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.

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.

New Name for Paramount, Same Great Action

The Paramount Network channel is changing name tomorrow (19th January 2022). The channel will become 5 Action, but will otherwise continue unchanged.

Paramount Network currently shows original programmes including Trucking Hell, reruns of shows such as Police Interceptors, and a variety of movies. The channel forms part of ViacomCBS’s Channel 5 portfolio, alongside othe ‘5’ branded channels.

Previous changes saw Paramount Network merge with 5 Spike (launched originally as Spike). Paramount Network absorbed most 5 Spike programming, and inherited the most prominent channel numbers on the platforms it broadcast on.

The name change clears ViacomCBS to reuse the Paramount name for the forthcoming Paramount+ subscription streaming service. Meanwhile, the soon to be 5 Action will continue to be available on terrestrial (Freeview), cable (Virgin Media), and satellite (Freesat and Sky).

Bilsdale Transmitter: Alternative Arrangements for TV

I’ve held of publishing further updates on the Bilsdale transmitter disruption due to the rapidly changing situation, but as things have started to settle, I’m now confident in being able to provide summaries on the alternative arrangements that are being put in place. This second post focuses on terrestrial TV (Freeview) services, and where possible refers to information published on the Arqiva website (although supplementary information from other sources may be used).

The arrangements for TV are a little more complex that those for radio, but can grouped into four segments. In short, TV coverage is utilising Eston Nab relay in a greater capacity, temporary transmitters at Arncliffe Wood and Sutton Bank, re-activated relays, and a temporary mast at Bilsdale.

The first stage of recovery centred on the Eston Nab relay. Using a temporary mast, this has in effect been turned into a main transmitter, and now broadcasts a full Freeview service (minus the temporary COM7 multiplex). Initially broadcasting to of Hartlepool, Redcar, and the eastern edge of Middlesbrough, further work has seen the power output increased to reach more homes including parts of the Darlington, Richmond and Barnard Castle areas.

A second temporary transmitter at Arncliffe Wood has now entered service, to provide or improve coverage to the Darlington, Stockton, Catterick, Leyburn, Masham and Ripon areas. This is only broadcasting the PSB1, PSB2, and PSB3 multiplexes, providing coverage of the main BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 services. A third transmitter similar to that at Arncliffe Wood has now followed. Sutton Bank provides coverage to the Harrogate, Knaresborough, Pickering, Ripon, Masham, and Leyburn areas, as well as northern parts of York.

If you are in the areas covered by the Arncliffe Wood, Eston Nab, and Sutton Bank transmitters, you will need to retune your TV/set top box to restore services, as both transmitters are using temporary frequencies.

The situation with the existing relay transmitters is a little more complex, but all relay transmitters have been restored. In some cases, these transmitters have been reconfigured to relay the Pontop Pike transmitter, in which case a normal service with full local programmes is being broadcast. These include the Peterlee relay.

Other transmitters are broadcasting from a backup satellite feed. This utilises a permanent BBC satellite back up facility, alongside a temporary facility mirroring the PSB2 multiplex. The permanent BBC back up is allowing all BBC national channels to be broadcast, plus HD versions of ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5. Local variations, and local radio services are not carried on this backup, so remain unavailable. However, the PSB2 backup feed is carrying full regional variations, to ITV Tyne Tees news and other local optouts is available to these viewers.

All relay transmitters are using their normal frequencies, so unless you’ve already tried retuning, you won’t need to retune. However, if you have previously retuned, you may need to do this again to restore services.

Finally, a longer term temporary solution is the building of an 80m temporary mast at Bilsdale. This will provide a reduced coverage compared to the damaged mast, but will restore Freeview services to more households. Arqiva have now confirmed that construction has now begun, following legal hurdles.

Partial Restoration of Services Following Bilsdale Fire

Some TV and radio services have resumed following the Bilsdale West Moor transmitter fire, from other transmitters in the area.

Alterations have been made to the Easton Nab relay transmitter to allow it to recomence terrestrial (Freeview) broadcasts to Hartlepool, Redcar, and the eastern edge of Middlesbrough. Temporary frequencies are being used, so a retune is required in these areas.

BBC Radio Tees 95.0 FM service has been relocated to the Easton Nab transmitter, which already broadcasts Smooth Radio to the Teesside area. Albeit with more limited coverage, most listeners should now be able access this service, particularly in the north of the normal coverage area. It is unknown whether further FM services will follow.

Further relay transmitters are being reconfigured to operate from a satellite backup link, which should allow more viewers to access terrestrial TV services. However, these may not broadcast the correct regional programmes.

A temporary mast is being transported to the Bilsdale site, to allow more services to resume whilst the damaged transmitter is repaired.

Major Disruption Caused By Transmitter Fire

The Bilsdale West Moor television and radio transmitter is currently off-air due to a fire, causing major disruption to some services in North East England.

The transmitter broadcasts terrestrial TV (Freeview), FM and DAB radio to around 1 million people in the Teesside and North Yorkshire. A further post will follow explaining how these services are disrupted in more detail.

It is understood that problems were caused by a lightning strike, but it does not appear that this is the direct cause of the fire. The fire was first reported by an engineer working at the transmitter site, with North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service sending multiple engines to site.

Arqiva, the operator of the transmitter, are currently working on a temporary transmitter to restore services, but this will take time to complete. The temporary transmitter may need to operate at a lower power output, meaning a reduced coverage area.

BITE Launches in the UK

BITE (or as the author will now type it, Bite), has launched in the UK via Channel Box, a streamed channel on the Freeview terrestrial platform.

Bite specialises in programmes around fresh food, and plans to launch on Rakuten TV and other platforms in due course.

Channel Box can be found on Freeview channel number 271, in the areas covered by the commercial multiplexes, offering coverage to around 90% of the UK population. Viewers will need to have their Freeview box or TV connected to the internet in order to access the service.

Multiplex Change for Shopping Quarter

Page last updated on July 1st, 2021 at 12:44 pm

Shopping Quarter, which as the names suggests is a shopping channel, has switched frequencies on Freeview.

The channel has moved from temporary multiplex COM7 to COM6 (Arqiva B). This expands the coverage area of the channel, and allows users of older standard definition equipment to view the channel.

A retune may be required if your equipment has not detected the change.

Correction: Shopping Quarter was in fact previously on the PSB3 (BBC B) multiplex. Although the move to COM6 has allowed non HD equipment to view the channel, coverage has reduced slightly.