Blog Post

BBC Gets Green Light For HD Over TV, IPTV And Online

The BBC Trust has given the broadcaster the green light to start broadcasting hi-definition programmes – online as well as on TV (see release). The trust provisionally approved a new HD channel including a mix of programming for nine hours per day, with a final decision expected late in November following consultation.

In a display of unusual foresight, the trust also approved distributing the channel over set-top box IPTV services and the desktop internet, even though broadband speeds are likely insufficient. The trust ordered the BBC to meet with IPTV operators (currently BT (NYSE: BT) Vision, Tiscali, Orange) to “gauge feasibility and to ensure that the BBC does not over-burden their capacity before they are ready to accommodate HD”. That decision was likely taken in response to recent Tiscali and Carphone Warehouse concerns over how iPlayer might impact their infrastructure. Likewise: “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.” (On which point, in today’s other post, Ofcom launched a consultation on next-generation broadbant).

Carriage on digital satellite and digital cable will be easy, as long as BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) and Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) subscribers take those suppliers’ HD packages, but Freeview is more complicated as the digital terrestrial network will have insufficient HD capacity until the analogue portion of the spectrum is turned off nationwide in 2012. So the trust wants public opinions on two options – launching a four-hour HD channel on Freeview in the small hours of the morning, replacing BBC Four, BBC Parliament and some BBCi interactive text services; or delaying the addition of the full nine-hour channel to Freeview until capacity is available, to save viewers having to buy another Freeview box later on.