BBC Three: who wants the leftover space?

The BBC Trust has ordered BBC management to report back within three months with its plans for the vacated bandwidth left by BBC Three, as it reveals there's interest in the leftover space.

As a condition for today's approval to move BBC Three online, the Trust wants to know what the BBC wants to do with Freeview and satellite bandwidth freed up by the changes.

Currently BBC Three and CBBC timeshare a slot on all digital TV platforms. At 6:58pm, the stream switches from CBBC to BBC Three, with the reverse occurring early in the morning ahead of CBBC starting up for the day. The same timeshare applies to the HD versions of the channels.

CBBC will take two of BBC Three's hours, running until 9pm. This will leave an overnight slot that faces being unused.

While the BBC is free to offer empty HD and satellite capacity to commercial broadcasters, it isn't allowed to offer bandwidth vacated by BBC Three SD on Freeview to non-BBC services, as BBC Three SD uses protected bandwidth under the BBC Charter.

Interest in the ex-BBC Three capacity
The Trust revealed today that the use of this vacated broadcast capacity has attracted "considerable attention from stakeholders", but admitting that the utility of the slots is likely to be limited by the 9pm start time and by restrictions on alternative non-BBC use.

According to the BBC Trust, there were "no firm plans" by BBC management on the potential future use of the vacated capacity. Management said it wanted to "wait until the Trust had reached its final decision before appraising the costs and benefits of different options."

However, some stakeholders expressed a desire to acquire the vacated capacity or called for a comprehensive independent review of the spectrum that would be released and its potential market value (including the costs of using the vacant capacity for BBC services, versus the cost savings from closing the channel).

Different rules apply to the cable distribution of BBC Three on networks such as Virgin Media, as cable companies are free to do what they see fit with the vacated capacity.

The bandwidth freed by the removal of BBC Three on TV platforms is different to the matter of channel numbers, which are allocated by the platform operators under guidelines issued by Ofcom in accordance with the Communication Act 2003.

Local TV services such as London Live, Mustard TV and STV Edinburgh expect to benefit from the closure of BBC Three and be promoted up the channel list. The closure of BBC Three provides an opportunity to do so, not just on Freeview, where the services would move to channel 7, but also on satellite and cable platforms, where BBC Three has a more prominent channel number.

On Freeview HD, it's widely speculated that BBC Three HD's channel number (105), will be taken in due course by Channel 5 HD, making use of Ofcom EPG guidelines on prominence for public service channels. Channel 5 has said in the past that it intends to make its HD service free-to-air in the future.

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  1. Surely BBC 4 would move up people's EPG's to take BBC 3's slot and local services take BBC 4's current slot on all EPG's?

  2. Not so much a question of what sits where on the EPG; more a question of how the actual 'airspace' or bandwidth is used...


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