Friday, April 17, 2015

Freeview - an example of a lack of planning

Once again I have had to return my Freeview box in order to accommodate another shuffle of channels. While a retune is understandably necessary if the transmitters alter their frequencies this piecemeal operation should have been rendered unnecessary from the beginning and I'll explain why.

Firstly it's always easy to render judgements and opinions in hindsight; as a result I will present those facts that were known or assumed at the time the system was set-up and proceed from those:

1. The stated reason to switch from analogue to digital was to allow the introduction of more and varied channels than the existing five - Known 1: More channels of different types will be coming into existence.

2. At the same time as digital TV, digital (DAB) radio was to be in introduced this was allowed for by placing all radio channels in the region of 7--. Known 2: Setting aside 'slots' for certain types of broadcast was created and approved. Known 3: Freeview tuners would need to accept 3-digit channel numbers.

3. As an inducement to switch a line-up of various channels was promoted. Known 4:  A mix of normal and text based channels existed prior to take-up.

Given theses Known items how should Freeview been set-up at creation?

Using Known 2 sections of the channel listing could be set aside for certain types of program, including Known 4 means, at the least, Normal TV, Radio and Text. Given Known 3 the logical blocks would be the ten 0-- to 9-- ranges. As such ten different content blocks could exist. Keeping the existing channels in their current slots i.e. BBC1 at 001 etc. would ease switchover and lower confusion add Digital at the end 9-- block. Using Known 1 and looking at satellite channels (at the time) blocks for Children's and News programmes could also be created. Allow for greater expansion by leaving gaps and:-

0-- Existing channels and new channels
2-- News channels
4-- Childrens
6-- Radio

9-- Text

This leaves an 8-- block for miscellanea or some other category that might become needed (Adult?)

Given the prominence of the initial 0-- block it would make sense to sub-divide this, as said keeping the existing channels as is and reserving the remaining 006-009 slots for local broadcasts. Allocate 010-019 for new BBC spinoffs, 030-039 for ITV etc. Possibly extend this to the 2-- and 6-- blocks this leaves 060-099 or 39 channels open for independent broadcasters allocated on a first come first serve basis with defunct channels becoming open to offer.

Now I'll examine how this would have helped with the current moving around etc.

What wasn't foreseen was the massive take-up of streaming and on-demand services that led to the need to offer +1 and even +24 versions of broadcast programming. In the existing system these channels are shoe-horned in; under a planned system placement becomes obvious - each 0-- channel gains a 1-- +1 channel equivalent. Want ITV (003) +1 just switch to 103; this could also apply to Childrens 4-- with +1 at the 5-- block. News shouldn't really have a +1 service so a +24 could be added for the 0-- block in the 3-- block etc. Resulting in:

0-- Existing channels and new channels
1-- +1 version of 0--
2-- News channels
3-- +24 version of 0--
4-- Childrens
5-- +1 version of  4--
6-- Radio
7-- +24 version of 4--
9-- Text

Retuning only becomes necessary for frequency alterations or channel reallocations, new channels would require a simple addition tune that wouldn't alter the existing set-up; most notably scheduled recording.

As an example of potential line-up

001 BBCOne
002 BBCTwo
003 ITV
004 Channel4
005 Five
006 Community
007 Local (Alba) etc.
010 BBCThree
032 ITV2
041 S4C
042 E4
043 More 4
044 4Music
051 5USA
052 Spike

101 BBC1 +1

210 BBC News
211 BBC Parliament
260 Sky News

301 BBC+24

410 CBBC
411 CBeebies
431 CITV
461 Pop

510 CBBC+1

601 BBC Radio 1

710 CBBC+24

960 Rabbit