I often do something of an impersonation of Mark Twain. Reports, I argue, of the death of linear TV are exaggerated.
Of course there is an important qualification here.
I make a complete distinction between major channels like BBC One and ITV 1 and smaller channels – especially niche channels.
This week came news of the closure of a few niche linear services. It will soon be goodbye to Tiny Pop and Channel 4’s suite of music channels.
Channel 4 has also said it may close other channels in the future and regards itself as “ahead of the curve” on the move online.
There’s no need to lose sleep over small commercial channels. It’s quite simple – if a channel isn’t making money it has no future, just like any other business.
Channel 4 has always regarded its broader suite of channels as commercial operations – even though, for instance, Film4 retains the capacity to surprise with some of its choices and More4 includes some thoughtful material.
The inevitable question is how much longer they will survive for as linear services.
If I were a betting man, I would suggest the two of Channel 4’s spin-off channels which are likely to disappear first are 4Seven and E4 Extra.
Both get modest ratings and are broadcast on commercial capacity on Freeview – not Channel 4’s gifted space.
Channel 4 has particular reasons for being keen to focus on on-demand. It has particular responsibilities towards the young.
Channel 4 itself doesn’t have the special ability of the BBC and ITV 1 to bring disparate groups of people together – historically, its very point was to serve the audience as individuals.
Ofcom is considering whether to allow Channel 4 to focus its resources on a smaller number of commissions which make more impact.
I really cannot imagine Channel 4 ceasing to exist as a linear service in the foreseeable future even if we are likely to continue to see more and more of its content appearing on-demand first.
And with the spin-off channels, it’ll depend on money. When they consistently lose money it will be bye bye.
Of course, there is no doubt the number of linear services will continue to thin out: the BBC is still expected to close BBC Four and CBBC as linear services at some point soon although no date has been announced.
In a funny kind of way though, might having fewer linear channels help protect the major ones?
If you have fewer channels to choose between, might some people simply watch more on those which remain?
Incidentally it was interesting to note the concerns of some MPs over the future of Freeview – it’s role in areas where the quality of reliability of broadband is unsatisfactory should not be understated.
Personally though I am relaxed about the threat of closure.
As long as it is watched by a significant proportion of the audience it will be safe.
Any move online would require years of work – a huge amount of support would need to be offered to people who don’t use the internet or live in areas with inadequate internet coverage. It will be interesting to see whether Freely – the new way of watching TV online – takes off.
For now, any prospect of “turning off TV” would be a guaranteed vote loser.
You only need to look at the BBC’s caution over closing Radio 4 LW (although separate programmes end shortly) and 5 Live MW to realise how a public service broadcaster must take accessibility seriously.
Still let’s make a distinction between linear channels and how they are distributed – if DTT is superseded, that is no different to the end of 405-line or UHF analogue.
PICTURED: Channel 4 break bumper. COPYRIGHT: Channel 4 Television Corporation.