Today the BBC announced surprise plans to enable BBC 3 reception through online (through its highly popular iPlayer service) only. This follows announcements last year to air some flagship BBC 3 programmes online first.
This latest move could save considerable distribution cost, depending on the BBC's committments to operators such as Arqiva, but content commissioning is likely to be a much larger part of the current £85m budget. The BBC management seems to be reasoning that the Channel's target audience are spending an increasing amount of time online anyway, through tablets and smartphones. If so, the usage of iPlayer should radically increase as viewers switch from TV access to the channel onto Internet-connected devices. It's also worth bearing in mind that the increasing number of connected TV's in the market will enable many viewers to continue watching BBC 3 through their TV. A BBC article on the proposal is available here.
What isn't clear yet is whether the channel will be purely on-demand in the future, but this would reduce the pressure that a schedule places on commissioning and acquisition. If the channel were purely on-demand, it might been as a recognition of the increasing success of Netflix's model of television entertainment.
We have seen a number of similar developments across Europe, as pressures on public finance reduces funding available for terrestrial TV distribution - Spain, Italy and Greece come to mind. The public broadcasters association, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), has expressed concern about the impact of these developments on the long term viability of public service television, which faces increasing competition from pay-television services. The EBU has also voiced unease at the possible clearance of the 700 MHz band for use to enhance mobile broadband services, following the long and painful process to clear broadcasting from the 800 MHz band, across the whole of Europe.
As its charter renewal approaches, the BBC faces further difficult decisions on how to prioritise and justify its spending of public money (collected through the TV licence fee), in an era of rapidly expanding entertainment and news choice. However the BBC Trust will need to approve this as with any other significant change in the BBC's services, so there is still time for discussion.
Next week, make sure to tune in to catch ....