A sideways look at everything around us that tries to entertain our feeble little minds. Anything written here is either a personal opinion, a failed attempt at humour, part of my world domination plan or none of the above…
At the end of last year there was talk of the BBC closing BBC HD and launching BBC2 HD in its place. Then early this year it got the go ahead. Given the proportion of HD content being made I was a little worried that too much time would be devoted to upscaled standard definition (SD) for the likes of Flog It and BBC3 and BBC4 content would suffer. My main concern was that content would be made or acquired in HD for those channels but due to BBC HD’s demise wouldn’t be seen by most viewers. Limited bandwidth on Freeview for technical reasons and ongoing budget cuts made the likelihood of dedicated HD versions of the BBC’s other channels highly unlikely.
Given the BBC’s obligations to remain unbiased it tries to remain platform neutral and show no favouritism with regard to most service provision decisions. Budget cuts have already resulted in the scaling back in the number Red Button channels broadcast. The thinking being if there is no room on Freeview then Satellite and Cable should not offer greater choice. Though there has been a temporary reinstatement of an extra video screen for both the Olympics last year, and this summer for the likes of Glastonbury.
The key word there, with reference to Red Button, was “broadcast”. With the rise of video-on-demand and online viewing many companies are looking to offer greater choice using internet streaming services via a variety of devices. These range from games consoles and tablets to “connected” or “smart” televisions. The BBC is moving Red Button from a broadcast model to an online one. Satellite and Cable had previously been provided more Red Button channels just because those platforms had extra bandwidth. The increasing availability of internet capable TVs will mean that instead of the TV tuning to a “hidden” broadcast channel when a selection is made from the Red Button menu it will instead stream the video from the internet. From previously being limited to the number of broadcast channels they were technically able to fit in (especially on Freeview), the number of Red Button “channels” is limited only by the amount of content you can afford to deliver. Eventually this will lead to the transition of all extra video content services being delivered this way.
It may seem I’m getting off topic, and I am to an extent, but it was via online streaming and catch-up services how I was expecting BBC3 and BBC4’s HD future to exist. Certainly on on Freeview. My fear was that many would go without viewing these channel’s content in HD for many years because they either couldn’t afford it, weren’t tech-savvy enough to know it was there and/or set it up, or they lived in an area with no/poor broadband connectivity.
In case you weren’t aware BBC HD was basically a highlights channel that showcased HD content from most of the BBC channels, broadcasting some at the same time as the SD transmission where it was possible. BBC1 shows, of course, disappeared when BBC1 HD launched. The BBC2 HD launch has temporarily meant there is currently no broadcast outlet for transmission of 3 and 4’s HD content.
The recent news that the BBC is to launch HD versions of all it’s UK channels except for Parliament (and possibly Alba since I’ve seen no mention of it anywhere) has put most of these worries to rest. There are still some flies in the ointment though.
The new Freeview multiplex that will carry BBC4, CBeebies and the BBC News Channel is only guaranteed to exist until 2018 when OFCOM has the option of reclaiming it for mobile data provision if they feel it’s required. The new multiplex will also only cover 70% of the population by early 2014 and will likely never cover more much than that in the foreseeable future as current plans have significantly less transmitter locations than those that host the current full Freeview channel line-up.
BBC3 and CBBC will be broadcast on the last free slot on the existing Freeview multiplex HD which is available to the 98.5% of homes who can receive a Freeview signal, provided they have an HD capable tuner/box.
Not everyone is dependant on Freeview of course (you can guarantee the new HD channels will be on Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media), but many use it for secondary sets so the differences of terrestrial provision will be a factor affecting many.
If you were curious where the space for the new HD Freeview multiplex came from, it was basically due to digital switch-over being complete and space being freed up for new uses. For instance, some has been allocated to telecoms companies for 4G mobile internet services.
Given the coverage of other platforms like satellite and cable, coupled with the internet, I’m hopeful that the coverage limitations of Freeview won’t impact too many people from receiving their favourite BBC shows in the best possible quality available.