Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Future of Freeview in doubt

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

For Broadcast November 04, 2010

Freeview is fighting for its future after it emerged that top-level discussions have taken place about closing the organisation after digital switchover in 2012.

Broadcast has learned that talks have been going on for months, with various ideas on the table.

A document created by BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson’s office in the spring suggested the Freeview management company could be closed and replaced by a new organisation controlled by DMOL, the company run by owners of the digital multiplex licensees, which include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Arqiva.

Notably, the new company would not include BSkyB, a key Freeview shareholder.

The document says the current structure governing digital terrestrial TV (DTT) will “likely reduce the ability of the platform to compete effectively in the marketplace, and we expect will lead to a slow, inexorable decline in the popularity of DTT.”

Thinking has now moved on, with one well-placed source suggesting Freeview might continue to exist but “become a shadow of its former self “. Another possibility is that YouView is handed some of Freeview’s responsibilities.

The BBC said in a statement that the document was written to be “deliberately challenging and to provoke discussion”, and that it is not the “views or strategy of DMOL or its members”.

It said the BBC was a “proud and active shareholder” in Freeview, and that it was “critical to the BBC, and the British media industry in the round, that we maintain progressive partnerships that support the continued success of free-to-air TV”.

Freeview’s board is now fighting back and preparing an argument that it hopes will safeguard its role as the organisation behind the “most-trusted brand” for free TV.

Managing director Ilse Howling admitted that “big changes are coming” with digital switchover, more spectrum potentially being made available to DTT, and with the launch of YouView.

She said she was confident there would still be a role for Freeview beyond switchover. “None of us knows what the right answer is yet. Viewing on Freeview will continue to be strong even alongside connected TVs.”

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