The BBC’s Director-General used his Royal Television Society speech to push for everyone to get their TV and radio from the internet.
Tim Davie claimed a move to internet-only distribution would be an “opportunity”. He said it would allow the BBC to connect more deeply” with audiences and provide them with “better services and choice”. However, Davie raised concerns a migration to an internet-only environment now could lock out viewers and listeners. He said efforts by the government to boost mobile coverage was “critical”.
During the Royal Television Society event earlier today at St Martin-in-the-Fields, he called on fellow broadcasters to collaborate with the BBC to educate people about an online transition.
Speaking about traditional distribution, Davie added: “The internet has stripped away the historical distribution advantage of having half of the TV channels or FM frequencies. In this world relevance, like trust, has to be earned.”
He commented: “This isn’t something to resist. A fully connected UK has very significant benefits for society and our economy. It would unleash huge opportunities for innovation.”
But there are fears that a switch online is being used to mask further cuts. BBC managers have responded to recent plans to cut BBC Local Radio emphasising that resources are being reused to build online content.
Similar reassurances were given when BBC Three moved online in 2016, with the promise of a ‘daily drop’ of content. A small number of traditional BBC Three shows were successfully, especially in conjunction with a repeat on traditional TV channels.
But the rest of the channel’s bespoke online content disappeared without a trace from the public’s view. Ofcom subsequently found the BBC was failing to reach BBC Three’s original target audience.
▶ State of play: Broadcast TV switch-off
The current fleet of satellites serving Sky and Freesat come to the end of their life between 2027 and 2029. Sky’s contract with the satellite operator SES expires in 2028.
Freeview frequencies for terrestrial TV are only guaranteed until the early 2030s.
While the BBC’s plans for a combined UK & World News channel was referenced, Davie remained silent on local radio.
But speaking about the future funding of the BBC, Davie said he was “open minded”. This mirrors recent comments made by the BBC’s chairman Richard Sharp, who outlined a number of options they were considering.
Future of the airwaves?
Today’s speech will explain why the BBC has so far avoided commenting about retaining digital terrestrial TV beyond 2030. Ahead of an international conference that will determine the future usage of airwaves, European and African broadcasters have lobbied for a retention of terrestrial TV airwaves beyond 2030.
Davies’ speech comes days after transmitter company Arqiva stepped up lobbying to retain traditional TV and radio broadcasts beyond 2040. Arqiva used an article in the Sunday Mirror to argue its case for ongoing broadcasts, with support from a number of charities.
Rather than continue the current digital terrestrial TV service beyond 2030, some see 5G Broadcast and DVB-I as a future model. This would see some of the current TV frequencies being retained to create a 5G network using current transmitter towers. 5G Broadcast would crucially provide a universal, free-to-access platform. DVB-I allows viewers to ‘surf’ through streamed channels like they do now with terrestrial, satellite and cable channels.
But there’s been no indication so far that the BBC will consider 5G Broadcast for TV. However, it has trialled it for radio. Many other forms of internet distribution risks handing over the gatekeeper responsibility to large non-UK media giants and internet companies, who can dictate terms of trade.
by Iain Hatton