BBC Preparing For Future Closure Of Broadcast Channels

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The BBC is looking ahead to a future where over-the-air broadcast channels are no more – calling on the UK to plan for a time when broadband is necessary for TV watching, while also setting the groundwork for the next generation of internet-based TV.

In its Annual Plan for 2023/2024 that was published today, the BBC is detailing some of its plans for the immediate future – while also looking ahead at some of the challenges faced by British broadcasters in the more distant future.

According to the BBC, over 90% of the UK population is now using the internet regularly – therefore it is now “necessary to begin planning for an internet-only future”.

That means a future where linear channels are no longer broadcast over the air (and received via an aerial, for example) – and instead, viewers will have to use streaming apps like iPlayer to watch both on-demand and live channels.

BBC iplayer on ipad

The BBC points out a problem, however – in that 6% of UK households have no access to the internet at home and 5% rely solely on mobile internet.

Furthermore, 12 million UK adults lack digital skills and 4.5m have never used the internet.

In light of that – shutting down broadcast channels (that reach our homes via Freeview and Freesat for example) can only be done once it is ensured that “everyone can access and has the necessary skills to use the internet.”

New Freeview Play 2022 mockup

The UK’s Move To An Internet Future: A Call To Action

According to the BBC’s data, the BBC remains the UK’s number 1 brand for media, used by around 9 in 10 adults.

In the last year, UK audiences continued to spend more time watching BBC TV and iPlayer than Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon’s Prime Video combined.

Those numbers are across the BBC’s linear channels (BBC One, BBC Two, etc.) and the BBC’s streaming app – iPlayer.

Streaming services on phone prime netflix disney 1200
(Photo: Deposit Photos / Miglagoa)

In light of that, in the year ahead the BBC says it will continue to invest in and develop its digital services, including improvements in personalisation and user experience (giving viewers more relevant content recommendations), and building critical capabilities such as data science and machine learning.

But the BBC says that the broadcasting challenges ahead are so big, the nation has to tackle them in a coordinated effort, with the UK “having several hard choices to make”:

1. Shutting down broadcast channels: As the world becomes increasingly digital, it is essential that the UK takes a proactive approach to embrace this shift. Therefore the BBC says the country should “collectively start planning for a broadcast switch off to ensure it works for all”.

Infrastructure providers, government, regulators and others should start planning this together – to make sure everyone has access to content online, before broadcast channels disappear.

It’s worth noting that just a year ago, the BBC brought back the BBC Three channel as a linear broadcast channel, after it was moved online a few years ago. At the time, the BBC stated that young viewers “don’t typically watch TV online.”

BBC Three logo

2. Transform the BBC Faster into the digital age: The BBC’s ambition is to create the world’s “first global, digital public service media organization” that meets the needs of audiences and provides a platform for the wider sector.

It aims to achieve this by shaping the BBC around people’s interests and needs, making it a daily partner in audiences’ lives, and bringing the BBC together in a single, tailored offer.

The BBC is also looking to explore how other UK providers can work with the BBC to reach new audiences and ensure they can easily discover the
breadth and depth of UK content.

3. Turn the BBC into a global leader: The BBC says it is “a critical part of the UK’s soft power and influence abroad”.

“As others invest millions in state backed services and misinformation, it is vital the UK shows the same level of commitment to the BBC’s global services. The BBC is one of the most powerful and well-recognised brands on the planet and we want to work with the Government on plans to support it further.”

Watching BBC News on tv

4. Better regulations for the future: According to the BBC, The UK’s legal and regulatory environment has not kept pace with the market.

In particular, the BBC mentions prominence rules (how easy it is to find the BBC – and other public broadcasters – content on streaming platforms and devices such as Amazon Fire TV and Roku), and detailed viewers’ data, that 3rd party streamers don’t tend to share with the broadcasters.

“Ofcom is working in this area and we look forward to working closely with them and others to help design a future-proofed system.”

Next Generation UK Streaming Service

One other area that’s briefly mentioned in the BBC’s annual plan, is the “next generation” free-to-air streaming experience.

Couple watching smart tv

According to the BBC, it is “working with our Public Service Broadcaster partners and Everyone TV (the company behind Freeview and Freesat).

“We will continue to work towards the launch of the next generation of internet-enabled, free-to-air experiences across a wide range of television devices, necessary to support the gradual migration of audiences to a future of internet-only delivery of our channels, alongside on-demand content.”

This can mean several things: way back in 2021, there was some talk about an upcoming “all in one” streaming app, that would combine content from all the major UK broadcasters into a single service or app.

At the time it was said that discussions were being held between Freeview and the major broadcasters – The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, regarding an all-in-one UK streaming app/service, with the BBC confirming those discussions.

Two years later – and we haven’t heard much since about that rumored platform. With the BBC mentioning it will continue to “work with PSB partners” – it’s possible a united platform (or gateway) is being discussed again.

Another possibility, is that the BBC is referring to Freeview-over-broadband – something that many viewers have been asking for.

At the moment, the only three providers that offer a streaming version of Freeview are the pay-TV providers – Sky with its Sky Glass and Sky Stream devices, Virgin Media with its Stream box, and BT with its BT TV 4K Pro box.

Sky Glass TV Guide
Freeview On Sky Glass

Households that don’t have good Freeview reception (or Freesat), currently have no option to get most of the Freeview channels – without subscribing to one of those paid services that stream Freeview via broadband (and even in that case – only some of the channels are available).

There’s been some talk last year about Freeview finally moving to an internet-based, streaming future – but there hasn’t been much progress with that. 

Hopefully, the BBC will work with its partners in the coming year, to finally move Freeview into the cloud – at least as an option, before broadcast channels are actually shut down.

26 thoughts on “BBC Preparing For Future Closure Of Broadcast Channels”

    • Many older people either A: don’t understand or use internet, or B: can’t afford internet, or simply aren’t tech savvy.

      Also with many costs rising many families are more worried about having food on the table rather than having tablets or phones. Decent internet speed is not a given countrywide also. Everyone has the right to tv, it’s how many preschoolers start to learn.

  1. If you get TV through an aerial you can still watch TV when your broadband has gone down, so long as the cause of the loss of broadband isn’t an electricity power cut.

    Also, by analogy, if you still have a traditional phone landline, this will also work in a power cut, so long as you have a handset that doesn’t need a mains supply. Very useful for people in rural areas which can have not infrequent power cuts and the mobile signal can also be flaky. Once you have moved onto a digital landline then you can’t use your landline phone at all when broadband goes down. And if you live in an area with poor/no mobile signal you could even be unable to communicate with the outside world if you were carless or if the roads were blocked by snow or fallen trees.

  2. You can kiss your right to any privacy goodbye if the service goes all digital, and there is a good reason why you are already required to log in to watch any of the current online services, it tells them who you are and they can collect data on what programmes you are watching, and what hours you are in your house watching them. This data is very valuable and your choice of programmes can tell advertisers and other nefarious groups a lot about you, and this can be sold for lucrative amounts of money. ‘Smart TVs’ are smart alright, but not for the viewer, this is just yet more of the ongoing efforts to bully us all into a cashless society so all our spending habits can be logged and monitored, and just about everything else that we do. Big Brother is here now and has been for some time.

    Viewers have no rights, and we are being taxed for the privilege of being spied on. Maybe when the Internet only TV days arrive I will just unplug my TV and watch videos and DVDs, as they can’t make you buy a licence for programmes that are not transmitted live, so if your TVs are not connected to the internet then you don’t need one. More channels doesn’t mean more choice anyway, just more rubbish! Little wonder I am cynical, our society is rapidly becoming a joke and the metropolitan elites at the BBC are the ones leading the charge!

    • Exactly. They want to eliminate any potential for maintaining your privacy as to your viewing habits and location. Hopefully the ICO will bring some realusm to those BBC planners.

  3. The BBC are angling to drop the TV TAX and bring in an INTERNET TAX where the Antiquated BBC still gets its money 💰 from the taxpayers !

    No to the TV TAX
    No to the BBC

  4. My wife likes to watch on our Sony TV. She is used to that and prefers it. She doesn’t want to watch on a PC or a tablet or mobile. She likes her TV. We do have a very old Sky+ box and subscribe to Sky, but she watches Sky on the TV. And she already has a more limited choice as many channels are switching to HD, and according to Sky our old Sky+ box can only pick up SD channels. Every week it seems that she loses another channel. Its not fair. My wife and I are both elderly and housebound with health issues and are sheltering from the coronavirus as we are both vulnerable, so it isn’t possible to have a procession of engineers coming into our house with new tech. The SD channels should be kept going and broadcast over the aerial for people like us who still rely on it. And as for everything being broadcast online on the Internet, where does that leave the TV Licence? Scrap it, and the BBC will have no funding. And don’t think for one minute that changing the BBC to a subscription service will work. A subscription service is voluntary and down to choice, whilst the TV Licence is compulsory for everyone, and without it the BBC will be gone in a matter of months. You’ve been warned, so no tears afterwards.

    • If you’ve still got on of the original Sky+ boxes (pre HD) look on ebay – they’re are a number of the Sky+HD boxes up for sale for next to nothing. Even if you don’t have a HDTV they will take the sky picture and lower it to SD anyway. They are easy to install – you just take the card out the old box, unplug the box, unscrew the satellite feed (make sure you unplug the box before removing the satellite feed and ensure any other satellite boxes are also turned off as the feed does have electric running through it so you might get a little tingle in your fingers and see a small flash if you remove it before unplugging or have any other boxes supplying power to the LNB ( the LNB is the block on the dish arm). Then just plug the wires back into the Sky+HD box in the same place they came from the original –

      If your tv has HDMI use a HDMI cable, if it’s only got SCART then you’ll need an RCA (Phono plug) to SCART convertor (you can get a HDMI to scart but don’t because the HD programmes will just show a black screen because of HDCP copyright protection) – they’re not that expensive – they come with three wires – yellow, red and white and they go into the corresponding colours on the box – yellow is video and red/white is audio – if you get the audio the wrong way you’ll just get left/right on the wrong side but if you get the video on the audio connector you’ll just get a loud buzz in one of the audio channels and nothing on screen but they are colour coded anyway).

      Once you’ve got the Sky+HD box al plugged in you then just need to call up Sky (or go online) – give them the new serial number of the box and your viewing card number (they can tell you how to get that info on screen – it shows it all on the menu). They will link up the new box to your account and about an hour later all your TV channels are on the new box. If your TV can’t show HD the box itself automatically downgrades the picture to the correct format for the TV.

      • Oh also if anyone sells you a Sky Q box on eBay – don’t buy it – you can sell the Sky+HD boxes as they belong to the owner after the 12 month contract (and by now they’ll all be out of contracts) but you can’t resell the Sky Q boxes as they are always owned by Sky. Also when reconnecting add the figure of 8 power lead last).

  5. It will be a huge cost to public venues to replace their tv’s with smart tv in order to watch sports via internet. Every household will have to have several laptops as not everyone in a household is willing to watch together in real time just one BBC channel at a time.

    • You don’t need to replace your TV with a smart TV to watch online. There are plenty of boxes out there that already do it – Fire Stick. Roku, Apple TV, Sky Stream, Sky Q, Youview, Chromecast, NowTV, TalkTalk (some are even given away by your current broadband or TV provider also if you’ve got a number of games consoles they can turn your tv into a smart TV – Xbox One S/X, Series S/X, PS4/5 and Switch can ask turn your TV into a smart tv – then also most phones with USB-C on them can also be used to turn a tv smart

  6. I only hope that the tv licienc3 is abolished and bbc go subscription. I haven’t paid a TV licence for years and I do t watch anything outside netflix and occasionally amazon but I’d l9ve to pay for sky Atlantic and sports. Both things I can’t do with sky or virgin as they ha e been forced to suply all the other bbc and l8ve channels I am not I terested in. Go subscription means I will no longer be forced out of choice. It means people that want bbc pay and people that don’t won’t get bbc.

    • Actually ypu can get Sky Atlantic and Sports without a TV licence – if you get Now TV – Its owned by Sky but it’s online only. As long as you don’t watch the TV live you don’t need a TV licence – with Now TV you can watch shows live or on catch up – as long your watching after it’s broadcast on now tv – no licence needed, also Sky have just launched Sky Stream as well which is similar to Now.

    • I am old and even my older finds beyond 50 60. Have Internet. Yep they still use Aries and ha e big old fat tvs catho tube. But they do have the net. I don’t think there is many who don’t now.

    • Living in a van, I rely on an ariel for TV as I have to use mobile data for streaming and there are data costs/caps. It’s Ok if there’s a mobile signal but in remote areas, my TV works but my mobile doesn’t.

      • It depends on who you are with for your network – I’ve found Three/ID Mobile has the best 5G coverage across the UK and if you go to you can get really good deals. Vodafone has the best overall coverage of you don’t mind going between 4 and 5G and both Vodafone and ID Mobile offer unlimited data deals – also Vodafone own VOXI which has a package that allows unlimited video streaming (and social media). We got VOXI for my dad when he was in hospital so he could watch UK Play).

        Also some streaming services do allow you to download for watching later. We have a caravan and when I’m there I go to the local library and set a few movies to download for watching later. Most libraries in the UK offer free internet even if you’re not registered with them and even if you need to register you can usually register with them if you don’t live in the area (I’m registered with Denbigh, Telford, Warrington, Wrecsam, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Herefordshire Libraries.

  7. Modern digital flat screen TV’s are very reliable. I’ve got a couple well over 12 years old that still receive the Freeview channels perfectly well.
    What they have lost is the ability to stream iPlayer etc as the BBC removed support for them. Even the 7 year old one has lost some of it’s streaming capabilities.
    If we go completely to a streaming only way of receiving mainstream TV can we expect more of this where the TV’s become obsolete after a few years because the BBC etc no longer wants to support them?
    Ok, adding extra devices like a Humax PVR or an Amazon Fire stick can extend the life of these old TV’s but why should you in these so called eco-friendly days where we shouldn’t be making things obsolete just because?

    • You obviously don’t work with computers – electronic devices go obsolete even though they appear to be ‘working fine’ for more reasons than just because someone decides to update the software. It’s the hardware inside them that becomes obsolete. Even though the hardware still works there can be various security flaws that can’t be solved meaning there is a risk if the old stuff is allowed to carry on of hackers abusing the system. You may think what could they want from a TV – but they can do a lot even with just a TV.

  8. It’s funny the other day we were watvhing TV through the Apple TV box as we always do and my mum said why don’t we see what is on normal TV not online. We told her this is normal TV – she was like no like BBC1 or ITV (we’d just been watching Coronation Street). She then realised that everything online on both ITVX and iPlayer is basically normal TV even though its online. The major advantage though is you can watch it any time.

    Tbh though as long as fast enough internet is available to all households and instead of maintaining TV masts and Astra satellites concentration is put into ensuring every home has some kind of high speed connection (whether that’s through fibre (bt), long range wifi (airband) or 5G phone networks then I see no reason to keep broadcast channels going anymore. TV is moving into a very different era – sure not everyone will take up the new online TV but if you have an Apple TV box its so easy to be able to make all your tv online only (there are also other boxes available but we found Apple to be the most user friendly) – but don’t forget when TV first launched not everyone got a TV aerial, even now there are some areas that still can’t get a TV signal (without a satellite dish we can’t because Clee Hill is in the way for freeview – we do have an extremely limited freeview service from Ludlow), there are some people who don’t even have a TV (I know at least three people in this area). So your not going to change everyone to online only TV but there does have to be a point when you say the majority have the new technology and so the legacy technology needs to be retired.

    • I don’t agree with you… People should have a choice not being FORCED to have internet thats be all and end all…. What if the internet crashes big time you end up with NOTHING!!!!

  9. I really like Freeview tv I have watched it for years, it would be sad to see it go. I like the internet but I don’t believe the whole of Freeview should have to be watched that way in future.

    • I think people said the same when there was analogue TV – do you remember when there was just BBC 1, 2, Granada (ITV), C4 and eventually C5 (although why they launched C5 on analogue when they did I’ve no idea as everything was going digital at the time and I think the C5 analogue transmitters only got a few months of use!). They turned off the analogue transmitters, there was a few weeks whilst some people panicked because they realised they weren’t ready (the majority already had digital in some way anyway – we had OnDigital/ITV Digital at the start). But now even though most TVs still have an analogue tuner in them no-one ever thinks about the days of tuning the TV into analogue stations and they certainly don’t think of the days way back when you had an actual dial on the TV rather than preset channels (as a kid we had a black and white Ferguson TV with a dial to tune in – the funny thing was we had it initially in our caravan in Wales and you could get S4C – but then we brought it back to Warrington and C4 from Winter Hill was too high up the dial for it to receive!)

  10. As BBC moves into delivery of all BBC channels in HD on Freeview will there be a possibility of an alternate SD channel(s)? Those of us with say Humax recorders will otherwise only be able to record in HD any BBC output which reduces HDD capacity by 50%.


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