The rise of mobile should not limit the future of Freeview, says Caroline Thomson
If you are a UK programmemaker, there’s a good chance most viewers watch your programme via Freeview.
New apps, devices and platforms may capture the headlines but aerials still deliver nine out of 10 of the UK’s most-watched shows – no gatekeepers, no subscription, simple to use, great telly.
No wonder viewers love it.
Digital terrestrial TV, with Freeview at its heart, is a success story for the whole industry: regulators, manufacturers, broadcasters and producers. It’s the number one choice on people’s main TVs and is watched on at least one set in around three-quarters of homes.
But we can’t take Freeview’s universal coverage and channel line-up for granted. The platform, the technology underpinning it and its possible uses are constantly evolving. There are big decisions on the horizon about whether to take more of the airwaves currently used to broadcast Freeview and give them over to mobile broadband.
Far from being a dry and dusty debate confined to technical specialists, this is an issue in which all of us who care about TV have an interest.
Over many years, mobile operators have been very successful in arguing for more airwaves on which to launch new services. The latest 4G mobile signals become available this month on spectrum freed up by digital TV switchover – the last major reorganisation of airwaves co-ordinated by Digital UK and costing around £1bn.
Less than a year on from the completion of switchover, discussions are under way to reallocate more capacity to mobile as soon as 2018.
The debate around how and when to allocate more airwaves to mobile takes place at national, European and international levels.
Ofcom represents the UK in many of these discussions and has a tricky balance to strike between competing interests. I’m pleased that it has stated from the outset its belief in the importance of terrestrial TV and the risk of starving the platform of the broadcasting spectrum it needs. It’s Ofcom’s job to act in the interests of consumers and citizens – Freeview viewers and mobile users alike.
As chair of Digital UK, which manages the day-to-day operation of the Freeview platform, I believe it’s vital that we maintain a strong and competitive service that can continue evolving to deliver for viewers, UK broadcasting and our creative industries. That’s why in the coming months we will work with Freeview, broadcasters and Ofcom to explore how best to enable the platform to evolve so mobile and Freeview can flourish alongside each other.
We are about to submit a joint broadcaster submission to Ofcom, arguing that the UK’s 40 million Freeview viewers must not see their TV service suffer in terms of channel choice or coverage.
Should there be another shakeup, viewers will want accurate information about how they will be affected and should not be expected to bear the cost of any new aerials or reception equipment needed to continue receiving their current channels.
The debate is just getting started so there will be time for those who share our views to get involved. I hope we can work together to make the case for Freeview and ensure it continues serving viewers and showcasing our creative sector.
Caroline Thomson is chair of Digital UK