BBC closes network tv channel

David Tennant as Doctor Who David Tennant was the first HD Doctor in 2009

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the BBC closed one of its network television channels for the first time.

BBC HD - the UK's first free-to-air high definition tv channel - ceased broadcasting more than five years after its official launch.

It makes way for BBC Two HD, introduced as part of Delivering Quality First and regarded as a logical next step following the arrival of BBC One HD in 2010.

Available free on all digital HD platforms, the new channel - which will simulcast BBC Two in England - will mean that all new BBC Two programmes will be made in HD. Archive shows, meanwhile, will be 'upscaled' to HD quality for broadcast on BBC Two HD.

Janice Hadlow, BBC Two controller, says the launch will 'allow us to showcase more of our programmes at their very best'.

BBC Three and Four

But it will also signal the end - for now, at least - of any HD transmissions of programmes from BBC Three, Four, CBBC and Cbeebies. The pick of these had been showcased on BBC HD, alongside the 75-85% of content from BBC Two. The BBC says it is examining affordable options for the future.

BBC HD was launched on satellite and cable in December 2007 after a successful trial the previous year.

The pilot service had begun in a hurry, with manufacturers given six months to develop a prototype terrestrial set-top box for HD reception in time for limited viewer testing ahead of the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

It was ready ahead of kick-off, and the channel followed successful HD coverage of the football with that of Wimbledon and the Proms. It was enough for the BBC Trust to give the go-ahead for the channel's official launch.

Sound and synch

It wasn't all plain sailing in the first few years - there were issues with lip synching, obtrusive DOGs and, more often than not, with sound.

The 2008 Eurovision Song Contest on BBC HD was blighted by a technical fault which prevented the correct decoding of the 5.1 surround sound.

Terry Wogan, 2008 Eurovision Song Contest 2008 Eurovision Song Contest was 'ruined' on BBC HD

An 'embarrassed' Seetha Kumar, the first BBC HD head, admitted: 'We at BBC HD are mortified that the viewing of a much-awaited event was ruined.'

The BBC HD broadcast of the opening of the Beijing Olympics also lost its surround sound to the disappointment of viewers.

'We are all learning together,' Kumar explained in a 2008 blog post.

Indeed, as part of its mission to get producers on board, the channel funded early training for everyone from make-up artists to scenic artists, who had to adapt their methods for the piercing scrutiny of HD cameras.

The channel never commissioned a programme, but it helped producers get to grips with HD working, offering advice on everything from lighting for HD to depth of field.

Period drama and natural history programmes were obvious trailblazers for the channel, which offered a stunning showcase for the likes of Cranford, Bleak House and Planet Earth.

Sport and HD

Major events such as Glastonbury, the Electric Proms and the Chelsea Flower Show drew the crowds, while sports fans appreciated crystal clear coverage of Six Nations, US Masters Golf and Formula 1. The London Olympics was shown in glorious HD for 20 hours a day. 'It's about the demographic, the expectation,' reasons Garrie Mallen, head of scheduling, BBC HD Channel.

The net was widened as the years went by and, by 2009, the channel was filling its nine-hour daily schedule with ease. And for the past couple of years pretty much all BBC peak-time content has been made in HD.

In 2009 there was the first HD Doctor Who; Top Gear also became one of the big HD hitters. Average audiences of around 1.5m tuned in for the current series. 'Boys, techie boys, like their toys,' says Mallen. 'They tend to be early adopters.'

More viewers came on board as the channel became available to Freesat and then Freeview viewers.

Keeping with its spirit of experimentation, the channel became a test-bed for 3D broadcasting, including a Christmas transmission of David Walliams' Mr Stink.

BBC HD's final transmission was a nostalgic loop of all the BBC's testcards.

Alix Pryde, director distribution, said the channel would 'always have a special place in the BBC's history', but she looked forward to its successor's arrival.

'We are proud to be reaching this milestone of bringing our second most popular channel into a fuller HD existence. So while we wish a fond farewell to BBC HD and thank it for a job well done, I hope you will enjoy saying hello to BBC Two HD.'

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