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.

man watchin streaming tv on tablet

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