The BBC Trust has today (Monday 19 November) published the final conclusions of the Public Value Test (PVT) it has conducted into the BBC Executive's proposals for a high definition (HD) television channel.
The Trust has approved the channel to launch on cable and Sky satellite as soon as possible, on "Freesat" when the platform launches, and on Freeview as soon as feasible.
The timetable for launch on Freeview will await a review in 2008 of digital spectrum capacity issues. The Trust has ruled out any early launch of an interim 4-hour overnight service on Freeview before the technical standards for providing HD on Freeview are clear.
Diane Coyle, BBC Trustee and Chair of the Public Value Test Steering Group said:
"The Trust is pleased to approve the new HD television channel on all platforms. After considering all the evidence we are satisfied that the public value generated is sufficiently high and there is unlikely to be a negative impact on the market.
"High Definition will eventually become a significant broadcasting standard and, as with all BBC services for which everyone pays, it is essential that this is universally available as soon as possible. This means the Trust will consider in spring 2008 the timing of the launch on Freeview, when there should be greater clarity on HD broadcast standards and the spectrum capacity available for the channel.
"The Trust is very grateful for all the responses we received to our consultation, and in particular to the question we asked about the potential for a four-hour interim service on Freeview. The responses from the public and commercial stakeholders led us to conclude that it was not in licence-fee payers' interests to launch a four-hour overnight service at present. We believe there is currently too great a risk of confusing consumers due to the need for upgrades if an HD service launches before there is equipment which allows viewers to access both the interim service and new services after switchover. An interim service might become an option later in the process of digital switchover when those boxes become available."
The BBC Executive's proposals
The BBC Executive's proposals were for a mixed-genre, high definition channel. The Executive's intention is to launch the service on digital satellite, digital cable and digital terrestrial television (DTT or Freeview). There are two key variations within the proposals regarding these platforms:
Satellite and cable: the proposal is for a nine-hour service broadcasting from 15.00 to midnight, with some flexibility to extend beyond this to allow coverage of significant live sport or other events.
DTT: two options were proposed - (i) after digital switchover a full nine-hour service as described above or in the meantime and (ii) a four-hour schedule broadcasting overnight between 02.00 and 06.00.
The Trust's final decision
Cable and satellite
The channel should be provided on these platforms when a service licence is effective, and on "Freesat" from the launch of that service.
Freeview (nine-hour schedule)
The full service should be provided on Freeview as soon as possible – subject to a review by the Trust of spectrum capacity issues in spring 2008, when it is envisaged there will be greater clarity on HD broadcast standards and the spectrum capacity available to provide the channel.
Freeview (four-hour overnight schedule)
There should be no early provision of an interim service on Freeview. An interim overnight service should not be launched before the review of DTT provision in 2008 nor before equipment is available that allows viewers to access both an interim service and new services after switchover.
However, the Trust did approve the option of the BBC providing the four-hour overnight service, once such equipment is available, for regions where late digital switchover means that these regions would not otherwise have access to HD programming.
The evidence collected by the Trust during the consultation period suggests there is considerable public scepticism about the value of providing the interim service before the eventual standards for HD on Freeview are clear. Audience research commissioned by the Trust into the four-hour overnight service showed that 65% said it would be better for the BBC to hold back from launching the interim service in the short term. Although there was some support for the four-hour service amongst stakeholders responding to the consultation, there was a feeling that the risk of consumer confusion was too great if the interim service was launched.
In the event of overnight withdrawal of BBC Parliament from Freeview to provide capacity for an overnight, interim service, the Trust reiterated its decision that the BBC's commitments to Parliament – in terms of full, live coverage of the House of Commons, and full, but not necessarily live, coverage of the House of Lords – must take precedence over the BBC HD channel if capacity cannot be found for both.
Launch on internet protocol TV (IPTV)
The Trust confirms its provisional conclusion that the BBC Executive should maintain contact with the relevant providers to ensure that appropriate provision of HD content is made as and when the operators are able to support demand.
HD content on-demand over the internet
The Trust has not changed the views expressed in its provisional conclusions. There is public value in the BBC offering HD content over the internet, although we expect the volumes that can be made available to be very small in the short to medium term. The Trust will keep this area under review.
The channel's purpose to showcase HD content from across the BBC portfolio should take precedence over its aim to simulcast prime-time BBC One. Nonetheless, it should provide a coherent, mixed-genre schedule which can draw on BBC One prime-time programmes.
Genre mix and events rights
The channel should be a mixed genre high definition channel. The channel will allow for up to 20% of sport and film content and should not become a head-on competitor for sports and movie HD channels.
We would expect that future transmission of higher resolution picture standards would be backwards compatible with current display equipment. Any move towards the 1080p picture resolution standard should be undertaken with minimal disadvantage to consumers.
As stated in the provisional conclusions the Trust would expect to conduct its first review of the service no later than 2013 following the completion of digital switchover.