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Howling: 10 more HD channels next year, Freeview must not be “pushed out” of spectrum

The sharing of spectrum in a way that ensures Freeview still has the space to innovate and develop more HD channels is crucial to the future of the platform, Ilse Howling, managing director of the UK digital-terrestrial free-to-air platform said at the DTG Summit in London this morning.

Speaking on a panel at the event, Howling said Freeview could launch up to 10 additional HD channels next year and was in discussion with Ofcom over how this could be achieved.

She said that Freeview was the biggest TV platform in the country and was a leading HD platform, with 3.5 million HD homes.

Howling said that for Freeview, “innovation is about taking a product and making it mass market, mainstream and free for everyone”. She said that free TV was “part of the country’s DNA”.

She said cost and brand were important to consumers, followed by access to HD services and video-on-demand.

However, Howling said that if Freeview is “pushed out” of spectrum, it could become a “pale shadow of its former self”.

She said the progressive migration of the platform to DVB-T2 would enable more efficient use of spectrum over time.

Addressing alternative ways of delivering advanced services, Howling said connected TV platform YouView presented an option for delivering additional services to Freeview homes. Alternatively, if users bought a Freeview HD TV with an ethernet connection from the likes of Samsung, they could now have access to all four of the main broadcasters’ online players.

However, said Howling, it was unrealistic to think that broadband coverage alone would give people universal access to free services for the foreseeable future.

Wendy McMillan, group strategy and business development director, Arqiva, speaking on the same panel, said that said the end-to-end delivery cost of TV from other technologies for the foreseeable future would be significantly greater than for broadcast. IP delivery of public broadcast services would carry a significant cost, she said.

However, she said, changes to the DTT platform should not just be viewed through the lens of technology.

“There is also a social equity cost,” she said. Clearing spectrum would disrupt a large number of DTT viewers to benefit a relatively small number of users of high-speed mobile services.

Clearing the 700MHz spectrum could force consumers to change aerials and migrate to DVB-T2 reception equipment, which would clearly involve a cost to them, she said.

Reducing the breadth of choice on Freeview would also clearly reduce competition between platforms, said McMillan.