BBC television channel goes On-Demand only

Andrew Rowland | 16 Feb 2016 | 0 comments

On February 16 something rather significant happened to a BBC television channel. It became online only. The broadcasts on Freeview and satellite have not completely ceased – there are still some programme trailers going out – but there is not the schedule of programmes we are used to, and even they are expected to cease in March, and its ‘slot’ in the EPG to close.

The channel, of course, is BBC3, the one intended for the youth and young adult audience, and its programming is now only available ‘on demand’ from BBC iPlayer and one or two other sources.

What is significant about this is not that the BBC is trying to save money, which it is, but that it is the first time a major broadcaster has dumped the idea of broadcasting to a schedule – so-called linear programming – in favour of of on-demand programming over the Internet. It could be the first of many, because in the end, broadcasts that you receive with an aerial or satellite dish will be replaced by ones you get through your broadband connection. I would not expect the change to happen quickly, or even in a couple of decades. But come it will. And at that point, the only channels still doing linear programming will be news and sports channels. (Let’s hope Big Brother and its ilk have died out by then.)

Does it matter how we get our TV? Do we care how the programmes arrive so long as we can watch what we want? Of course not. All it means is that our houses need no longer be ‘decorated’ with spiky aerials and dishy dishes. And it is cheaper for the broadcasters, too, than maintaining and running a huge network of transmitters all over the country, so more money for shows.

But it means something more. We are no longer tied to a schedule. No more rushing home to catch an episode of Eastenders; no more watching some drivel because ‘there’s nothing else on’. Viewers can suit themselves when they watch – and even how, as players like iPlayer and the ITV Hub can be used on a variety of devices from tablets to smartphones, not just TVs.

To be fair, we are already half-way there. Catch-up services are common, and even people without a good broadband connection – and there are many places still that can’t get high-speed broadband – can record for later. But this is the first time a schedule has been abandoned entirely by a channel. And it is the future: we had better get used to it.

© Andrew Rowland 2016

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