News

Together TV Launches Online Streaming Service

Together TV, the community lead channel supported by several larger broadcasters, has launched a new streaming service

Initially, the channel is available on desktop, mobile, and tablet devices. More platforms will be added in the future, including over the coming months.

The new service provides an alternative way of accessing the channel for those affect by the recent reduction in availability on Freeview. Together TV remains available on satellite (both Sky and Freesat), and cable (Virgin Media).

COM7 Closure Implications

The temporary terrestrial (Freeview) multiplex COM7 is set to close in June, to allow for the frequencies to be used for mobile phone networks. The frequency is one of those in the 700 MHz band that has now largely been cleared for %G mobile phone use, with the closure of COM7 to complete the process.

This will mean some Freeview viewers will lose some channels. I say some, as COM7 currently broadcasts to a limited area, and by using the DVB-T2 transmission method is only available those with compatible equipment (usually branded Freeview HD or Freeview Play).

COM7 currently broadcasts a mix of HD (high definition) and standard definition channels, largely HD simulcasts and plus 1 timeshifts. However, Freesports, Now 80s, That’s TV (UK version), ‘pop-up’ temporary service That’s Music, Forces TV, and the recently moved Together TV are all ‘unique’ to this multiplex.

In total, some viewers may lose up to 15 channels, on the assumption that no channels will be re-accommodated on other multiplexes. Exact changes are yet to be revealed (or at least to reach me), so the exact number of closures may change.  There is not enough spare capacity to accommodate all services on other multiplexes, so at least some will close.

It is up to the channel owners and transmitter network providers to decide who gets available vacant capacity. There is only one remaining DVB-T2 multiplex (BBC B/PSB3), and that is current full. This means the HD simulcasts will close, but may appear in the future if an existing multiplex converts to DVB-T2.

That leaves the standard definition channels, of which 3 are time shift versions of existing channels so are unlikely to be retained. That’s Music is a pop-up service, so will also close, leaving 6 channels needing capacity. It is unlikely that there is enough national capacity to keep all 6 on-air.

Time will tell if any of the services affected by the COM7 closure will continue broadcasting on Freeview, but most are available on other platforms such as satellite which are unaffected by the terrestrial changes.

A New Hybrid Future for Talk Radio

Talk Radio, the speech based station from Wireless Group (owned by News UK), will become a hybrid TV and radio channel with the launch of Talk TV. The development of the channel has been forming discussion for sometime, but there are now enough confirmed details for a full news article.

Talk Radio have been streaming an online TV channel Talk Radio TV for some time now. Largely, this comprises the same audio feed as the station on DAB+, with the addition of a studio video feed, and a scrolling news ticker. Daytime content will be carried over to the new hybrid service largely unchanged.


Screenshot of Talk TV website, 21/04/2022.

In the evenings, new primetime shows will be added, hosted by well known names such a Sharon Osborne and Piers Morgan. The audio for these will be rebroadcast on Talk Radio, but will be broadcast from new TV studios.

A website has now appeared online, but helpfully this only confirms the start date of the new Talk TV service, which is the 25th April (2022). Channel availability confirmed so far includes terrestrial Freeview on number 237, satellite platforms Freesat (217) and Sky (526), and cable platform Virgin Media (number not yet confirmed).

NB. All channel numbers confirmed are based on details obtained from platform websites or direct observations.

More DAB Radio Stations Close

Perhaps a sign of a worsening economy, or a realisation that there is excessive duplication, several more DAB (and/or DAB+) stations have now closed.

On the Surrey local DAB multiplex, the service Full FM Radio has been removed. The Polish language service does continue online.

Full closure has occurred for All Oldies Radio, which was broadcast on the Herts Beds Bucks local multiplex. This station was on oldies music led service, that initially broadcast online before restructuring as a local service aimed at the Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Buckinghamshire it broadcast to on DAB.

In Scotland, the three Scottish Sun branded services Sun 80s, Sun Chilled, and Sun Hits have now closed. These three services were largely fillers utilising a large amount of vacant capacity on the Central Scotland regional DAB multiplex, with Sun Chilled initially launching as Sun Greatest Hits (prior to the Bauer Media owned station of a similar name).

The three Scottish Sun services were largely automated, but did feature comprehensive travel bulletins, and some news bulletins, though latterly the news bulletins appeared to be more of a promotion of articles on the Scottish Sun website. Despite this, all three stations broadcast in high quality 128 kbps joint stereo DAB, something of a rarity for commercial radio.

With the three Union Jack stations having already closed, it seems that more DAB stations are likely to follow, despite the new small-scale, hyperlocal DAB multiplexes starting to launch.

UK Government Pursues Channel 4 Privatisation

The UK Government has decided to pursue the privatisation of state owned broadcaster Channel 4, following a public consultation, which the move to form part of this years Queen’s speech in May (2022). Proceeds from the sale are expected to be shared amongst the creative TV industry, with independent production companies likely to benefit.

Channel 4, however, have responded calling the move disappointing, quoting “significant public interest concerns” over privatisation. According to the BBC quoting a government source, ministers have concluded that government ownership is holding the broadcaster back in a rapidly changing media landscape, despite the business currently performing well.

Channel 4 was created in 1982 in order to deliver programmes for audiences under-served by existing broadcasters the BBC and ITV, with the channel initially being associated with the various ITV regional franchises. Unlike the BBC, which is funded through the TV license fee, Channel 4 has relied solely on advertising revenue for income.

With the advent of digital television, Channel 4 has expanded with off-shoots such as Film 4, More 4, and E4, with latter responsible for brining popular American comedies such as The Big Bang Theory to UK screens.

The privatisation process is expected to take some time, as measures to find a buyer and clear regulatory processes need to be carried out.

W in a Slightly Different Place on Sky

Unfortunately, time has gotten the better of me lately, and updates have been few and far between. Apologies for any disappointment caused.

I had hoped to have posted about this over a week ago, but the now free-to-air UKTV channel W has changed channel number on Sky. Premium channel Albi has now been promoted on the EPG, and has taken over W’s prominent number of 109, with W now on 132. This updates the previous post.

Curiously, despite now being on Freeview channel number 25, W is still included within the TV packages of BT TV and TalkTalk TV, streamed via broadband on channel number 311 in both cases. This is despite both platforms piggybacking on Freeview terrestrial signals for free-to-air channels. However, this odd situation will still be of benefit to viewers in some areas, as most commercial channels are not available on Freeview relay transmitters.

In what appears to be a move to free up capacity on Freeview transmitters for W, the Together Channel has now been moved to the limited coverage COM7 multiplex. The community led channel is supported by other broadcasters with bandwith and programmes gifted to the channel. It is unclear where this channel will be accommodated on Freeview once the temporary COM7 multiplex closes in June (2022). Carriage on other platforms is currently unaffected at this time.

W Going Free-to-air

UKTV, part of the commercial arm of the BBC, is relaunching its W channel. As part of this, the channel is going free-to-air, and is joining the Freesat satellite platform, and terrestrial platform Freeview. The channel is currently a premium offering available to subscribers to Sky and satellite, and cable TV provider Virgin Media.

The move has been speculated for some time, but has now been confirmed by the broadcaster. Prior to confirmation, clue to the move have become far more visible, with a Freeview license issued by the regulator Ofcom, and the commencement of free-to-air tests on satellite. W and its corresponding +1 channel are now available on Sky without an active subscription.

From Monday 28th March (2022), W will be available on existing Sky channel number 109 (or 110 for viewers in Wales), and Virgin Media on existing number 125, as well as launching on Freeview number 25 and Freesat number 156.

As part of the launch on Freeview, a wider channel number shuffle will take place. 25 is currently occupied by Dave Ja Vu (Dave +1), which will move to number 74, currently occupied by Drama +1. Drama +1 will in turn receive a promotion to channel number 60, currently occupied by part-time placeholder ITV4 +1. No new number is yet available for ITV4 +1, but this service will likely move further down the order.

Depending on equipment, you may need to retune your Freeview TV or set top box to update the channel names on the channel lists. Some equipment will detect new channels automatically on existing stored frequencies, so will automatically pick up the new feed from Drama +1, and change names in the channel lists accordingly. W and Dave Ja Vu will be using existing feeds, so will not disappear without a retune, but your equipment may not update the service names automatically, so a re-tune may still be required.

DAB Changes

As expected, and widely promoted to listeners ahead of the change, UCB (United Christian Broadcasters) have switched to using DAB+ for both UCB1 and UCB2. Both stations are now on the D1 National DAB multiplex, and are using 24 kbps DAB+ stereo (from 56 kbps Mono LSF for UCB1, and 64 kbps Mono LSF for UCB2).

As part of this, UCB2 moved from the SDL National multiplex, and has now gained wider coverage by being on the D1 National multiplex. However, this is at the expense of sound quality, and some DAB radios will not be able to receive both stations at all, due to not being DAB+ compatible. UCB2 was removed from the SDL National multiplex without any recorded re-tune loop advising listeners to retune.

With UCB relinquishing space on the SDL National multiplex, and reducing overall bitrates on D1 National by a further 8 kbps, this represents a significant cost saving for UCB. Also on the SDL National multiplex, Sunrise Radio (national/London station) have also reduced their bit rate, dropping from 64 kbps to 56 kbps (retaining mono LSF).

In a separate move that has also taken place relatively recently, the three national Jack Media services; Union Jack, Union Jack Dance, and Union Jack Rock, has left the SDL National DAB multiplex. All three services remain available online, and the local Oxfordshire services remain unaffected. The reason for this change is yet to be confirmed.

4 Music Returns to Freesat

Follow the return of Channel 4 HD and Box Plus Channels to Freesat, 4 Music has done the same. Due to the large proportion of entertainment programmes, 4 Music has been allocated a number in the general entertainment section and can now be found on channel number 181.

Technical changes needed to be made to facilitate the return. 4 Music was previously broadcast on a satellite transponder with a largely Europe wide beam. This led to the channel being encrypted, to protect the rights of broadcasters on continental Europe who show the same programmes as 4 Music. 4 Music has now moved to a transponder with a more restricted UK spotbeam, meaning that the encryption is no longer required. Following a brief period of testing, 4 Music has now been added to the Freesat EPG, a process which should be automatic for most viewers.

4 Music was last on Freesat in early 2018, when the channel was removed following a dispute over carriage fees between Freesat and Channel 4. Shortly after, all Box Plus Channels switched to a Europe wide transponder, and whilst most remained free-to-air, 4 Music became encrypted preventing that channel from being manually tuned in. Generic satellite box users will also now benefit from the return to Freesat, as the removal of encryption means the channel can now be viewed, although will need to be scanned in manually.

S4C HD Joins Freeview at Expense of BBC Three HD

The high definition version of Welsh language service S4C has joined Freeview. S4C HD utilises bandwith (space) vacated each evening on the BBC B/PSB3 HD multiplex, when CBBC HD stops broadcasting at 7pm at the end of it programmes.

Unfortunately, this means that S4C HD can only broadcast for a limited time. The standard definition version remains broadcasting 24 hours a day, and can be found on usual channel number 4. Additionally, to give more time to S4C HD at the weekend, CBBC HD now hands over to S4C HD at 2pm. This means that CBBC viewers in Wales have to switch to the standard definition version of CBBC, in order to continue watching on Freeview.

Unfortunately, the new S4C/CBBC HD arrangement means BBC Three will be standard definition only in Wales, due there being no available space left on the BBC B multiplex. A similar issue prevents BBC Three from broadcasting on Freeview in HD in Scotland, thanks to a time sharing arrangement with CBBC HD and BBC Scotland HD.

BBC Three will be available in standard definition across the UK on Freeview, with viewers in England and Northern Ireland being able to access a HD version. A full article on BBC Three availability will follow in due course.