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.

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.

Channel 4 HD and Box Plus Channels return to Freesat

Page last updated on January 4th, 2022 at 01:51 pm

Back in February 2018, a dispute between Channel 4 and Freesat over fees for inclusion on the platform saw the removal of Channel 4 HD and the Box Plus network of music channels from the Freesat satellite platform. All except 4 Music remained free-to-air, meaning they could still be manually tuned into Fressat boxes. However, 4 Music became encrypted due to rights issues and a move to a transponder with a wider footprint beyond the UK. The other Box Plus music channels also moved transponder, but as there were no rights issues to overcome, they were able to remain free-to-air.

Fast forward to today, and structural changes at Freesat have led to this decision being broadly reversed. Freesat, which oversees the free-to-air satellite platform, has been merged with Freeview, which performs a similar role for UK terrestrial TV. Channel 4 held a shareholding in Freeview, and has now gained a similar shareholding in Freesat, creating a more favourable position for the broadcaster.

This has seen Channel 4 HD return to the Freesat EPG, along with The Box, Box Hits, Kerrang, Kiss, and Magic which form part of the Box Plus Network, which is wholly owned by Channel 4. 4 Music remains encrypted, so cannot be included for the time being, though this may change.

Channel 4 HD appears further down the on the EPG, as not all advertising regions are available for the channel, with the standard definition version remaining on channel no. 104. The new EPG numbers for the re-added services are in the table below.

Channel Freesat Channel No.
Channel 4 HD 126
The Box 502
Box Hits 501
Kerrang 505
Kiss 503
Magic 504

Channel 4 Disruption Mostly Over

Channel 4’s disruption following Red Bee Media’s server failure appears to be over, with music channel Kerrang returning, and the restoration of accessibility services.

Although not directly observed, it has been reported by some outlets that Kerrang had previously returned to air shortly after the initial incident, using back up facilities. However, the service was then taken back off-air as part of efforts to restore other services. Kerrang was the last of the channels in the Channel 4 owned the Box Plus Network to return.

The restoration of accessibility services mean that viewers can now access subtitle and audio description services where they would normally be available.

No doubt work will be in progress in the background, to build more resilient backup facilities. The level of disruption caused has been less than ideal for Channel 4. As yet, Red Bee Media have yet to reveal the exact cause of the disruption, but it would appear that an issue with fire suppression equipment led to accidentle activation, damaging playout servers.

Slow Recovery for 4 Music

Music/entertainment channel 4 Music has now resumed normal programming following disruption caused by playout provider Red Bee Media.

With efforts having focused on the main Channel 4 services, the music based channels (including 4 Music) in the Box Plus Network were at a lower priority, and took longer to return.

The Box was the first of these channels to return, followed by Box Hits. 4 Music simulcast The Box as a temporary measure for a few weeks, following this with a shorter simulcast of Box Hits.

When 4 Music finally returned, it carried a full 24 hour service of music videos, instead of the hybrid music and entertainment format that the channel normally broadcasts.

This finally ended on Tuesday (9th November 2021), when the channel resumed normal broadcasts, with shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch returning to the schedule. Rick and Morty, and The Goldbergs have also joined the schedule, with these having previously been shown on E4. In most cases, 4 Music are showing each series in order, starting with the very first episode of each.

In total 4 Music has faced around 7 weeks of disruption. It is understood that rock music channel Kerrang is still yet to return, and the launch of festive service Boxmas (which temporarily replaces Box Hits) is delayed. All other Box Plus Network channels have resumed broadcasts.

Channel 4 and Channel 5 Disrupted by Red Bee Media Incident

Viewers of Channel 4 and Channel 5 are continuing to face disruption caused by an incident at transmission provider Red Bee Media. Some BT Sport channels are also affected, as is the BBC.

Red Media Media provide playout facilities, forming part of the infrastructure that enables the channels to broadcast. An incident has caused damage to the servers which enable this.

The BBC were able to switch seamlessly to a backup service, allowing all TV channels to continue broadcasts as or close to normal. Channel 5 has also returned to air, with a black and white triangle logo in the right hand corner of the screen indicating the channel is using back up facilities.

Channel 4 and it’s sister channels (including the Box Plus Network) is experiencing the most disruption. The disruption varies from platform to platform, but E4 +1 is currently off-air on Freeview, and most Box Plus Network channels are simulcasting either The Box or Kiss. Online live streams are off-air, and viewers are reporting problems with sound and picture quality.

It is unclear what the exact cause of the disruption is, or when problems will be resolved.

Integration Planned for Freesat and Digital UK

UK public service broadcasters BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 are planning to integrate Digital UK and Freesat. Digital UK facilitates the provision of Freeview TV services, whilst Freesat is the UK’s main subscription free satellite TV platform (not to be confused with the entirely separate Freesat from Sky).

This proposed move is intended to help ensure viewers continue to have access to a range of free to view TV platforms. Additionally, the move is also intended to help viewers benefit from technological innovations and developments across the two services.

The move requires regulatory approval, and should complete a few months after approval is given.

Major Businesses Donate Advertisment Airtime

On 31st July (2020) Channel 4 showed an exclusive ad break, during Cats Does Countdown on Channel 4, which saw airtime donated to six independent businesses:

  • Devine Flowers in Maidenhead, supported by Lloyds Bank
  • Jokoto Tailoring in Bristol, supported by American Express
  • Kool Kuts in Brixton, supported by Channel 4
  • Larch Green Alpacas, Glasgow, supported by Bought by Many
  • LV Property in Birmingham, supported by Rightmove
  • Seamus O’Donnells in Bristol, supported by Coca-Cola

American Express, Bought by Many, Coca-Cola, Lloyds Bank, and Rightmove each donated 30 seconds of airtime, with the remainder donated by Channel 4. The ad break was also shown on E4, Film4, More4, 4Music and catch-up service All4.

The aim of the ‘The Great High Street Comeback’ campaign was to help support independent businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and show that the high street is open for business again

Box Upfront Not Returning

As Channel 4 starts to fully integrate the Box Plus Network into its main business, it has been confirmed that Box Upfront will not be returning.

Box Upfront had become Boxmas over the festive period. Boxmas will close on 8th January on Virgin Media, and 6am on 9th January on Sky. Adverts on E4 are currently running for a new Box Upfront show for 4Music, suggesting that the Box Upfront brand will continue in a revised form.

The move follows the closure of the Box Plus app, as content migrates to All4. The remaining Box Plus Network consists of 4Music, The Box, Box Hits, Kerrang TV, Kiss TV and Magic TV

+1 Moves on Freeview

Whilst I normally wait until I have the full story before publishing a news article, today I make an exception as the information will be of benefit to viewers.

Freeview are advising viewers to to retune on 5th November, as changes are being made to way in which Film4+1 and More4+1 are broadcast. It is understood that these channels will be moving to a different frequency.

Freeview are also advising a further retune will be required on 14th November in order to continue receiving E4+1, and this could be part of a wider channel reshuffle. Following a renumbering by Channel 4 earlier this year, it is clear that E4 is an important part of their plans. Therefore it would appear that a coverage boost to E4+1 appears likely. through a frequency/multiplex slot.

Currently, Film4+1 and More4+1 are on PSB (public service broadcaster) frequencies, with E4+1 on a commercial frequency with reduced coverage area.

More details will be posted on TelevisionSRS when available.