back to article Freeview telly channels face £240m-A-YEAR shakedown by Ofcom

Freeview broadcasters in the UK face annual fees that could add £240m a year to Blighty's coffers by 2020. Ofcom wants to, effectively, charge telly stations every 12 months to transmit over the airwaves, just like mobile phone networks must regularly cough up cash to continue using their licensed radio frequencies for chatter …


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  1. jxp

    Wrong in so many ways

    Freeview space is already over-used. We need the space to be used less efficiently to give better picture quality.

    The high costs of entry to Freeview already encourage channels to be as profitable as possible. Hence why "niche" channels don't last long before moving towards more general entertainment to get more viewers.

    The most financially efficient usage of the space is probably shopping channels and we don't need any more of them.

    It would also be nice if programme makers didn't have to sacrifice £200M of their budget to the government.

    1. Chad H.

      Re: Wrong in so many ways

      Why do we want better picture quality? I hate to break it to you, but having a better shot of the eastenders map isnt going to make the show any more entertaining.

      Efficient is a user defined term in this case.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wrong in so many ways

        I hate to break this to you but I'd rather have better picture quality when I'm watching something on my HDTV than the ability for some kid to make a twat of himself on Facebook and upload it quicker using bandwidth meant for my TV!

    2. Joseph Lord

      Mass broadcast is efficient

      Broadcast is massively efficient if you look at the bits delivered rather than those transmitted. 3 million people watching the same 4Mbps stream is 12Tbps. Admittedly broadcasting QVC to twenty people nationwide is a lot less efficient.

      Maybe channels that could show public service benefit (including entertainment of sufficient numbers or of otherwise under served communities) could be given exemptions.

      1. MrZoolook

        Re: Mass broadcast is efficient

        "Maybe channels that could show public service benefit ... could be given exemptions."

        Maybe the BBC could be given an exemption. After all, any increase of expenditure in THIS fashion will simply be offset by an increase in license fee, thus people who actually are not 'entertained' by them wont be forced to pay more for the privilege of not watching their rubbish.

  2. nichomach

    So the net effect of this is...

    ....that even if there *is* broadcast TV after this charge is imposed, we won't be able to receive it on our existing kit, forcing us to throw out anything with a freeview receiver built into it to replace them with other boxes to do exactly the same at our expense. Sod the £200m p.a. charge, Ofcom's plan will force all of us to pay for it, chucking out our tellies, DVRs, freeview boxes, freeview enabled disc player/recorders of whatever flavour just so they can show a nice little earner to the treasury. Ofcom truly are useless bastards.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: So the net effect of this is...

      "Ofcom truly are useless bastards."

      This is what happens when the prime minister of the day (Blair) regards leadership of OFCOM as simply a six figure sinecure to be gifted to one of his favourites. And what we got was Ed Richards, Blair's policy advisor, who has a degree in economics, and stuff all real world managerial or technical experience that I can see.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: So the net effect of this is...

      "....that even if there *is* broadcast TV after this charge is imposed, we won't be able to receive it on our existing kit"

      Eh? The proposal is about narrowing the broadcast channel range, not moving freeview into new spectrum.

      If you don't have DVB-T2 kit by now, then yes, you'll need to upgrade. Even the non-HD multiplexes will move to T2, simply because it has a lower bitrate for any given quality.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I bet the CEO at TVcatchup is laughing his cock off now saying I told you so.

  4. Paul 135

    what a useless shower

    Some of us only were able to receive Freeview a few months ago. So to scrap it in 2018, leaving us with only 6 years of decent service is truly truly pathetic. What was the point in all thge hassle with the digital switchover, all the masses of money spent giving pensioners free Freeview boxes for such a pathetic lifespan?

    I think a few MPs need to get their act together and give Ofcom a damn good kicking up the arse over this one. TV should be accessible to all, and terrestrial is the most accessible as is easy to deploy on multiple TVs in a household without requiring complex satellite set-ups.

    1. Uncle Timbo
      Paris Hilton

      Re: what a useless shower

      <Checks Wikipedia>

      405 Line VHF TV: 1936-1985 = 50 years

      625 Line UHF TV: 1964-2012 = 48 years

      DVB-T UHF TV: 1998-?

      (Those are the first and last dates, as you say some people would have had Freeview a lot less time)

      Yes - not very impressive...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: what a useless shower

        1998-2006 although many boxes had problems with the 2k/8k changes and large channel maps before then. It was then replaced with DVB-T2 which is now needed in the UK for HD channels.

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: what a useless shower

        An ITV digital box purchased in 1998 will not work any more.

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: what a useless shower

          After 15 years don't you think you've got your monies worth out of it?

  5. Rampant Spaniel

    It's about time to make aa big decision. Do we keep pissing about with small measures every few years or make a big decision which will make quite a few people upset in the short term but makes more sense in the long term.

    Shift all TV to IP using multicast over ftth and for those that want mobile TV (many genuine uses from caravans to mobile phones) can using mobile data (or sat in some cases) over the shedload of frequency freed up. Yes it would mean problems with a lot of equipment being useless, but many stb's get scrapped after less than 10 years anyway for one reason or another, be it freeview, cable or sky. I realise it's not popular, but I do see some sense in at least discussing a bigger, more long term solution rather than little fudges here and there that will be changed every few years anyway.

    Mobile data use is exploding, home data use is. If we want BT to foot the bill for a national ftth network then they need assurances they can make their money back (fair is fair, and ofcom ain't), otherwise the gov't needs to fund it (way less efficent), the additional mobile capacity should help lower mobile data costs, assuming the gov't compensates folks for old kit pretty much everyone wins and we don't need new boxes every 5 to 10 years or it's combined with pc or smart tv upgrades.

    1. jxp

      I think this is the right solution, long term. However to be viable you need to match the Freeview coverage requirements.

      First we need a plan to get 98% of the population on 3Mb+ (the minimum for a good IP TV experience)

      1. Ian 55

        This is TV you're talking about: 98% population coverage is not enough, politically.

      2. Rampant Spaniel

        If it was structured correctly you could probably get darn close to 100% coverage using mobile or satellite to fill the gaps. The biggest issue with mobile for that is national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty where masts (but apparently not foreign military bases & huge ass radar installations) are verboten or highly restricted.

        3-5mbps using lte with a shedload of spectrum, especially with fixed installations in houses with the potential to use boosters \ directional aerials \ link aggregation etc should be possible for nearly everyone and would finally get us off the merry go round of shuffling shit about a bit at a time. The vast majority of homes could have 50-1000mbps and a mobile service with decent coverage and 20-40mbps over most areas. That should be good enough for a while and most home installations shouldn't have an issue with 4k streaming.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        re: 98% of the population on 3Mb+

        That's easy, just check the other reg story - Offcom can double the speed of ADSL overnight with just a minor edit to a report. All it needs to do is repeat this a few times and we have all the bandwidth we need.

      5. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Freesat isn't going away

        And it's available to 99.9% of the population alread. Uptake percentages are another matter.

        Broadcast is highly efficient when done properly. Losing it entirely would be rather silly.

      6. P. Lee

        Radio wave broadcast is still more efficient than broadcast over cable. Cable is only going to win if its already there.

        IPTV is interesting because it lowers the barriers to entry - a trade-off against scalability/efficiency of broadcast. This allows Google to get video on screens without dealing with the regulatory issues associated with radio-wave networks.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      IPTV is complementary.

      IP can NEVER EVER replace LW, MW, SW, FM & UHF TV broadcast. No portability. Needs massive infrastructure and costs more the more people listen/view. The Broadcast systems allow portability, user operation on almost no power, and minimal infrastructure.

      Streaming on IP (via coax/Fibre) is complementary to Radio Broadcast.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: IPTV is complementary.

        If Amount BBC prepared to pay for xMHz bandwidth < Amount cell phone company prepared to pay:

        Bandwidth will be given (sold) to cell phone company

        /* screw the listeners/viewers */

      2. tin 2

        Re: IPTV is complementary.

        Absolutely! And also way inferior reliability.

      3. Rampant Spaniel

        Re: IPTV is complementary.

        Did you read my post? Ever watch netflix on your mobile? Ever seen a caravan with a sat dish? Not portable my arse!

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: IPTV is complementary. @Rampant Spaniel

          Yes I did read your post. The problem is just because something is technically possible doesn't mean that it is sensible.

          1. Rampant Spaniel

            Re: IPTV is complementary. @Rampant Spaniel

            So all those folks with satellite dishes on caravans aren't sensible? :)

            You are saying it is more sensible to have to completely different broadcast networks, one of which is stupidly ugly, rather than just use what we already have and is already capable to doing the job. Multicast is already out there, a raspberry pi is perfectly capable of decoding the streams, the only slight issue with is in areas the last mile capacity isn't there. This could easily be addressed by selling off the liberated spectrum and allowing BT some assurances that it could recoup the cost of a national ftth network. Where it is more economically sound to use fiber they can, where it isn't they can use mobile. Even LTE, given a reasonable amount of spectrum could easily deliver significantly faster broadband than most have today. We already use netflix which has to be one of the least efficent methods of delivering programing, multicast would be significantly more efficient for landlines and leave streaming for on demand and mobile.

            For sure I agree in the immediate term it makes less sense, as it's a big change. But you seriously cannot see any logic in making one big change now, one in reality we should have made 10 years ago anyway, as opposed to making tweaks every few years leaving folks needing new equipment each time.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: IPTV is complementary. @Rampant Spaniel

              Using mobile phones to watch Netflix is heavily impractical for obvious reasons and perhaps less obvious reasons too.

              Data caps anyone?

              Besides, a caravan with a satellite dish is still more viable than mobile TV which is an oxymoron at best.

  6. John Styles

    Will no-one rid us of these jerks with spreadsheets?

    Will no-one rid us of these jerks with spreadsheets?

  7. Mike Dimmick

    There is no incentive if the technology is mandated

    Firstly, there are six national multiplexes, not five. There are five SD multiplexes and one HD. At the moment. Ofcom are running a competitive process to launch two new ones.

    The idea of the incentive pricing is to encourage the spectrum to be used efficiently. However, there is no point applying an additional tax if the broadcasters' hands are tied on becoming more 'efficient'. The spectrum plan and technology for Freeview was set in stone by government: the public service broadcasters had to achieve 98.5% population coverage, the BBC had to free up its second multiplex to convert it to HD mode, the majority of viewers had to be able to use existing aerials fitted for analogue reception, and we had to fit into the internationally-co-ordinated frequency plans. That really meant a requirement to use the 64QAM, FEC 2/3, 1/32 guard interval mode that the BBC and ITV/C4 are using. If they change that mode, to get more capacity and become more efficient, coverage will be reduced. The limits of what can be crammed into the 24 Mbps available have been pretty much reached, without reducing quality any further. There are already criticisms from many viewers that many channels are unacceptably low-quality, running 16:9 broadcasts at a resolution intended only for 4:3 pictures (544 x 576 pixels) and at a low enough bitrate to prevent the normal smoothing of macroblock edges to work properly.

    The HD technology - DVB-T2 and AVC/H.264 encoding - can also be used for SD services, but are only viewable on Freeview HD receivers. The majority of viewers don't have one. The two new multiplexes - to run in this mode, and give four or five extra HD channels on each - are intended as an additional incentive for viewers to go and buy a new receiver. If a majority of viewers haven't done that, it won't be politically acceptable to turn off DVB-T/MPEG-2 support, and that will make the release of 700 MHz very difficult as there really isn't space for six national multiplexes in what remains. Viewers will be seriously angry if they lose services due to this - as it is, there are many people upset by the fact that they can't get three of those multiplexes if their local relay is PSB-only.

    It won't be politically acceptable as people will expect the government to fund replacement equipment. For switchover, enough people had voluntarily switched that the government could get away with only subsidising equipment for pensioners over 75, the disabled, and other groups on long-term welfare. It was funded by increasing and top-slicing the TV licence fee, but only by a small amount as so few people were covered.

    Meanwhile, the mobile phone networks are now running three generations of technology concurrently, with no end date for 2G announced or even considered. Phone still rely heavily on the 2G network for basic communications, as the promises of 3G coverage were broken and eventually the coverage requirements have been removed. O2's block of 800 MHz spectrum comes with coverage obligations - 90% of the population, if I recall - but the rest of the recent 4G auction has no obligations attached at all. It's still unclear if Voice-over-LTE even works, making voice services still dependent on 2G in much of the country.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: There is no incentive if the technology is mandated

      "Firstly, there are six national multiplexes, not five. There are five SD multiplexes and one HD. At the moment. "

      Yes, you're right. God dammit, I hate it when this sort of thing happens. Can I make another plea for people to drop us an email via the corrections button; if you post in the comments, we may not get time to see it and it'll never get fixed.


  8. DrXym Silver badge

    Freeview is a public service

    While I see the use in charging money for bandwidth that a service should vacate, I don't see the purpose of charging money for bandwidth that they have every right to be in. Or that is being used to provide a public service. Maybe these broadcasters should demand the difference as additional funding so that the books perversely balance themselves even though the money shouldn't have been charged in the first place.

    1. jxp

      Re: Freeview is a public service

      You are of course talking about a government (and certainly not the first) that has long since given up on the concept of public service.

      All that matters now are budgets and targets (and maybe the occasional back-hander now/job later on). The public and the benefit of society be damned.

      1. Nuke

        @ jxp - Re: Freeview is a public service

        jxp wrote :- "You are of course talking about a government (and certainly not the first) that has long since given up on the concept of public service. All that matters now are budgets..".

        That is what people have voted for since the 1980's. Ever since then the main political parties have been in a pissing contest of reducing income tax. They discovered that is the main (or only) vote winner - partly self fulfilling since they made tax cuts the main talking point in elections. That has left very little money for "public service".

    2. QuinnDexter

      Re: Freeview is a public service

      BBC (and part of Channel 4) are a public service. QVC less so.

    3. Chad H.

      Re: Freeview is a public service

      If its a public service, why are the likes of ITV profiting off it?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not just cram it all onto one mux, maybe on VHF so we all have to change our settop boxes and then we can all watch 'HD' images at one frame per hour that are the size of an 1840's postage stamp.and maybve even the same colour.

  10. Kevin Johnston

    plus ca change

    parodied perfectly in the Terry Pratchett book 'Johnny and the dead'.

    Putting forward a plan which shows someone would pay a large price for something which is currently generating no (or little) revenue it is then a short step to show that the current system is losing the country money and must change. In the book it was the decision that a graveyard could be redefined as an area of high value real estate if a change of use was permitted. The problem is that if you do not set a value on something then it is worthless but if you do then you are at risk that someone will offer a higher figure.

    No matter how you define these things, some bean counter can always be relied upon to look no further than the raw numbers.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: plus ca change

      Workers of the world unit!

  11. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    jxp says 3Mb is enough for iptv ... I have more than that and it isn't ... I don't care what the negotiated figure is, or the 'potential' figure but as soon as there is a slight hiccup my reception pauses ... and of course if there's someone watching a different channel upstairs and I want to record something else forget it. Then we're into having to download and store programmes as required ... play them on whatever player the broadcaster decides as the player will have to implement whatever auto-removal timebomb the broadcaster specifies and whatever pay-per-view system they use.

    I said several years ago the aim of the government's 'internet upgrade' was to make the viewer pay for poor quality service over the internet and get rid of the costly broadcast OTA system. This is the first shot over the bows ...

    1. James Hughes 1

      Quite - three TV's in our house, so I would need 3x the minimum for IPTV, so that's probably 12MBits's abs minimum. Which is only about twice what I get now, but I'm certainly not expecting any improvement in Broadband services in my remote little village for some time.

      Although I don't have a problem with TV service over BB/IP, as long as it's free to view.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I have a link giving 12mbps - but iPlayer is still noticeably blocky - and does little "catch-ups" every so often. Terrestial TV stopped being accessible when the analogue service was switched off. The terrestial digital signal is poor due to local high rise buildings even though we are served by two major transmitters. DAB is equally poor - only FM radio is reliable.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        When all my TV is coming through IP, how do I take my (wired) broadband connection away with me on holiday, or do I now have to install and pay for a mostly unused connection...

  12. S4qFBxkFFg

    Out of curiosity, where (on the dial) does OFCOM's jurisdiction stop?

    I imagine it's somewhere in the microwave/IR bit at the high-end, but are they in charge of the ELF stuff too?

  13. Mage Silver badge


    They can only see ££££

    Greater good of the Nation and unique nature of broadcasting means nothing to these money grabbing idiots that want to destroy Broadcast by:

    1) Overcharging for spectrum

    2) Removing protection by allowing so called white space licence free devices

    3) Ignore issues of 4G and Tetra

    4) Ignore PLT, CFL and PSU noise destroying LW, MW, SW and now VHF reception.

  14. Richard Jones 1

    Crap Rules, Crap Rulers

    Given the dramatic drop in both TV quality and choice perhaps the idea is to close down all TV service in favour of morons with 'mobile devices' wandering about with glazed looks on their faces and nothing going on in their enfeebled minds, tell the world they are walking/sitting/eating/lost/drunk/whatever.

    I recently had a mobile upgrade foisted on me, the upgrade is now in a rack and I am back on the 8 year old telephone as it is the only one that does what I NEED. The new one might have Facebum or some other twaddle about which I could not care less, but it was crap at making telephone calls the way I need. I have no idea if it was 1g, 2g, 3g, or GG it was useless. Just like they want to make the expensive non HD TV collection I now appear to have.

    Oh anyone spotted that you will only be able to watch IP TV for about 2 days a month given the data caps?

  15. Herby

    Where this is going?

    So, in the "old days" we had wired telephone service, and wireless (broadcast) TV.

    The UK (I'm from the USA) is going towards wireless telephone (GSM) service, and wired (internet) TV.

    Strange thing this "technology"!

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Where this is going?

      No, no, no. This is about replacing broadcast TV with the wireless internet so that users can watch the same programmes in the same frequencies but using the latest wireless dodat.

      A naive person might think replacing multicast with unicast would be less efficient. But in fact transmitting Pop Factor Dancing Idol to 60 million people who don't want to watch it is far less efficient than transmitting it to just the four morons who care. And we get to charge them for the privilege, too. *ka-ching!*

  16. Don Jefe


    The Freeview logo looks a lot like the Budweiser logo. I have no thoughts abouy the issue at hand, I just thought is point out the similarity.

    1. Vic

      Re: Beer

      > The Freeview logo looks a lot like the Budweiser logo.

      So your post would better be entitled "Piss".

      Good point, well made...


  17. Hubert Thrunge Jr.

    Never mind the quality, feel the width..

    If, say by previous example, it requires 3Mbit/s for watchable reasonable quality IPTV, given the number of TV's in the UK on at any one given time, doing it wirelessly via LTE etc would require more spectrum than there is currently available if you remove every other user from it. If you approximate it to 40 million TV sets, all requiring their own feeds, that's 1.2Tbit/s of bandwidth, in radio terms you'll need about two to three times the amount of RF spectrum vs the data rate, so we'll call it 3.6THz of spectrum.

    And that's more efficient than a couple of hundred MHz of broadcast bandwidth?

    The 700MHz issue is another international one that Ofsod have to sort out, there are the beginnings of an international level agreement to utilise that spectrum for a global public safety/disaster relief service that will be common, and the money is on it being a TETRA stack over LTE.

    In some ways, the DVB-T guys missed a trick in the way they wrote the code for the TV receivers. They should have done it like RDS where the RX looks for the best signal for any given broadcaster channel, and uses it. DAB works that way too. So if you're driving around and run out of the range of one transmitter, it'll have found the next one and seamlessly moves you over to it. Now had they done that with TV, they could defragment the spectrum seamlessly without having to keep asking people to re-tune their receivers. You just put up the new TX, then turn down the power on the old one so the receiver seamlessly retunes to the best signal - the new one. They could then clear the spectrum much easier and quicker without having to spend a million or two having "planning consultations" - just simply allocate the new TX frequencies, tell Arqiva to get on with it, let us know when it's done, rather than "it'll take until 2018 to do it" which is utter crap.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never Going to Happen

    "Clearing the rest means moving everyone onto Freesat, or squeezing the transmissions into MPEG4 and DVB-2, or rebuilding the entire broadcast network as a single-frequency system, all of which would be hugely expensive and disruptive, much to the delight of Sky, Virgin, NetFlix and other internet-based outlets."

    Why is public money being wasted? This would never happen so why throw £0000's at a private consultancy to be told what we already know and propose something that will not occur?

    Once again, the governemnt waste our money.

  19. Zmodem

    telecoms would have to team up with smart tv makers now so you can put a 4g sim into the tv and pay the telecom £150 a year instead of the tv licence, ofcom gets 3% of ad revenue, and bbc cries to the gov for all of its funding

    while hardcoded channels load on boot, and tv maker and telecom gets a share of the fee to be added through a bios update

    get in from a long boring day you want to press 1 button for tv, not piss around with crappy websites

  20. Roland6 Silver badge

    Look out WiFi !

    It can only be a matter of time before OFCOM recommend the application of AIP to the 2.4 and 5GHz bands...

  21. James 100


    If only multicast were available with wireless IP... (For that matter, it won't work as well as it could with ADSL or VDSL, because of multiple ISPs: if I and my neighbour are both watching a multicast video stream at the same time, we'd still have to get separate feeds from separate routers, down the same BT fibre as far as the street cabinet, unless we both happened to be using the same ISP.)

    In terms of fairness, though, if mobile phone companies have to pay Ofcom "rent" for their spectrum, why should TV companies get essentially the same resource handed to them for free? (Personally, I'd think prefer if spectrum *were* allocated free, or for a cost-based handling fee to cover running a small office somewhere to track the allocations, but charging one group an eye-watering price then giving the other a freebie is clearly unfair.)

  22. Alan Denman

    Go job they are not in charge of land...

    using the very same formulae there would be no housing crisis, just millions of starving people.

  23. Alan Denman

    Fatcat Quangomainia?

    Seems to me they have to justify their wages and existence.

    So is this a good long term bet for longevity by those at the top?

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