“The BBC plans to stop terrestrial TV in 2030” screamed the clickbait headlines of the week. Yet it’s completely false.
As reported earlier in the week, the BBC Director-General Tim Davie used his Royal Television Society speech to confirm the BBC wanted to ditch traditional broadcast platforms in favour of going internet only.
But the BBC has just told Ofcom it supports ongoing use of terrestrial TV frequencies. Where did the notion that the BBC wanted to do this in 2030 come from?
There’s a valid threat that terrestrial TV could be forced off the airwaves from 2030 – not because the BBC plans to do so – but because of an international conference next November that could force the BBC and other broadcasters’ hands.
Delegates from around the globe will attend the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-23) in Dubai to discuss how frequencies should be reallocated.
The WRC is one of many conferences sponsored by the United Nations or its agencies that thrash out very technical, international agreements without most people noticing. Arguably, the most famous such conference is the COP climate change conferences, the most recent having just completed.
In essence you could say COP is for the air we breathe, the WRC for the airwaves we receive.
The current Freeview frequencies are only secure until 2030, but the BBC has joined others in campaigning for a ‘no change’ UK position, retaining use of these frequencies for terrestrial TV.
How does that square up with what the BBC’s director-general told the Royal Television Society?
The BBC’s motive is to ensure terrestrial TV can continue to remain on air until at least 2034, when Freeview multiplex licences are due to expire. As Tim Davie highlighted, UK broadband infrastructure is not up for such a move…yet.
The BBC thinks the UK needs some extra time beyond 2030 to be able to get a switchover to IP-based TV services off the ground.
It’s also concerned about what happens to specialist equipment (PMSE) that is used to make live programmes and cover special events, like Glastonbury or the Royal Funeral – they also use the same spectrum that’s under threat.
The decision to make no change could then be revisited at the next WRC in 2027 allowing the UK to serve notice on terrestrial broadcasting for 2034.
There is recognition that switching to online is not the end of linear broadcasting – in fact services like Pluto TV, Samsung TV Plus and ITVX FAST channels confirm linear will continue, but in a different way to before.
Any future TV service will need to allow viewers to access all this streamed linear content in an easy way, without having to go in and out of lots of different apps to access them. Look at Virgin Media’s plans to incorporate Pluto TV in its EPG as an example of the future direction of travel.
Incidentally, if you have satellite TV, don’t think you’re exempt from an online move: the Astra 2E, 2F and 2G satellites that carry Sky and Freesat reach their end of life between 2027 and 2029 and Sky’s contract currently only runs until 2028. (Some Sky services may leave earlier, with a contract covering some transponders ending in 2027.)
The BBC’s stance differs from transmitter company Arqiva: Arqiva is campaigning to preserve terrestrial TV beyond 2040, not 2030.
Yes, it’s right to say the BBC wants to stop terrestrial (and other forms of non-internet) TV.
No, it doesn’t want to stop it in 2030.
You can read the BBC’s comments to Ofcom on the regulator’s website.
RELATED ARTICLE: State of play: a UK IP-TV switchover.
PICTURED: Brougher Mountain transmitters. COPYRIGHT: Nathan Dane.