The UK government is extending the five national multiplex licences for the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform – better known as Freeview – until 2034. This will protect for the future the main way audiences currently enjoy a diverse range of digital TV channels for free.
It will guarantee prime spectrum – the radio waves used for transmitting signal – for commercial public service broadcasters (PSBs) such as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, so they can reach the maximum number of viewers in the UK as they compete with the streaming giants in a changing media landscape.
TV multiplexes are digital networks which allow many TV channels to be compressed and transmitted all at once over a single radio frequency. Freeview is hugely popular with UK audiences and is broadcast over a number of multiplexes carrying five or more TV channels, radio stations, text services and electronic programme guides.
The DTT multiplexes guarantee that PSB content is free to air and widely accessible to consumers due to their nearly 99 per cent coverage of the UK. They have become vital for the UK’s TV networks – allowing the PSBs to expand their offerings with a host of new channels such as ITV2 and E4.
“Today we are guaranteeing the future of Freeview TV and a diverse range of much-loved news, entertainment and documentary channels well into the 2030s,” stated Media Minister John Whittingdale.
“Securing the future of Freeview means people can continue to enjoy its great content while we also protect a vital medium for our public service broadcasters so they can serve audiences in the years to come.”
The government launched a consultation in December 2020 seeking views on the renewal of the multiplex licences expiring in 2022 and 2026 on the DTT platform. In a response, ministers have decided to give Ofcom the power to carry out a renewal of all five national multiplexes until 2034.
This removes any change or disruption to Freeview that could have come about through new ownership and will provide stability and certainty to PSBs about the future of their channels on the platform.
In a further move to support the PSBs, the government will legislate to make ownership of Multiplex 2, which is currently jointly owned by Channel 4 and ITV, contingent on PSB status. It will ensure that PSBs always have a space on the Freeview platform to serve the widest audience possible. The multiplex licences being renewed are: