BBC Two HD
The BBC today announced that BBC Two HD will launch full time from March 26. It will replace the current BBC HD channel, retaining that channel's EPG position on the major digital TV platforms.
This isn't a surprise - as part of the savings that the BBC's Delivering Quality First (DQF) initiative instigated, the closure of BBC HD and the simulcasting of BBC Two on HD was always going to happen.
But it's not altogether great for viewers of BBC Three and Four. The BBC HD channel has regularly simulcast a patchwork of BBC Three and Four programmes.
For example BBC HD is or has been recently simulcasting HD versions of Borgen, The Killing, The Sound and the Fury, Being Human, Bob Servant Independent, and Pramface. And BBC Three and Four have both announced new commissions including a Richard Burton/Liz Taylor drama on Four, and an Afghanistan military comedy drama.
And there's a limited amount of kids programming that will lose out too. Since all kids TV has been shifted to CBBC or CBeebies, that means high profile programmes like Russell T Davies' Wizards v Aliens won't get an HD outing.
The Trust's assessment last May noted that BBC Four output only made up 8% of BBC HD output, and BBC Three programming made up about 5%. But that's a little unfair, since clearly nearly every programme now being made is being produced in HD whether or not it's actually broadcast that way. Aside, perhaps from programming based largely around archive material, there simply is no reason not to shoot everything in HD.
So the lack of BBC Three/Four programming on BBC HD was more a question of scheduling five channels' worth of programming onto one HD channel.
Yes BBC HD seemed to show some repeats outside of any broadcast on other networks, and there's no real reason to continue that. And yes, there were lots of "Later..." fillers to get schedules back in sync. But the move is still disappointing.
Still this is happening, so what can the BBC do better?
Discouragingly, the Trust said this:
Though some programmes, particularly those currently broadcast on BBC HD from
BBC Three and BBC Four, will no longer be available to view in HD, they will still be
available to view on their original channels in SD. (p6)
I really see no reason for this. I think that there just needs to be more joined up thinking, and the BBC needs to make sure that it has rights agreements in place to allow more broadcasts of new programming in a given week. Channel 4's recent launch of 4seven which has additional same-week repeats beyond just the regular broadcast and the "+1" repeat suggest that this should be possible - at least for BBC commissioned programming.
The following are examples of what I'm thinking would be smart. The current Sunday night broadcast of BBC Two's flagship documentary series Wonders of Life, gets a Monday evening post-Newsnight repeat. Why not run Saturday night's BBC Four episodes of Spiral in that slot, and schedule the Wonders... repeat on BBC Four (let's face it, it's going to get a few outings on BBC Four in the coming months anyway). Similarly, Sunday night's broadcast of BBC Three's Being Human could get a Wednesday post-Newsnight slot (where it is currently on BBC HD anyway), and the scheduled Genius of Invention repeat get again shifted to BBC Four. If BBC Two and BBC Four are happier bedfellows, then perhaps BBC One and Three should become so. The late night BBC News simulcasts on BBC One aren't really necessary in a digital world where everyone has access to the BBC News channel.
The other option is to utilise some of that BBC Two overnight capacity. The big "This is BBC Two" block in the middle of the night would at least let allow viewers with PVRs (51% of homes according to Thinkbox) would have the ability of to at least record HD versions of programmes.
Yes, some current HD programming that doesn't have a BBC HD broadcast channel will be available on iPlayer. But those 1-2GB file sizes are not great for every part of the country.
A broadcast option should still be available.