Anyone predicting the imminent death of terrestrial TV needs to think again.
The Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer made it clear recently she had no intentions of allowing Freeview to be switched off.
For those commentators who’d misinterpreted remarks by BBC Director General Tim Davy to mean the corporation was truly heading for an “internet only” future this may have been a surprise.
However in many respects what the Culture Secretary said was a statement of the obvious – of simple common sense and political expediency.
Put simply, there are no votes in switching off Freeview and every possibility, indeed probability, of losing them.
Imagine if a previous generation of politicians had promised they would switch off 405-line TV in 1970 or analogue terrestrial in 2000.
If would have forced consumers to change equipment – sometimes unwillingly. For older people this might have been confusing, for those on lower incomes it could have meant sacrifices.
It will only be realistic to switch off Freeview if the point comes when the service is being used by a tiny number of people.
It will be very interesting to see whether Freely – the name for the new product designed to deliver linear TV over the internet – takes off though.
You can certainly see the attractions. One compelling argument is it could provide the simplicity of an EPG but also include UHD and fully integrated catch up services.
But would this appeal to people wanting to upgrade from Freeview? Or would it give some Freesat users the opportunity to junk their dish?
Much will depend on how many people end up using the product.
It is easy to forget that some technological improvements have never flown commercially: quadrophonic sound on radio, BSB’s picture quality, widescreen pictures on analogue as attempted by Channel 4 in the mid-90s. And do not even mention 3D television.
It’s also important not to presume that any move to internet delivery means the end of linear services. Linear services can also be provided online – indeed they are. Just look at the iPlayer or ITV X.
Broadcasting is an asset for everybody in a country like the UK – not merely a product for the customers of a particular service.
The thought of the BBC pulling out of Freeview in the foreseeable future was always unrealistic.
In a few months time, the BBC will stop providing separate programmes on Radio 4 long wave.
However it is important to note that it has not yet announced when the Radio 4 long wave transmitters will be closed down.
My hunch is that this will only happen when the transmitters fail or once it is very obvious that hardly anyone is listening.
If the day should eventually come when Freeview faces closure, you can expect several years’ notice and a huge campaign to provide information and help for the vulnerable.
The bigger risk to Freeview is that without more HD it simply will become a legacy service.
It’s time to contemplate making the technical changes to Freeview to allow more HD.
PICTURED: Freeview mast. COPYRIGHT: The TV Room.