How Ofcom is changing where you find certain TV channels

CBBC, CBeebies, S4C, Channel 4, BBC Four and BBC Alba are all set to benefit from changes to rules stipulating that public service channels should be found in prominent positions on Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs).

Following a consultation, Ofcom has determined that these channels must be moved up the channel list on some platforms to more prominent positions by no later than 4th January 2021.

This is how Ofcom's ruling will affect individual channels and platforms:

  • Welsh language broadcaster S4C will have to be given a higher slot on Virgin Media's UK-wide channel list by January 2021, so that it appears among the first 24 slots on the channel list.
  • Gaelic service BBC Alba will need to be found a higher slot on both Sky and Virgin by 2021, so that it can be seen in the top 24 slots (see table below).
  • BBC Four, shunted down to channel 82 in Scotland following the launch of the BBC Scotland channel, will need to be moved to a new position on Freeview and YouView in Scotland - Ofcom has determined it must be located no lower than channel 24 on the channel list - this could mean that existing commercial channels are forced down the channel list, at least in Scotland.
  • CBBC and CBeebies will have to be promoted on Sky's EPG. In a move that Broadcast estimates will cost Disney £300,000 a year, the two BBC children's channels will have to be moved from their current positions - 613 and 614 to at least 607 and 608 or higher. The easiest way to resolve this would be to swap the BBC's and Disney's services over - as Disney occupies a block of numbers between 607 and 612, or move the BBC services higher, which would also affect Nickelodeon, Boomerang and Cartoon Network.
  • In Wales only, where S4C is the official fourth channel, Channel 4 must be moved to a more prominent position on Sky and Freesat, meaning that Channel 4 must appear within the first eight channels on the list - with channels 101-105 awarded to the five terrestrial broadcasters under existing prominence rules, Channel 4 will have to be assigned channel 106, 107 or 108 in Wales, a move that will impact on either Sky One, Sky Witness or Sky Atlantic on Sky and various BBC channels on Freesat.
  • BBC News and BBC Parliament are safeguarded by needing to be located within the first eight slots in the news section of each TV platform - a criteria already been met by all platform operators. Additionally, BBC Scotland must be found in the top 24 channel slots in Scotland - all providers are currently meeting this criteria, so there will be no changes needed.

Public service broadcasters are being afforded greater prominence as a return for their special status and in return for investing in the British television industry.

BBC services are seen as needing to be easy to find because they are publicly funded; their children's channels also broadcast a higher proportion of British TV programmes on an ad-free basis compared to their commercial counterparts, which screen a large number of US imports.

Commercial public service broadcasters are to continue to receive greater prominence in acknowledgement for the various programming obligations they carry, with the third, fourth and fifth channel slot reserved for ITV/STV, C4/S4C and Channel 5 - ITV for example will continue to offer enhanced news, regional news, current affairs and children's programmes in return for keeping the third slot on channel lists.

In its statement on the matter, Ofcom noted:
In our consultation, we considered a range of evidence to establish whether higher EPG slots (i.e. slots nearer the start of the EPG or genre section) tend to result in increased viewing for channels relative to lower EPG slots. We also commissioned work on the value of EPG slots which also confirmed that higher EPG slots are generally more valuable and therefore prominent. ... Broadly, all else being equal, the findings suggested that higher EPG slots do tend to result in increased viewing, although EPG position is not the sole determinant of how much viewing a channel attracts as factors such as quality of content, brand value and marketing may also affect viewing. 

Ofcom is now seeking new legislation to ensure that the main British public service channels are given prominence on online platforms, ahead of US-based services such as Netflix and Amazon's Prime Video service.

Update: Ofcom table showing new obligations:

Ofcom table of changes. This is described in the text in the article.