Analysis: Lack of capacity used as reason to nudge BBC Freeview users to connected services

This year, Freeview users without connected TVs have had less extra coverage from this month's big sporting and music events.

Since 2013, the BBC has made available at least one extra Red Button stream on Freeview to help with all the extra BBC live coverage from events including Glastonbury and Wimbledon taking place during June.

This year, the official reason for not offering more than the current Red Button service on channel 601 is, according to Kieran Clifton, Director of BBC Distribution & Business Development, because there is "not enough capacity for us to be able to offer additional streams to all Freeview viewers."

But is this correct? Last year, the BBC parked additional Red Button streams "BBC RB 2" and "BBC RB 3" (channels 602 and 603) on the BBC's second Freeview multiplex - BBC-B, which can only be received on Freeview HD compatible devices. a516digital has been checking how much bandwidth is being used on the multiplex, and can confirm that throughout Glastonbury, there was enough capacity to broadcast an additional standard definition Red Button service on Freeview using the BBC's own space.

In fact, even when other services were maxing out on their bandwidth, there still remained more bandwidth than BBC RB 2 used back in 2014, when it was temporarily housed on commercial capacity on Freeview.

Additionally, the BBC continues to sit on capacity freed up by the loss of BBC Three on linear TV platforms. The BBC Trust hasn't yet gone public as to what the BBC Executive has planned to do with the space, which is available from 9pm, as CBBC and CBBC HD have taken the first two hours of BBC Three's former slot. Until a final decision is announced, it wouldn't be possible for the BBC to assume they could use the slot for extra Red Button content, especially as plans for extra summertime Red Button services start months before they appear on digital TV platforms. But this has left capacity being underutilised.

Crucially though, this year, the BBC is going all out to promote its expanded online-based offering, delivered to connected TVs and set-top-boxes via its connected Red Button service, Red Button+. A number of a516digital readers have shared screenshots of the revamped service, which got a facelift earlier this month ahead of Euro 2016. The BBC is offering users access to numerous HD streams, including 15 for Wimbledon, free from the constraints of broadcasting additional content on traditional TV platforms.

And, given that most of the extra capacity that could be used for extra Red Button streams is on capacity only HD receivers can access, there's the additional point that many of these HD receivers can be connected to the internet to access the full set of streams - so why bother adding one or two extra streams when these same devices are capable of accessing the full, new style Red Button service via broadband?

With the BBC now wanting to push the MHEG-based traditional BBC Red Button service into the long grass, by planning to speed up the implementation of HbbTV, used to deliver its next generation Red Button service and the BBC exploring "a phased exit" from the existing Red Button service in line with massive cost cutting within the organisation, it strongly appears that restraining the traditional Red Button service to just one stream, despite some capacity being available, is in effect acting as a 'nudge' to get viewers used to using the connected service.

Olympic Outlook
For the Olympics, the BBC will, for one final time, offer an expanded Olympic Red Button service on Freeview. In addition to BBC RB 2 and BBC RB 3, which are waiting in the wings to be activated, BBC RB 0 is a part-time service that will benefit from a reshuffle of limited Freeview capacity that will see BBC Four extending its hours for wall-to-wall coverage from Rio and BBC Parliament being withdrawn during the Parliamentary recess. Full details of how that will affect viewers is to follow.

In 2020, for the Tokyo Olympics, the BBC will be sharing coverage with Eurosport owner Discovery. Viewers are likely to see coverage reduced to one network channel, plus one red button stream, with additional highlights and replays online. Eurosport is expected to launch its own comprehensive offer, mopping up the rest of the coverage.

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