Channel 4 HD and All4 to disappear from Freesat

Andrew Rowland | 20 February 2018 | 0 comments

Freesat reported today that Channel 4 is to withdraw its high definition service and its catch-up player, All4, from the Freesat platform on Thursday. However, they say ‘We ... hope to see the channels return soon.’

The reason, as you might have guessed, is money. A Channel 4 spokesperson told SEENIT, a television-focussed website:

“We’re disappointed Freesat is changing its charging structure, leading to a very significant cost increase for Channel 4, which ultimately takes funding away from our content investment budget. “To reduce the overall burden of our Freesat costs and make internal savings we have regrettably given notice to withdraw All 4 and C4 HD while we consider our long term relationship with Freesat.”

(See also Channel 4’s announcement.) Freesat’s announcement reads in full:

We’re sorry to announce that All 4 and 4HD will be leaving Freesat on Thursday 22nd February, 2018. Channel 4 is still available in standard definition, but any recordings you have scheduled for 4HD will need to be re-set in SD (via channel 104). E4, More 4, 4seven and Film4 remain unaffected and can be accessed via the TV guide as usual, but the rollback guide and catch-up TV for all of the Channel 4 channels will no longer be available via your Freesat box. If you have any questions about these changes please read our Q&A here, and to find out where else you can watch All 4 please visit all4.com/how-to-watch.

Let me make clear that it is only the high-definition (HD) version of Channel 4 that is being removed, not the standard definition (SD) one, i.e. channel 126 will go and 104 remain. As a public service broadcaster (PSB), Channel 4 is obliged by its licence conditions to broadcast on both the terrestrial and satellite platforms, but that only applies to SD, not HD. However, its decision to remove All4 as well means that catch-up will not be available for any channels in the Channel 4 stable, i.e. C4, E4, More 4, and 4seven. Film 4 is unaffected.

This is not the first time that viewers have been caught in the crossfire when broadcasters have been in dispute over fees. Sky pulled its channels from Virgin Media in April 2007, and they did not return until November 2008, by which time Virgin had lost a third of its audience. But is it not shocking that a PSB is engaging in such tactics and depriving the public of a significant service? And unlike Sky, Channel 4 is a public-owned company that likes to boast ‘ Owned by you, paid for by advertising’. It cannot say that it has never received public money: in 2006 it was announced that Channel 4’s digital switch-over costs would be paid for by licence fee revenues. Does this not give the public rights? I know nothing about the rights and wrongs of this dispute, but it is the public that is being held to ransom in it, and that cannot be right.

It has to be said that Channel 4 has quite a big stick here, because this is quite a significant blow to Freesat. The service still struggles to establish itself in the public’s mind as an alternative to FreeView, even though it has been around for a decade. Losing one of the ‘big five’ channels in HD will not help its public perception. Its market share remains surprisingly low because of the (wrong) perception that satellite TV only means Sky. Already some people are asking whether this is the beginning of the end for Freesat. Coming after the loss of a third of Freesat's music channels at the end of January, if Channel 4 act upon the barely disguised threat to withdraw all their non-PSB channels, the blow may well be fatal.

Which would be more than a shame. There are many people who are completely dependent on satellite because they have no or poor terrestrial signal (areas of Somerford spring to mind), and many more who opt for it because they only have a limited, ‘FreeView lite’ service in their location — all those people in Macclesfield and Congleton who only have their PSB-only relays for aerial-delivered television, for example.

Freesat offers in many ways a superior package to FreeView, with mostly the same channels (more, in fact), catch-up, and rock solid reception. None of the problems that can bedevil FreeView if there are trees, mountains or high buildings in the way of your aerial! Unlike FreeView, it doesn’t keep needing retunes, and its channel line-up is far more stable. And it has the bandwidth to offer more, such as the full coverage of the 2016 Olympics when satellite carried 16 extra channels, half in HD, but FreeView could only manage one HD channel, which only came on after CBeebies/CBBC had shut down in the evening, and you needed an HD receiver to receive seven of the SD ones.

But I meet many customers who insist on having an aerial, or just don’t think of satellite, when they would be better off with a dish.

One lady I met last year had recently gone to Sky because she wanted a box to make recordings with, and ended up paying a significant amount every month just to watch free-to-air broadcasts. A Freesat box would have cost just 6 months’ worth of what she was paying and be hers for ever, but she didn’t know Freesat+ boxes can record.

It is surprising that in this day and age, there should still be no obligation on PSBs to treat the platforms equally when it comes to HD. In this age of UHD, HD is the new SD. I hope this incident prompts Ofcom to seek to vary the licence conditions of all the PSBs to that effect.

How will this affect you?

If you are a Freesat viewer, from Thursday 22 February:
  • C4 HD will not appear in the programme guide (EPG)
  • Any programs you have scheduled to be recorded on channel 126 will fail unless you reschedule them to 104. You can still watch previously recorded programmes, though.
  • Catch-up and the ‘backwards EPG’ will not work for the C4 stable of channels.
  • All4 will not appear in the Players section of your set-top box.
This does not affect Sky viewers. In fact, C4 HD will still be broadcast as normal from the satellite: if your Freesat box has a non-Freesat mode, then you could switch to that and watch the channel in HD anyway, but you won’t be able to schedule recordings like that, and if you leave the box in non-Freesat mode, it won’t record any scheduled items either. All in all, it is probably best to switch to another box such as FreeView or YouView to watch C4 if you can, or put up with SD. For All4 catch-up, you could use something like NowTV or FireTV sticks or boxes, or just plug your laptop into the TV using an HDMI cable.

How do I know if I'm affected?

If you get your TV from a Freesat set-top box or TV with built-in Freesat, Channel 4 appears on channel 104 and C4 HD on 126.

If C4 is channel 4 and C4 HD 104, you are on FreeView, and are not affected at all. If you have a Sky or Virgin Media box, you probably already know that, and you are not affected either.


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