Ofcom Unveils Findings of Probe into BBC's Free HDTV Service

20 September 2007

LONDON: British communications regulator Ofcom, responding to fears voiced by the nation's commercial TV lobby, has published the findings of its investigation into the likely market impact of the BBC's planned High Definition TV service.

Although the broadcaster has been trialling the new technology for over a year, no date for the HD launch has yet been announced.

Ofcom's view, published Wednesday, is that the BBC's new mixed genre digital TV service in high definition format is "unlikely to have significant negative market impacts".

Available on digital satellite, digital cable and digital terrestrial platforms, the service will initially offer content already seen on BBC1, BBC2 and the corporation's two digital niche channels

Despite greenlighting the venture, Ofcom warns there could be a negative impact on internet protocol TV operators. The regulator cites the nation's broadband infrastructure which, in its current state, would not allow internet-based HD services to be delivered to a significant number of consumers.

The regulator also anticipates a degree of adverse impact - albeit slight - "on viewing shares of commercial broadcasters and therefore on their revenues".

However, Ofcom makes three main recommendations to the governing BBC Trust:

  1. Service Description
    It is important that the BBC is held to the agreed service description, including the genre mix of the channel - a mixed genre BBC HD service is less likely to result in a significant impact on the amount of viewing to commercial services, than is a service focused on particular genres such as movies.

  2. Delivery of BBC HD content via the web
    Ofcom recognises that it may not be possible to deliver the streamed HD channel on IPTV in the near future, but recommends that the BBC should work to the objective of delivering the channel on IPTV as soon as it is technically feasible to do so. Also, the Trust should take into account the costs associated with the delivery of HD on-demand content.

  3. Technological Compatibility
    The Trust should work to ensure that the BBC HD launch takes full account of wider technological developments in DTT - including the development of consumer equipment compatible with the anticipated DVB-T2 transmission technology.
The HDTV service will also be available on the internet when technical and financial considerations make it possible.

Data sourced from Ofcom (UK); additional content by WARC staff