Recently there was something of a storm over reports the BBC was planning an online only future.
The storm – which ironically enough was mostly online – died down once the actual nature of what the BBC had suggested became clearer.
But terrestrial television does face something of a challenge. In short, Freeview has to stay fit for purpose if it is to be more than a legacy service. The risk is that other options may simply become more attractive to viewers.
At present, it’s hard to see why anyone with access to the iPlayer on their TV would use it simply to watch live TV if they also had access to a simple linear service. The joy of the iPlayer is in the wealth of content it offers – switching, say, from the live stream of BBC One to BBC Two takes a few clicks.
If you do not want pay TV, the linear choice is between Freeview and Freesat.
Freesat was initially designed as a “fill in” in the areas where digital terrestrial was unavailable before switchover. Later it became an upgrade from Freeview Light in those places.
There was little reason for anyone with access to the full Freeview service to contemplate Freesat.
But the lack of HD on Freeview could change things. Shortly all BBC services will be available in HD on Freesat – including BBC Alba and Parliament.
These services will remain SD only on Freeview – indeed recently BBC News HD was lost on Freeview. Meanwhile Freesat viewers can now watch ITV 2, ITV 3 and ITV 4 in HD.
If Freeview is to have a future it needs more HD capacity urgently.
A programme must be designed to convert more multiplexes to the more efficient encoding method (DVB-T2) which supports HD and, indeed, better quality SD.
One multiplex could stay on the older encoding standard – DVB-T – to provide SD versions of the main public service channels to help out those with older equipment.
If this does not happen, sooner or later Freeview will end up as the equivalent of AM radio or 405-line TV in the 70s and early 80s.
It is time for the broadcasters and Ofcom to review the DTT system urgently.
The review could also look at whether quite so many multiplexes would be needed if a more efficient transmission method were used.
It could also review the future of the tiny relays which were built to deal with analogue reception problems.
Saving Freeview is not about staying still. It is about allowing it to evolve.
PICTURED: the Sheriff's Mountain transmitter in Derry-Londonderry. COPYRIGHT: The TV Room.
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