The BBC has been told it should develop a detailed plan showing how it intends to replace Freeview and other traditional TV platforms in favour of an internet-only future.
The UK House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says the BBC must work with Government, audience representatives and wider stakeholders to ensure no-one is left behind.
The BBC was one of the original drivers of Freeview, the UK’s free-to-air digital terrestrial TV platform as its solution to achieve digital switchover. But the PAC indicates the BBC hasn’t got any Freeview replacement plan to drive an online TV switchover.
In December 2022, the BBC Director-General Tim Davie set out the broadcaster’s goal to go online-only. But it’s since indicated to Ofcom it wants to support the retention of terrestrial TV frequencies until at least the mid-2030s. This would give viewers, broadcasters and Government more time to develop a plan for a switchover.
Ensuring no-one is excluded
Despite advocating an internet-only future, the PAC found the BBC hasn’t yet started planning with Government and stakeholders. But the Committee said the BBC was aware it needed to ensure viewers aren’t excluded “due to a lack of confidence in adopting the necessary technologies, access to them, or because of affordability”.
The Committee also noted it was unclear if the BBC’s plan to make £500 million of annual savings to reinvest in “digital” is sufficient for the BBC’s new internet-only ambition.
BBC is a small player online
Going online-only would be a brave move for the BBC. Ofcom’s recent work on how the BBC communicates changes to stakeholders admitted that in terms of online services, the BBC is a small player. Most of its current audience share is from traditional TV and radio platforms. Ofcom’s research suggests BBC online services are attracting existing users of BBC services, but struggling to reach non-BBC users. Losing those traditional means of accessing services risks an accelerated loss of audience share.
▶ Explainer: Does online-only broadcasting mean the end of regular TV channels?
Online-only broadcasting doesn’t automatically mean the end of linear TV. In fact a number of broadcasters have launched dedicated online-only streaming channels. ITVX, for instance, offers a suite of exclusive online-only channels.
Meanwhile, some European countries are piloting new technologies including 5G Broadcast and DVB-I. They allow linear and on-demand services to be delivered via IP-based platforms. 5G Broadcast utilises existing terrestrial TV transmitter towers. This allows users to access public service broadcasting without a commercial fixed or mobile broadband service.
The question for UK broadcasters, regulators and legislators is how can a universal free IP-based TV service be delivered?
The PAC appears to be keen on the BBC working with broadband providers on a Freeview replacement service.
Updated 08:10 01/05/2023