Changes to the number of TV channels broadcast by the BBC, plus a reduction of two English Regions will have consequences.
The BBC has outlined plans to close the following TV channels:
- BBC Four
- BBC One East (W) [merged with BBC One East (E)]
- BBC One Oxford [merged with BBC One South]
It is also proposing to close:
- BBC Radio 4 Extra
- Medium wave outlets of BBC Radio 5 Live
- BBC Radio 4 LW
Unlike Virgin Media, the BBC operates its own capacity on Freeview, Sky and Freesat. The changes will impact how the BBC broadcasts its services on the three platforms.
CBBC and BBC Four changes
Currently BBC channels timeshare as follows:
|Network 3||CBBC (0700-1857)||BBC Three (1858-0400)|
|Network 4||CBeebies (0600-1857)||BBC Four (1858-0400)|
Following the closure of CBBC and BBC Four TV channels, the fourth BBC network will close. CBeebies will move to timeshare with BBC Three.
For most viewers, this will not result in any obvious changes. Although both CBBC TV channels and BBC Four aren’t due to close until 2025, technical changes to their pairing could be done earlier.
BBC Four HD will lose its current Freeview slot next month when the licence to broadcast the seventh national Freeview multiplex (COM7) expires. [Update 02/06/2022: The BBC has confirmed BBC Four HD will move to a new broadcast slot on multiplex PSB3 at the end of June. Viewers will need to retune then to continue watching the channel until it closes.]
From 2025, BBC Four will live on as a branded section of the BBC iPlayer.
There are no changes to Sky or Freesat until then.
And as the changes aren’t due for another three years, it’s too early to see how that will affect future channel numbers, as much will change between now and then.
BBC One regional changes
The closure of the BBC One Oxford and East (West/Cambs) sub-regions would simplify the roll-out of BBC One HD regions on Freeview, Sky and Freesat.
According to announcements made on Thursday, the sub-regions are due to close in November.
This affects the full roll-out of BBC One HD regions on all platforms. Earlier this year, the BBC confirmed the original timescale to rollout BBC HD regions had slipped from late 2022 to early 2023. But there have already been objections to the plans, and any delay in closing the regions would have an impact on completion of HD rollout.
Removing two regional versions of BBC One will reduce the number of satellite transponder slots required to make the transition to a full HD service possible. It will also simplify technical changes needed to accommodate regional HD services on Freeview.
Why are the changes delayed until 2025?
Speaking to staff, the BBC Director General Tim Davie said the broadcaster wouldn’t make changes “for at least the next three years because for the moment they are still delivering value to millions of viewers and listeners, at low extra cost”.
That low extra cost is based on keeping the status quo. That changes after 2025.
By 2025, the BBC has to make choices whether to renew the licence of its second Freeview multiplex, currently used for HD channels. That licence expires in 2026, but the 2025 timeframe allows for temporary reprieves should circumstances change.
By this time, it also has to decide whether to keep broadcasting its services in both SD and HD on Freeview, push HD viewers to online platforms or close SD broadcasts.
Delaying the changes means the BBC has to factor in the extra capacity needed to keep all of its services on air and would need the second multiplex.
But closing the channels earlier leaves the BBC with unused bandwidth on its first multiplex. The first multiplex is linked to the BBC Charter and it isn’t allowed to offer any surplus capacity to any other broadcaster. As such, closing CBBC and BBC Four earlier wouldn’t save anything in terms of Freeview distribution.
At the same time, the BBC also needs to make choices over how much satellite transponder capacity it needs when its current contract with satellite operator SES ends.
Iain Hatton, Features Writer, RXTV