Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) multiplex licences are central to the functioning of the broadcasting system. DTT licences give broadcasters the right to use certain radio frequencies (spectrum) to transmit television services across the UK in a digital format. DTT is better known as the Freeview platform. It remains popular with UK audiences despite the shift in viewing habits towards online content and subscription video on demand services. DTT is also an important part of the public service broadcasting (PSB) system. The spectrum allocated to DTT guarantees that content provided by the Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) is free to air and widely accessible to consumers due to its nearly 99% coverage across the UK.
The Freeview national network is formed of six national multiplexes identified as 1, 2, A, B, C and D. Ofcom – the UK’s independent communications regulator – regulates the licensees for all of these national multiplexes with the exception of multiplex 1, which is regulated under the BBC Charter and Agreement. Two of these national multiplexes are set to expire in 2022. ‘Multiplex 2’ which carries the commercial PSB channels ITV/STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as some of their portfolio channels (such as ITV 2, Film 4 and More4); and ‘Multiplex A’ which carries solely commercial services including some of the commercial PSBs portfolio channels (e.g. ITVBe) and some other commercial services (such as QVC). These will need to be renewed to ensure that there is no disruption of the services broadcast on these multiplexes at the end of the expiry period.
Multiplex 2 and Multiplex A licences were granted by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) in 1998 and were renewed by Ofcom in 2010 for 12 years. The Broadcasting Act 1996 only allowed Ofcom to renew these licences once. The government now needs to decide on the parameters for a future renewal process. We are also seeking views in relation to multiplex licences B, C and D. Multiplex B is owned by a BBC subsidiary which carries High Definition services including BBC one HD; ITV HD and Channel 5 HD; and Multiplexes C and D are owned by Arqiva and carry only commercial channels. These licences expire in November 2026 and we are also consulting on whether these should be renewed early, at the same time as the licences expiring in 2022, to align expiry dates.
We state no preferred option for the renewal of these multiplexes and this consultation does not prejudge the outcomes, nor limit the implementation, of the government’s wider work on public service broadcasting.
DTG’s membership is uniquely drawn from the entire television ecosystem. Therefore, this submission has been written to reflect the diversity of views using feedback from the DTG’s membership and as such raises areas for consideration but does not necessarily represent the views of all DTG member organisations. The DTG is made up of member companies that may also be submitting an individual response.