BBC Trust publishes provisional conclusions on the BBC's HDTV proposals
Having considered a public value assessment (PVA) carried out by the BBC Trust Unit and a market impact assessment (MIA) conducted by Ofcom, the Trust has concluded that the proposals would have high public value and positive impacts on the market, while causing little adverse market impact.
The Trust has therefore provisionally approved the proposals for a BBC HD television channel, subject to some limited conditions.
The Trust's provisional conclusions are now subject to a four-week public consultation period and the Trust expects to reach and publish its final decision by Wednesday 21 November.
Diane Coyle, BBC Trustee and Chair of the Public Value Test Steering Group, said:
"The BBC Trust has a duty to ensure the public receives value in return for paying the licence fee. Our view is that these proposals would deliver significant public value and create very little adverse market impact. As a result, we have provisionally approved them, subject to conditions to safeguard or enhance the public value and minimise any adverse market impact.
"Our provisional conclusions are now open to public consultation and we would like to hear from as many members of the public and stakeholders as possible before reaching our final decision. We are particularly interested in the public's view about the options for an HD channel on Freeview. Would licence fee payers prefer the BBC to launch a four-hour service immediately, before a nine-hour service is possible because of spectrum capacity, even if that means having to buy two set-top boxes within a very short period of time?"
The BBC Executive's proposals
The BBC Executive's proposals are 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 are proposed – (i) after digital switchover a full nine-hour service as described above or in the meantime (ii) a four-hour schedule broadcasting overnight between 02.00 and 06.00.
Due to spectrum capacity constraints, the Executive would need to take down from DTT BBC Parliament, BBC Four and three BBCi streams between the hours of 02.00 and 06.00 to create capacity for the overnight schedule in option (ii). This action would be intended as an interim measure until spectrum capacity allows for the introduction of a nine-hour service on DTT.
Conditions of approval
In the event of final approval for a BBC high definition TV channel, the Trust is proposing conditions in the following areas:
Cable and satellite
Given that the BBC HD channel is operating in trial form on cable and satellite at present, the channel should be provided on a continuing basis on these platforms when a service licence is granted, and on Freesat from the launch of that service.
Freeview (nine-hour schedule)
The Trust believes that an HD channel should be provided on Freeview as soon as possible and early next year it will review options for delivery on Freeview in the light of what might be technically possible following Ofcom's proposals for rearranging spectrum.
Freeview (four-hour overnight schedule)
Although the BBC could launch a four-hour overnight service almost immediately on Freeview within its existing spectrum allocation (subject to the schedule changes specified in the management's application), Ofcom's possible reorganisation of the DTT platform in the future could mean licence fee payers having to make two equipment upgrades in a short space of time. In short, the set-top box which could deliver the first four-hour service would not work after reallocation of the spectrum and a new set-top box would be necessary in order to receive the full nine-hour channel.
In view of this, the Trust is minded to delay the launch of the four-hour interim service on Freeview until after Ofcom's proposals for digital spectrum are clear early next year. However, the Trust is particularly interested in the public's view on this in its consultation: would people prefer the BBC to launch the service as soon as possible, even if that meant people having to buy two set-top boxes in order to receive the service within a very short period of time.
Launch on internet protocol TV (IPTV)
The Trust expects the BBC Executive to maintain contact with internet protocol TV operators – both to gauge feasibility and to ensure that the BBC does not over-burden their capacity before they are ready to accommodate HD.
HD content on-demand over the internet
The Trust considers it is appropriate for HD content to be provided on-demand over the internet through bbc.co.uk. The impact of this on the costs of internet service providers might raise concerns. Because of capacity constraints, the BBC is unlikely to be able to offer a significant volume of HD content through this route in the immediate future. The Trust will pay particular attention to this area as it becomes possible to offer more content on-demand in HD.
The channel should not replicate the BBC One schedule, but should aim to schedule the programmes from across the BBC's portfolio of channels which would make the best use of the upgrade in quality that HD offers.
Genre mix and events rights
The mixed genre nature of the channel will be specified in the service licence and the channel must not become a head-on competitor for sports and movie HD channels. Spending on events rights should also be monitored to ensure that it is not distorted by the presence of an HD channel.
The channel would use the recognised HD standards for picture resolution. The Trust would only expect the BBC Executive to consider switching to an emerging higher resolution when the vast majority of HD consumers had already upgraded to it. Otherwise, the Trust would expect a proposal to be put to it for consideration.
The Trust will safeguard the provision of BBC Parliament on Freeview. The Trust will ensure the guarantees given by the BBC regarding coverage of the House of Commons and the House of Lords are honoured. On the few occasions when the Commons sits all night, provision of BBC Parliament on Freeview will take precedence over the HD channel if capacity to broadcast both services is not available and this will be reflected in the service licence for the HD channel.
The Trust will conduct its first review of the service no later than 2013 following the completion of digital switchover.
The Trust's provisional conclusions will now be subject to a 28-day consultation period which opens today and closes on Tuesday 23 October. The Trust will consider the responses it receives and aims to reach and publish its final decision no later than Wednesday 21 November.
Notes to Editors
- The Trust's provisional conclusions into the proposals for a BBC HD television channel are available on the BBC Trust website at www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust.
- Details of how to respond to the public consultation are available on the BBC Trust website. The Trust is particularly interested in receiving views from the public on the following question relating to the launch of a HD channel on Freeview and there is a separate facility for the public to participate in the consultation in relation only to this point should they wish:
- "If the four-hour, overnight service on Freeview were offered from next year, the set-top boxes viewers would need to buy to receive this service may not be able to receive potential future HD services on Freeview. Would you prefer the BBC to launch the four-hour interim service next year anyway, even if that meant having to buy two set-top boxes within a very short period of time?"
- The draft service licence for the BBC HD television channel has been published today and is available on the BBC Trust website.
- The BBC Trust uses the public value test (PVT) to determine the value to the public of a new or significantly changed BBC service, and also to calculate its impact on the wider market. It comprises a public value assessment (PVA), carried out by the Trust Unit and a market impact assessment (MIA), conducted by Ofcom. For further information see our public value test page.
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