[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 09:30 GMT
Charter crucial to BBC's future
By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

The government has revealed the contents of its long-awaited White Paper on the BBC's future, and called on the corporation to win audiences with high quality, innovative programmes.

But imagine what the broadcasting world will be like in the year 2016, when the next BBC Royal Charter comes to an end.

Mobile TV device
Technology for broadcasting is constantly developing
I do mean "imagine". Many in broadcasting find it hard to predict the next 10 months - let alone 10 years - so rapid is the pace of change in communications.

Seventy per cent of homes now have access to digital TV through Sky, Freeview or cable, offering dozens or hundreds of channels.

That is due to rise to 100 % by 2012 when the government switches off the last analogue TV transmitter.

On top of a huge choice of programmes - from movies and sport to music, news, kids' shows, drama, games, shopping and religion - many of those viewers can store hours of programmes on a Personal Video Recorder, playing them back whenever they choose.

This frees them from the restrictions of the channel schedules much more effectively than the old video cassette recorder.

David Walliams as Dudley and Matt Lucas as Ting Tong
Comedies like Little Britain are regularly previewed online
They can set the PVR to record every episode in a series, fast-forward through the commercials, and even pause a live programme if the phone rings.

But already viewers are finding other ways to watch TV - or avoid it.

Many programmes are being watched on computers, via broadband internet. Newsnight and the main BBC news bulletins can be seen every day online.

Comedies like The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh and Little Britain are now regularly previewed on broadcasters' websites. Business people - who watch less TV than most viewers - can catch up with The Apprentice online.

The BBC lets radio listeners hear most radio programmes on-line, through its Radio Player, and they can download and podcast much of the material too.


It has been testing a video version - the Interactive Media Player - and ITV is linking up to do the same. Sky viewers can download films and sport material.

DVDs sell in their millions, but some media companies now also offer video-on-demand - "libraries" of films and programmes which can be watched by via cable or on-line, either on subscription or for a one-off charge.

Broadcasters are also rushing to put their content - or whole channels - on mobile phones and other devices, such as the PlayStation Portable or the Video iPod.

Imagine how much life will change when the speed of broadband quadruples and there's almost infinite storage space on devices like iPods and PVRs.

Remote controls
Seventy per cent of homes have access to digital TV
These technology developments are changing viewing habits, particularly among the young.

The two channels that have dominated viewing for 50 years have shed millions of viewers.

BBC One has just recorded its lowest ever peaktime rating. Its chat show Davina and a Panorama special on the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes attracted less than 12% of the Wednesday night audience.

ITV1's share of viewing fell to 21% last year. In 2000, it was 29%, and it's not that long since it was over 40%.

How many viewers will the two "big" channels have by 2016? What devices will they be watching them on? And what does that mean for the TV licence fee, when every home is a digital home?

For older viewers, TV channels are still likely to play an important part in their viewing selection.

Big Live Events

Many people want an editor to help make their choices for them - and there will still be a need for experienced broadcasters to commission top-flight programming.

Channels will also be the main place to watch big live events - whether in sport, entertainment or news, or created for TV, such as Big Brother or Pop Idol.

But the young are growing up in an entirely different world, expecting to find content which seeks them out on their mobile phone or computer.

They'll be creating their own programmes, videoing their friends on mobile phones and webcams, and swapping programmes among themselves.

The major broadcasters are already adapting. Despite losing viewers and advertisers on ITV1, ITV announced a profit increase of 36% last week.

It has launched a family of ITV channels, has bought the website Friends Reunited, and is planning new broadband services. By 2010 it hopes the main channel will account for only half its business.

Channel 4 has also launched new channels - E4 and More 4 will soon be joined on Freeview by FilmFour - while 4docs, a new broadband channel, will spawn other new internet services such as 4laughs.

Ambitious plans

The BBC also has ambitious plans between now and 2016. The question is how far the new Charter will allow it to pursue them - and pay for them - when commercial rivals claim its public funding is already harming the development of their businesses.

By 2016, when every home will have digital TV and most will have the internet, there'll be other practical ways of paying for the BBC.

It could be subscription, or pay-per-view, or some new method.

But some in the BBC believe that when its content can be accessed in so many different ways, outside and inside the home, a single licence fee paid by every household in the country might be the best way to ensure the BBC serves the whole community.

It's a debate that will be re-ignited long before 2016.


Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific