Why are viewers in England still seeing that red screen in 2020?

First published: 13th September 2019. Last updated: 3rd November 2020.

I know it’s a point that’s been raised many times by viewers and in various online forums – but, ten years since an HD version of BBC One was launched (3rd November 2010), the channel has yet to make any of its English regional news programmes available in HD.

Whilst 15 English regions have dedicated news services on BBC One SD, only one version of BBC One HD is broadcast across England. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have their own high-definition BBC One services.

No regional news is broadcast on the BBC One HD channel serving England. Instead, a red apology caption occupies most of the regional news timeslots.

The weekday early evening regional news (6.30pm – 7pm) is actually one of the most-watched slots in the BBC One schedule. There’s clearly an appetite for regional news out there. So, why are the BBC seemingly neglecting to invest in the technology needed to broadcast these programmes in HD?

The pace of change in broadcast technology and the transmission costs associated with broadcasting 15 additional versions of BBC One in HD on the various broadcast platforms are two of the main reasons cited by the BBC for not moving ahead with HD transmission for the BBC One English regions.

The BBC has repeatedly put off upgrades to English regional studio facilities for fear of the technology being rapidly superseded.

Surely at some point they have to bite the bullet and jump? One wonders if there ever will be a right time? The kit in some of the English regions is incredibly old. And the picture quality – even for SD – is quite poor in a number of cases.

And on the other hand, some of the English regions were upgraded to HD some years ago: BBC North West, BBC South West and BBC London. Yet none of them can get their regional news programmes to the viewer in HD. Does this represent value for money? The BBC would argue that some networked output is also produced in the studios in Salford and London.

Some ITV English regions have had a high-definition version of the channel since 2010. Additional HD regional services have been added since then. And recently, ITV announced the addition of high-definition services for Yorkshire East, Central East, Anglia West, Meridian North and Meridian South. This leaves ITV Border Scotland and ITV Channel Islands as the only regional services without a high-definition version of the channel.

It should be noted however that whilst DSAT/Freesat ITV viewers are now getting to a point where they can view the appropriate regional news programme in HD, the Freeview platform continues to suffer from the legacy of limited regionalisation of the main HD multiplex.

Perhaps the investment in regional infrastructure and transmission by ITV will be the kick in the backside the BBC needs to address the absence of high-definition services for the BBC English regions? I’m sure ITV will also be pushing for a solution to the current limitations of the Freeview network.

There’s no indication that there’ll be any positive movement by the BBC any time soon. But surely there’s a better use of valuable airtime than a red apology caption? BBC One is one of the UK’s leading TV channels. The “red screen” solution seems primitive and reminiscent of the days of the test card.

What would be so wrong with airing the BBC London news programme on the HD channel – with a small caption pointing out that viewers outside London should retune to SD for their regional news? BBC London would be the correct region for a good portion of the population.

Or even a rotation of regional news programmes in the slot (something akin to what’s done for the Sunday morning regional politics show)? Much better options than a red caption!

Acknowledgements

FEATURE IMAGE:

PICTURED: the red apology caption shown on BBC One HD during regional news timeslots. SUPPLIED BY: The TV Room. COPYRIGHT: BBC.

Posted by The Voice

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