Highfield unveils vision for Freeview's future

Ashley Highfield

BBC future media and technology director Ashley Highfield says it is "critical that Freeview evolves as a compelling and competitive alternative to cable and satellite". That means free-to-air channels in high definition—now the subject of a heated debate between public services broadcasters and regulator Ofcom over future use of liberated spectrum. But Highfield told a conference in Cannes that Freeview also needed to offer on-demand content, "both a catch-up service, and access to back-catalogue and archive programming".

In a wide-ranging speech Highfield also disclosed that the BBC was working on an Apple Mac-compatible version of its web-based iPlayer seven-day catch-up TV service, as well as launching a pilot opening up the BBC's vast archive to web users.

"Getting our BBC iPlayer seven-day catch-up TV service and our archive pilot out on to the web is one thing, but clearly the biggest available audience is sat in front of the television. Like many others, we've been busy building a bridge between our on-demand content aspirations and our audiences' lounge-bound televisions," said Highfield.

"As Britain enters the endgame of analogue switchover, we have a four-year-long opportunity to achieve a step-change in the services which we deliver on Freeview, and to evolve and future-proof Freeview with additional advanced interactive and digital functionality.

"We've just completed a technical trial to test some of the technologies around, pushing 50 hours of BBC programming per week automatically to digital video recorders on Freeview.

"It's a simple catch-up service that could become the entry-point for audiences to on-demand for the first time. Its advantage over a PVR is that you don't have to remember to record your favourite BBC programmes, and that at any one moment, in addition to all the linear channels, there is always a freshly-prepared up-to-date carousel of 50 hours of on-demand programmes."

Highfield said while 'push-VOD' had its attractions it would not allow "any viewer to access any BBC programme ever broadcast via their television". That required an internet connection and new hybrid set-top box, combining broadcast TV with the internet. "Hybrid boxes are a part of the future, as important—if not more so—than standard PVRs," said Highfield.

"In a hybrid environment you can really start to mix and match, using the best of both worlds linear scheduled TV via digital broadcast for new programming on the one hand, and deep archive via IP on the other. Their worlds may be converging, but they're not in competition. The BBC will deliver content and applications via broadcast and IP, merging them into a seamless audience experience."

Lovelace Consulting  |  19.04.2007

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