UKTV, known for its array of popular British channels such as Dave and Yesterday, is taking a bold step – but it might leave some scratching their heads.
In the summer of 2024, UKTV is planning to switch things up by renaming itself and its channels to… ‘U’.
So from that point on, you’ll be tuning into U&Dave, U&Drama, and others, with the streaming app – known as UKTV Play – being simply called ‘U’.
This shift to ‘U’ is a big move for a network that’s been a staple in British homes for more than three decades, and there are also plans to bring in additional ad-supported channels.
So, what does this mean for your favourite shows and how you watch them? Let’s dive in and find out if this change is as quirky as it sounds or if there’s more to it.
The Evolution Of UKTV
UKTV’s story began in the early 1990s, a joint venture between BBC Worldwide and Thames Television.
This partnership was formed to leverage the extensive BBC archive, bringing classic programming to a broader audience through cable and satellite TV.
Over the years, UKTV has established itself as a dynamic player in the British television landscape, offering a blend of free and pay-TV channels.
UKTV operates several channels that are accessible free of charge on Freeview and through its streaming service, UKTV Play. These channels cater to a variety of interests and genres:
Dave: Known for its witty and contemporary entertainment, Dave offers a mix of original programming, comedy, and reality shows.
Drama: Focuses on classic and modern dramatic series, appealing to fans of both period pieces and contemporary dramas.
Yesterday: This channel specializes in history and factual programming, offering documentaries and historical dramas.
W (formerly Watch): W offers a mix of entertainment programming, including popular lifestyle and reality shows.
UKTV also operates a set of channels that are available exclusively on pay-TV platforms (such as Sky and Virgin Media). These channels typically offer more specialized content:
Gold: This channel is a destination for classic British comedy, airing beloved sitcoms and stand-up specials.
Alibi: Dedicated to crime drama, Alibi features a range of popular British and international detective series.
Eden: Focused on nature and science documentaries, Eden offers educational and visually stunning programming.
The Age Of Streaming: UKTV Play
In response to the shift towards digital consumption, UKTV launched UKTV Play in 2014, marking its foray into the on-demand streaming service market.
Initially conceptualized as a catch-up platform, UKTV Play allowed viewers to watch shows from UKTV’s channels post-broadcast.
Gradually, it expanded its library, offering an extensive range of content from UKTV’s various channels, along with exclusive series and box sets.
UKTV Play is available on most of the streaming devices sold in the UK, as well as on Freeview Play streamers and Smart TVs.
Goodbye, UKTV – Hello, U
Today, UKTV announced that it will be ditching the UKTV name in 2024 – and bringing in a new brand: U.
The introduction of ‘U’ represents a consolidation of UKTV’s brand. The goal is to create a more cohesive and easily navigable network of channels and services.
According to UKTV’s Chief Marketing Officer, Penny Brough, this move aims to address the previously disjointed nature of their offerings, ensuring a more integrated viewer experience.
As part of this rebranding, UKTV’s family of free-to-air channels will undergo name changes to align with the new ‘U’ brand. The channels will incorporate the ‘U’ prefix, transforming into:
These name changes are designed to maintain the unique identity and content focus of each channel while bringing them under a unified brand umbrella.
UKTV Play Becomes ‘U’ Streaming Service
The most significant (and possibly confusing) change is the transition of UKTV Play to the ‘U’ streaming service.
The ‘U’ streaming service, created in partnership with global brand consultancy Wolff Olins will continue to offer thousands of hours of content from various genres, including:
Drama (Annika, Holby City, Madam Secretary, Sister Boniface Mysteries, A Million Little Things), comedy (Meet the Richardsons, Red Dwarf, Live at the Apollo, Mock the Week, We Are Not Alone), entertainment (Big Zuu’s Big Eats, David Mitchell’s Outsiders, QI, Mel Giedroyc: Unforgivable, World’s Most Dangerous Roads), and factual entertainment (Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over, Masterchef Australia, Katie Piper: Jailhouse Mums, Secrets of the London Underground, Bangers & Cash).
U will also give viewers access to exclusive shows, award-winning originals, premiere acquisitions and iconic programmes from the BBC.
David Stevens, Executive Strategy Director at Wolff Olins, said: “The entertainment market is so awash with confusing and bizarrely named offers, so we wanted to strip back, reduce the noise and present this family of brands in a clear, crisp, singular way.
“The new ‘U’ name is a nod to UKTV’s heritage, while emphasising that this new viewing experience is all about you.”
A FAST Future
As UKTV transitions to its new ‘U’ brand in 2024, it also plans to introduce more FAST (Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV) channels, although specific details about these channels are still under wraps.
FAST channels, offering free, ad-supported linear streaming content, represent a blend of traditional TV and modern streaming experiences.
Currently, UKTV operates several digital-only channels on other platforms such as Pluto TV and Amazon’s Freevee, including UKTV Play Heroes and Full Throttle.
These channels cater to niche audiences, offering specialized content in areas like adventure, comedy and automotive programming.
The introduction of new FAST channels could potentially see an expansion or rebranding of these existing digital channels, or the launch of entirely new ones under the ‘U’ banner.
A New Direction For U?
While the rebrand to ‘U’ suggests a new direction, there’s an argument to be made that, at least for now, it’s primarily a name change.
UKTV Play, under the ‘U’ brand, will continue to offer the same mix of dramas, comedies, and documentaries, with no immediate signs of significant expansion or diversification in programming.
For regular viewers, the rebranding raises concerns about clarity and usability.
Will the change to ‘U’ make it easier for audiences to navigate UKTV’s offerings, or will it add an unnecessary layer of confusion (Remember when NOW TV changed its name to NOW? Our readers are still calling it NOW TV, almost three years later).
Furthermore, an important point in UKTV’s announcement is the status of its premium channels – Alibi, Gold, and Eden.
We’re told that these channels, known for their specialized content, will continue to be available only on pay-TV platforms, and there are no current plans to make them directly available (even with a subscription) on UKTV Play / U – although further plans for these channels will be announced in 2024.
This decision maintains the clear division between UKTV’s free and premium offerings, without taking the extra step of turning them into a streaming service.
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