Keep It Country boss blames BBC for high Freeview carriage cost

The owner of the channel formerly known as Keep It Country has defended the decision to leave Freeview, blaming the BBC and the high cost of broadcasting on Freeview.

As reported by the Irish World, the channel's CEO Philip McLaughlin, aka Phil Mack, blamed the high fees charged by broadcasters "led by the BBC" for the channel's removal.  He claimed that the Freeview carriage fees would cost him 80-90% of the channel's income.

He confirmed that he was "looking at ways we can maybe put the station back on local, regional Freeview .... but not at the cost of that organisations like the BBC are looking for." 

Freeview capacity traditionally costs substantially more than satellite capacity, due to the scarcity of bandwidth. The cost peaked in the mid-00s, when broadcasters including ITV and Channel 4 paid up to £12million for a Freeview slot. Costs subsequently dropped to a third of that level.

In the interview, he also claimed that programmes on the channel - which has now been re-branded as 'Spotlight TV' - feature in ratings body BARB's top 10 list, although this claim can't be substantiated from data on the BARB website.

Smaller commercial channels such as Keep It Country/Spotlight TV typically have to approach multiplex operators SDN (a subsidiary of ITV) or Arqiva (formerly National Grid Wireless) to arrange a carriage deal on Freeview. Comux is the operator of the local TV multiplex, which allows commercial broadcasters to piggyback on the signal used to deliver local TV channels to some parts of the country. Keep It Country was previously broadcast on Arqiva capacity, and switched to capacity on the SDN multiplex at the beginning of the year. It has never been broadcast on BBC capacity.

The BBC is part of the consortium of companies behind Freeview, but Freeview doesn't provide broadcast capacity itself - this is done via the actual multiplex owners. The BBC's standard definition TV capacity is also ringfenced - it can't sell off capacity to other users. 

Some capacity on its HD multiplex has been made available to other broadcasters, following an Ofcom scheme a decade ago to create capacity for commercial channels such as ITV to be available in HD on Freeview. However, because services on the multiplex are carried on over 1,100 transmitters, compared to around 80 transmitters used by SDN and Arqiva, the cost is much higher.

  • Update: since publishing this article, Spotlight TV is understood to have taken up a slot in Manchester only on Freeview, where it is to be broadcast on the Canis Media owned "Manchester TV Network", broadcast from a low coverage transmitter on the Winter Hill mast to homes in the Greater Manchester area.