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We will still need Freeview in 2042

25 years ago, we saw the launch of UK Gold, a free-to-air satellite channel showing classic BBC and Thames TV shows. If we look forward to November 2042, what will we see?

UK Gold started 25 years ago this week.    Photograph: UKTV
UK Gold started 25 years ago this week. Photograph: UKTV
published on UK Free TV

Trying to predict the future is a mug’s game. But increasingly it’s a game we all have to play …  because we are going to have to live there, probably next week.”  - Douglas Adams. 


Looking ahead 25 years, the Office of National Statistics have published the following data for the number in the UK, grouped into single year ages:



The above graph is coloured to match the current age bands provided by TV regulator Ofcom (collected by BARB, who measure TV audiences).  

Given the attractions to people today of spending time watching everything from games consoles and PCs to YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime, we can predict using the trends since 2010 as to how much “television” people will be watching in the future.

The current trends have current under 24 years olds abandoning TV altogether by 2027, and those between 25 and 44 giving up on television by 2035. 

The good news, is that those over 45 will still be watching good old television, if current trends continue. 


The Licence Fee

If we look at the trends for watching TV by 2042, the Licence Fee income will drop the current £4 billion a year income to just £353 million (at current prices) as only those over retirement age will still be watching live TV.

This means there will still be 6.4 million UK homes with a television (many more will have a screen used for watching video content).   If those aged 75 and over get a free licence, so the BBC’s Licence Fees from live TVs would be paid for by just 2.4 million homes.


The closed loophole

So, an important question here in the future is how well has filling the “iPlayer loophole”   (no licence was required just to watch BBC shows online) worked out?  How many of the remaining 23.7 million households will be still paying their £150 to the BBC?

The "iPlayer loophole", recently closed, was said by TV Licensing to be used by only 2% of households at the time.

It is certainly clear from the above data to see that the long-term survival of the BBC clearly put the need to pay for online viewing ahead of the losses for free licences for those ages 75 and over. 



Will satellite TV still be a thing?

In practice, the cost of sending satellites up into space to transmit television has always required a base of subscribers paying for the service.   As the satellites last around a decade each, there has to be an ongoing profitable television business to keep launching replacements.

One problem is that the quarter of a second it takes to bounce a signal off a geostationary satellite makes them a poor choice for interactive internet use, and it is significantly cheaper to use Earth-based system for streaming TV.

In the shorter term live TV of high-value subscription (Premier League football) or high audience (ITV) channels will remain.    Low audience channels (or their content) will move online, which will probably mean that there will be a limited legacy Sky and Freesat service by 2042


5G will have replaced Freeview Light at repeater sites

The economics of free-to-air transmission will no doubt mean that Freeview will only continue from a limited number of larger transmission towers (Crystal Palace, Emley Moor) with repeater masts being converted to a 5G data service.   Let’s hope there will still be a low-cost or no-cost way of watching some TV in these places. 


So, what do you think?   Tell me in the comments below. 



The first thing I did was to assume about things being the same:  I’m not using inflation (prices going up over time) and keeping everything at 2017 prices; there will remain 2.42 people per UK household; that current trends will continue and that there will be no changes to policy;  in 2042 the retirement age for everyone will be 68;



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Monday, 6 November 2017
Sharon White
1:57 PM

I love Freeview, I can't afford a monthly subscription, which many of my friends are abandoning, and we all agree we can get whatever we want by buying a Freeview box! I think greed has come before quality and eventually more people will shop around. Also realise that all the extra channels offered, by subscription services, are basically cheap rubbish!

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Sharon White's 1 post GB flag

2:39 PM

I predict all freeview transmitters will have switched off by reception will exist only via satellite and iptv/internet/5g. And obviously many channels will be available in UHD 4K and 8k standard FTA

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Dave's 126 posts GB flag

6:06 PM

Having a t.v. In 2042 will be a luxury, we will be doing well if we have homes to live in with a living room to sit a television. Those who are of working age will be working mandatory 12 hour + shifts and be too tired to watch or afford a t.v. set or service of any kind.
If things keep going the way they are with 1000 + a month rents and low pay people will take mattresses in to work and live at their place of work. It will be a futuristic version of the Victorian era workhouse.

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Robert's 76 posts GB flag

10:34 PM

I'm always wary of extrapolating trends when it comes to technology, and even more so when it comes to people - people dont do logic.

Its perfectly true that my children live in a multi-media world, with screens everywhere. They game, stream (albeit Iplayer - its free), watch Freeview, look at tablets/phones, etc. And those habits are not going to disappear. But they still watch content, and do it on a screen. Its just how they watch it that varies.

But what and how people watch content does change with their circumstances. If your 18, then (if you have the money), you can binge on Netflix, watch nothing but drama on Amazon Prime and game. By 25, you can afford the data to stream Game of Thrones to your phone on the commute.

But when you hit your thirties, and get kids, watching The Walking Dead at 3am isn't really on, even if the kids wont sleep. And at 6pm, the kids are watching Peppa Pig.

There are also things that have to be watched live - sport, the final of Bake Off, etc. And we have habits - people have appointment TV, or simply like to sit down at a particular time.

We still watch TV at much the same time, in often exactly the same position in our houses, using much the same aerials as our parents and grandparents.

So while in 20 years we will probably have 4K as standard, if not 8K, and streaming will be largely standard for that, but the reality is that bandwidth is always finite, while Freeview/sat is relatively cheap, universal and established.

So who knows what will happen. But I bet that economics and audience inertia will be more powerful than we might think.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Tuesday, 7 November 2017

9:35 AM


I agree!

I agree that the issue is "audience inertia", but that's what is interesting. In the past, younger people didn't watch as much TV as those older then them. But the last decade or so, people when they reach their thirties don't go back to TV, they keep on watching online. That's the inertia.

Also, under 16s watching of TV is dropping like a stone. It's fallen by 25% between 2015 and July 2017, now down to just 85 minutes a day.

This means that increasing numbers of busy parents are leaving their kids with an iPad or Kid-mode Android tablet.

This means, I guess, that a TV isn't going in the kids room or bedroom, they are taking a tablet in there. The remaining TV watching is no doubt to family-friendly stuff like the X-Factor and that's a show in decline.

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Briantist's 38,899 posts GB flag

9:55 AM


Here's what I watch in the last few months. For the sake of showing my disinterest.

- Star Trek Discovery [Netflix]
- Mr Robot - season 3 [Amazon]
- Dirk Gently's [Samuel Barnett] Holistic Detective Agency - season 2
- Criminal Minds - season 13
- L&O SVU - season 19
- NCIS New Orleans - season 4
- L&O True Crime

Snowfall [iPlayer]
Louix Theroux [iPlayer]
W1A [iPlayer]
Only Connect [iPlayer]
QI [iPlayer]

And only then using Freesat+HD to remove the ads...

The Last Leg [C4 HD]
Food Unwrapped [C4 HD]
Taskmaster [Dave]
Dave Gorman's Modern Life is Goodish [Dave]
Red Dwarf XII [Dave]
Born To Kill? [Really]

11x45 minutes+ 2x 60+ 3x30 + 2x 24 = 13 hours a week ... or 107 minutes a day, but only 33 minutes counts as "TV".

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Briantist's 38,899 posts GB flag
Sunday, 19 November 2017
7:53 PM

What about the areas that still cant get decent internet? And don't say that by 2045 or whatever it will all be sorted because they have been saying it will all be sorted since the internet was launched. The same goes for 5G, there are plenty of places that don't even get GPRS and haven't ever had it let alone 3G. The thing is an aerial or a dish works in 99.9% of places, why dont the powers that be understand that?

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Ian's 9 posts GB flag
Monday, 4 December 2017
Willie Bone

9:43 AM

Folks, before we all make wild predictions, bear in mind the BBC is still struggling with listeners to turn off Radio 4 long wave and to date, the listeners are winning! Even in Ireland, RTE are struggling with priests who want to disallow RTE to switch off the 252 kHz transmitter! All this happening in Ireland while the pope can listen to DAB+ Radio in his popemobile!
We live in a strange world where some people want to hang on to the steam age of broadcast reception!
P.S.I am not one of them...

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Willie Bone's 57 posts GB flag

2:46 PM

Willie Bone: I totally agree about Long Wave - the costs per listener were over a 110 each a couple of years ago.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Willie Bone

8:57 PM

MikeB: The long wave transmitter for RTE Radio 1 including opt outs was DRM enabled some years ago for overnight testing! Unfortunately, DRM broadcasting did not cut the mustard in Europe with Bluetooth/WiFi enabled digital radio stealing the DRM buttered scone and jam!

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Willie Bone's 57 posts GB flag
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