/ Technology

Freeviewers! Press the red button to miss out on the Olympics

There’s no doubt that the BBC has pulled out all the stops with regards to its Olympics coverage, but I think Freeview red button customers are missing out.

Last weekend my husband and I were at my brother-in-law’s house. He’s been well and truly bitten by the Olympic bug and was showing off how, via the red button, he could choose from a slew of sporting events.

Excited, my husband raced home and clicked our own red button. It presented us with a measly choice of three events – one of which was already showing on BBC Three.

Maybe we needed to retune, as per the message that had flashed up earlier this month? We tried, but it made no difference.

Red button limited on Freeview

So I turned to the web for answers and soon found we weren’t alone in feeling short-changed. Website Shetlink, for example, has a forum discussing this where member Radiohead had posted the following message:

‘There is only limited access to Olympic venues on Freeview (aerial). On the other hand there are 24 special Olympic channels on Freesat in both standard digital & HD and of course on Sky… So much for the digital switchover on Freeview (aerial) that cost us licence payers £600 million!!’

On further investigation, I discovered a possible explanation in a blog post about sport coverage via the red button, which explains that the BBC will begin to broadcast sporting events in HD.

Good news for sports fans but – as I discovered – bad news for Freeview customers. The post explains that in order to do this there will be ‘a reduction in the amount of capacity on Freeview for our interactive services’.

Whereas previously the BBC has provided two additional video streams on the red button, ‘With the arrival of HD, one of those red button streams will be going from Freeview, so unfortunately this will limit the number of choices we can offer,’ says the BBC’s blog.

Cable and Freesat viewers unaffected

The changes only apply to Freeview and not to cable or Freesat, which explains the breadth of choice available to my brother-in-law who is a Virgin cable customer.

To compensate, Auntie Beeb explains, it will be moving more sports coverage online and offering extra coverage on other digital channels such as BBC Three. That’s OK then? Isn’t it?

Actually, it’s not. I agree with others online who argue that as a TV Licence payer I should be able to get access to the same coverage as anyone else.

Not to mention the fact that on its homepage Freeview’s website boasts that ‘The best bits of telly are free for everyone and free forever’. Is it now the case we only get the best bits if we’re prepared to pay?

What do you think? Is the red button delivering a gold service for you or has it failed to make it through the heats?


Seems a bit inappropriate, grumpy. Also typifies the nanny state – bring everything down to the lowest denominator. If the means exist through more information to get a better deal – the internet – then of course those with access should use it to get the best deals. It has reduced prices of goods and services and provided more convenient banking for them. Those who have not got, or choose not to have or use, the internet have other means of tracking down good deals. ?Which mags give best buys for goods, services and financial products together with contacts and phone numbers. Even most grumpy old gits have phones these days.

Margaret Wood says:
11 August 2012

We agree completely. Freeview has failed miserably. Thank goodness we had Sky which has been exemplary. The BBC have been somewhat deceitful in not making it clear that ALL channels available could not be received through Freeview which has in consequence been very much the poor relation.

Remember it wasn’t Sky that provided 24HD and 24SD Olympic Channels it was the BBC. You were just able to access those channels through the Sky EPG as indeed you can access all National and Regional services provided by the BBC.

BBC Sport breaks online records with first truly digital Olympics


As an aside, isn’t it sad that terrestrial digital TV – Freeview – is such a compromised system with grotty pictures and its limited capacity taken up with trash TV. What a missed opportunity

It’s a shame to see Freeview getting virtually no mention in your post. Clearly the platform isn’t capable of supporting the same sort of experience as Freesat and Sky – with that in mind, I’d be really interested to hear what your future plans for Freeview are. Are you hoping for improvements to the platform, so future Freeview TVs could support the same sort of experience as Freesat, or are Freeview viewers likely to be stuck with the same sort of experience for the forseeable future?

FreeView was always going to be a compromise. With a limited number of channels available in the TV UHF band (even after terrestrial TV has been switched off and the channels redistributed) the maximum number of providers per channel have been maximised by using greater digital compression than used on FreeSat. Even then there are areas that don’t have available channels for HD on FreeView.

With satellite TV, if the satellite becomes fully subscribed, they will just launch another satellite providing thousands more new channels an option not available for the tight UHF band.

Not sure why people are saying that Freeview cannot handle the extra channels. I can think of about 30 channels they could dump to provide entertainment- just about every naff sales channel

I was very dissapointed with thier constant reference to the red button and nothing being there.

We pay a TV liciecce to be informed and entertained, not to “enter a shop” that I don’t want to go into in the first place.

BBC spent years telling us digital was coming and promoted freeview as the most convinient and cost effective way to get access. Now they treat adopters like second rate citizens

PeterW says:
19 August 2012

The problem is not so much the technical limitations that Freeview has – it is the grossly misleading way that the BBC publicity (and remarks by Olympic broadcasters) over-sold what was available on Freeview.

It was deeply disappointing to be told – over and over again – when watching an Olympic event that “we’re sorry, we have to leave this now, but coverage continues on the red button”; only to find that as far as Freeview customers were concerned, this was an outright lie. Usually the Freeview red button only offered one extra channel (not the promised two) and often what it was covering was mis-described, or even duplicated what was being shown at the time on BBC1 or BBC3. How could they get this so wrong?

For those with internet access, the BBC’s online channels were a big step forward – but still didn’t live up to their billing of showing all the action of every event. Radio Times indicated for example that coverage of the sailing would be given from mid-day till the end of the afternoon, every day; but this simply didn’t happen, with the relevant channel often being unavailable for most of the afternoon, and many of the events (apart from the medal races) not being shown.

Seems the BBC got carried away with their own hype.

Mina YB says:
25 August 2012

Regardless of what type of medium I use to access BBC, as a TV license payer I should have the right to view all that BBC covers. I feel let down and very disappointed.

That is a bonkers argument. Do you expect the BBC (who is financed by public viewers) to purchase receiving equipment for you so that you can watch all the channels? That’s a totally new take on the Welfare State!

Did they buy you a new TV when they switched from 425l to 625l? Did they buy you a new colour TV when they switched to colour? Did they buy you a new TV when the switched from analogue to digital? Did they buy you a new widescreen TV when they switched format to widescreen? Did they buy you a new TV when they switched to HD? Did you get a refund when Ceefax was stopped? Of course not. So why do you expect them to buy you a FreeSat receiver?

Mina: we are going round in circles. If it is technically impossible to transmit all that the BBC covers on the system you want to view it on, what exactly do you expect to happen? The BBC not to provide those services at all? What about the digital radio channels? Many people don’t have a digital radio. Should BBC radio be restricted to broadcasting only its analogue radio channels to fulfil the ‘right’ of analogue radio owners to hear all the channels it provides?

Terry – Could not agree more –