 

TV Transmitter aerial communications tower

Ofcom’s report outlines three possible solutions for the future of the free to air platforms:

Upgrading Freeview

The first option involves investing in modernizing the Freeview platform to improve its efficiency and performance.

By adopting advanced technologies like DVB-T2 (Digital Video Broadcasting – Second Generation Terrestrial), Freeview could offer more channels and enhanced picture quality while using less of the radio spectrum reserved for TV signals.

However, this path would require significant upfront investment from broadcasters and multiplex operators, and some households with older TV sets might need assistance in upgrading their equipment to be compatible with the new standards.

Downgrading Freeview

The second proposal suggests reducing Freeview to a core service, often referred to as a “nightlight” offering.

Freeview scanning for channels

This would involve cutting back on the number of Freeview multiplexes and providing a limited selection of essential channels, such as the main public service broadcasters and news outlets.

By scaling down the Freeview platform, operating costs could be reduced.

This streamlined service could serve as a transitional step towards Freeview’s eventual full shutdown, or it could remain a basic fallback option for households that do not switch to internet-based TV services.

Phasing Out Freeview

The third and most transformative scenario outlined in Ofcom’s report is to establish a roadmap for the complete phaseout of the Freeview DTT platform, facilitating a carefully managed transition to broadband-only television distribution.

In other words, most of the channels will likely remain (at least the ones that can take part in the transition), but instead of coming to your home over the air, they will be streamed over the internet (similar to how Freeview Play’s channels operate today).

Metz Roku TV Freeview Play
Freeview Play

This approach would require a coordinated effort to support households currently relying on Freeview in adopting internet-based platforms, which offer a wider range of features and services.

This support would include assisting with reliable broadband connections and promoting digital literacy skills to ensure that no viewers are left behind in the transition away from traditional broadcasting.

It’s worth noting that Freely, the broadband-based Freeview alternative that launched last week, could eventually be the answer to a world without over-the-air channels, but for now – most of Freely’s channels still require an aerial.

Freeview’s Transformation And The Challenges Ahead

While a full Freeview phaseout presents opportunities for innovation and enhanced viewer experiences, it also comes with significant challenges that must be carefully addressed.

One of the primary obstacles is the availability and affordability of broadband services.

Although broadband coverage is expanding across the UK, there are still gaps, particularly in rural areas. Furthermore, the cost of broadband subscriptions could be a barrier for some households, especially those with lower incomes.

Another important consideration is digital literacy. Some viewers, particularly older generations, may find the transition to internet-based TV interfaces more challenging, as they can be more complex and varied compared to traditional remote controls and electronic program guides (EPGs).

Elderly couple seniors watchingTV

To tackle these challenges, Ofcom stresses the need for a comprehensive digital switchover support program.

This would require collaboration among the government, industry stakeholders, and consumer groups to ensure that every household has access to reliable and affordable broadband, as well as the necessary support and resources to navigate the evolving TV landscape.

On the positive side, a full transition to internet-based services could unlock a wealth of opportunities for viewers, providing access to a vast array of content, personalized recommendations, and interactive features such as Programme Restart, Live Pause and more.

Live Pause on Freely

It could also spur innovation within the broadcasting sector, encouraging the development of new services and business models.

However, there are potential drawbacks to consider.

The cost of operating multiple distribution networks simultaneously (having to maintain streaming and over-the-air channels at the same time) could strain broadcasters financially, potentially impacting the quality and diversity of available content.

There are also concerns about the resilience of internet-based TV services during power outages or broadband network disruptions – DTT is known for its robustness, particularly in emergencies when internet services might be down.

Angry woman tv broken no signal

Furthermore, the transition could have broader implications for the UK’s creative economy, as shifts in distribution costs and audience fragmentation may influence content production and commissioning decisions.

The Importance of Coordination and Clarity

Ofcom’s report underscores the significance of coordination and collaboration among industry stakeholders, government entities, and consumer groups in shaping the future of TV distribution in the UK.

Many respondents to Ofcom’s “Call for Evidence” stressed the need for a clear, long-term vision for Freeview and other platforms to provide certainty for investors and enable effective planning.

The report suggests that a decision on the future approach to Freeview would ideally be made by 2025/26 to allow adequate time for preparation and implementation.

As the UK Government considers Ofcom’s findings and weighs the potential trade-offs and benefits of each scenario, it is evident that close collaboration among all stakeholders will be important in charting a course that serves the interests of viewers, broadcasters, and the broader creative economy.

Family watching TV shocked surprised 120

The future of Freeview hangs in the balance, and the decisions made in the coming years will have a profound impact on the UK’s television landscape. 

However, it’s worth remembering that Freeview and Freesat aren’t going anywhere just yet, and the major changes are only expected to begin beyond 2030.

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36 thoughts on “The End Of Freeview As We Know It: Ofcom Unveils Plans”

  1. One opition is to Switch off the MPEG 2 DVB T and leave those in the dark who won’t change their smart tv’s.
    They soon change their tunes, I have a JVC smart tv that has both DVB T and DVB T 2 so it at the Ready if and the switchover happens.

    Reply
  2. What about the hundreds of thousands caravan owners who have no access to broadband. Virtually every (150+) caravan on my site has a freeview ariel .

    Reply
  3. Freeview TV is almost unwatchably bad on modern TVs

    The move to DVB-T2 should have started years ago and be commonplace by now

    And even at this late stage Freely should have been underpinned by it

    Reply
  4. It’s often difficult to think of how the future might be different from today. But imagine a time when broadband is a social good, just like gas and water run by a central authority (like railtrack) and with suppliers over the top like an MVNO.
    Also imagine that in more built up areas we would have public wifi
    So the argument about not having broadband would be less and less.
    So we can now move all broadcasting online.
    Of course this is difficult to imagine today with the pleathora of private companies running it all, but this could change.

    Reply
    • In the Southampton Portsmouth area we have mass broadband being cabled installed underground by a company called toob. The broadband speed is going to be M900 and the cost £25 a month so it looks like perhaps different company’s will install through out the uk ready for freely.

      Reply
  5. The cheapest option will be to reduce Freeview to a SD only PSB only core service. No HD and a vastly reduced channel count. And that is the road that will more likely be chosen by government and broadcasters. That way they can claim those who don’t/ can’t/ or refuse to stream,are not technically confident,are unable to meet the cost of a new TV or set top box, will not be left behind as new tech emerges .Let’s be honest we all know there will never be free broadband. There will never be a massive investment in DVB-T2 or anything terrestrial going forward. Freesat will disappear altogether once sky complete the move to IPTV. PSB providers won’t support the cost of new satellites once the current ones are switched off around 2028. Freesat will close, Terrestrial will be scaled down and the new norm will be IPTV . If I was a betting man I would put money on this been how the next few years pans out

    Reply
    • Standard Definition is old hat, and it’s about time it was discontinued for high quality HD pictures and sound. If I it my way and I took charge at Arqiva all Freeview would go DVB-T2 and upgrade to better pictures and sound.

      I’m sorry but there is simply no place for grotty horrible SD picture quality and there’s no excuse for soft mushy MPEG2 at all just to appease those who won’t change.

      DVB-T2 equipment is more affordable than ever, and the standard should be embraced on Freeview, all this online nonsense is selfish.

      Reply
      • One opition is to Switch off the MPEG 2 DVB T and leave those in the dark who won’t change their smart tv’s.
        They soon change their tunes, I have a JVC smart tv that has both DVB T and DVB T 2 so it at the Ready if and the switchover happens.

        Reply
        • To go all DVB-T2 transmission for everything is one of the options mooted. It uses less spectrum, can accommodate more channels, and is more efficient. Even Freeview Lite relays get a boost of extra channels using this switch.

          Reply
    • I have to agree with you, Once Freely/Streaming TV has around 98% penetration I can see a basic “Nightlight” service being left on DTT. Maybe BBC 1 ITV 1 Channels 4 & 5 and BBC News, probably all in SD. Maybe if they achieve 100% uptake that could be reduced to BBC 1 & ITV 1 primarily for emergency use in the event of a critical national incident: As the article mentions, things can happen that will take out broadband for however long and in that case there will need to be a backup to ensure information is disseminated efficiently. As for SD being unwatchable, I suspect in the case of, it being largely for emergencies folks won’t be worrying about the quality of SD.

      Reply
      • It’s going to take a good while.

        You can’t leave out those which poor scratchy non existent broadband or don’t want it, why should they have to pay extra and go online whether they like it or not to obtain and pay more get the best quality pictures and sound? Good watchable quality tv is a right not a privilege!….and nor should it be.

        Reply
    • Sadly, I think you’re right! Pushing everything to IP delivered is the future the broadcasters want but are seemingly deaf to the fact that the broadband infrastructure in this country is just not up to it outside of the metropolitan city bubbles.

      Reply
  6. I haven’t watched live TV for years and don’t even have an aerial in the home yet I’m still paying the ridiculously expensive TV license because I watch maybe 5 hours of TV a week on iplayer. Please do phase out terrestrial ASAP and bring transmission costs down so eventually TV licence can be reduced.

    Reply
    • Why should terrestrial go conveniently deliberately leaving out those with lousy broadband or patchy to non existent mobile broadband and phone reception, why?

      Reply
      • Neoliberal economics says, “If you can’t pay for it you can’t have it”. The idea of a tax-payer funded universal service is anathema to the neoliberal ruling class.
        I agree with you about those who currently cannot get internet based TV, but current thinking among those who make the decisions seems to be that, “If the service can’t be provided at a profit, then it can’t be provided at all.”.

        Reply
        • Deliberately leaving out those with mediocre poor broadband and absolutely patchy mobile broadband reception is WRONG. I personally wouldn’t allow it.

          Reply
  7. The HD channels on Freeview are pretty good, but the quality of some of the SD stuff is truly awful. Amongst others, I’m looking at you, Sky News and ITV1+1.

    I recently upgraded from a 55″ LCD to a 65″ OLED, and it has made the likes of the channels mentioned above pretty much unwatchable OTA! I have to resort to streaming in those cases.

    With everyone getting bigger and bigger panels, if Freeview can sort out that side of the equation then I really hope it can go on for many more years.

    Reply
  8. I would rather Freeview was switched to all DVB-T2 transmission to make capacity for more channels and services, and once this is done up the bit rates and lower the transmission rates for channels that can’t go HD such as Talking Pictures TV.

    There was another plan to drag Freeview kicking and screaming into the best it can be, with a new UHD 4K technical standard, called UHD DVB, why was this thrown into the weeds and left to rot by Arqiva?

    Reply
  9. It’s Great Freeview is still sticking around a little longer, i just bought a good jvc smart tv about 4 years ago and it still got life in the old bird yet.
    The UK TV Industry should move over to DVB T2 and free up spectrum space for mobile companies and to provide more HD channels for tv companies by switching off the SD services.

    Reply
    • Correct me if I’m wrong here, but, haven’t the mayor broadcasters on Freeview switched to DVB-T2 already? Most Freeview boxes and new TV sets are all DVB-T2 compliant and HD is now the norm?
      My family and I stream a lot, and don’t watch TV through the usual routes anymore. I opted for a Roku ecosystem, and I also run a Plex server with movies and TV shows on the terabytes of hard drives, and I’m about to add 8 Freeview tuners to it for viewing TV. We live in the Rhondda Valleys and Freeview is via relays, so we only get around 40 channels, so it’s basically a core service like Ofcom have outlined, but, it’s there, all in HD DVB-T2 also! I’m a great believer in progress and think that until the UK has rolled out FTTP (Full Fibre) internet, yes buffering will happen, but once it’s complete it’ll be robust enough as long as each internet user chooses the right package for their household needs, I know I will need at least a 500/75 service for the family to all stream to their devices[ at the moment, and to be able to use their consoles etc without to much degradation to the throughput of]

      Reply
      • It’s a mixture of DVB-T and DVB-T2 channels from all terrestrial UK tv transmitters.

        DVB-T, as good as it is, has reached its limits for capacity, and can’t physically carry anymore services.

        I think think the current mix of Internet delivered tv channels over conventional linear delivered tv services is pathetic.

        By switching to all DVB-T2 transmission, for all services, is better, as they can utilise full 24h operation once this is done.

        Reply
        • H265 is always going to be the better of the video codecs, especially for broadcasters and streamers, that is till AV1 is adopted.
          Freeview really does need 24/7 like satellite, I just fear that Ofcom are going to push everything towards IPTV, so they can auction off the last few bread crumbs to the mobile services for 4G and 5G respectively.

          Reply
          • Ofcom should listen to viewers, not just the broadcast industry, as a regulator should. There are people in areas like the rural idylls of Cumbria for example like Coniston Ulpha Broughton In Furness Corney etc who can’t get decent broadband speeds or mobile phone reception to adequately stream broadcast quality video.

            By refusing to listen to public Ofcom are basically taking the proverbial over these viewers quite deliberately.

  10. Mobile phones making video calls to families abroad, game boxes all doing the latest software update, people working from home, voip telephone, mobile phone calls police monitoring cctv people surfing the Internet just to name few then add millions watching TV even in the remote areas of the UK. Internet service providers face enormous costs in both the provision and 24 hour upkeep and maintenance of such a service which will be passed on naturally. Buffering during Wimbledon final is not an option.

    Reply
  11. The French DTT equivalent puts FreeView to shame! Less channels yes, but all delivered over the air in HD – and they didn’t even need to upgrade all their transmitters to DVB-T2… a programme Arquiva seems to have kicked into the long grass whilst they amass the cash of tiny startup broadcasters and whack them on overloaded multiplexes to beam out trash tv in the most dire picture quality possible.

    Reply
  12. Sports and movies used to be the staple weekend viewing on the tele years ago, now you have to have the Internet and an additional subscription package to enjoy this sort of media, which well may account for the increase in more people watching TV over the Internet. My guess is most people still get their core TV via conventional means be it aerial or dish based. Let’s not forget according to everyone TV 95% of the TV we watch is available for free.

    Reply
  13. The broadcasters need to improve their apps, such as iplayer. It’s flaky, along with the others.

    Watching via broadband on 7day catchup is, at the moment, flaky.

    They’re rushing into this with an objective in mind that is not being shared, such as BBC funding.

    Freeview ain’t broken!

    Reply
    • I quite agree that a great more work needs to be done to improve the apps. I can watch 6 news programs, 3 sports and a sensible documentary but the apps recommend “trashy reality TV” every time I start them up. I have to go into categories or search to find the next program in whatever series I was watching. It does not learn my preferences. I would love a LIKE and Dislike flag I can click on to say “Show me more” or “Hide this crap because I’m never going to watch it”

      Reply

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