Thompson defends role of FTA broadcasters in platform innovation
Published: 08.58 UTC, January 20, 2011 by Julian Clover

BBC director-general Mark Thompson has defended the role of free-to-air broadcasters in the distribution of content and development of technical platforms. In a speech to the Oxford Media Convention, Thompson said the promise of getting as close as possible to universal availability was at the heart of the public service broadcasting contract.

“The mistake many people make is to assume that the character of the digital revolution – the progressive reduction of bandwidth constraint, the apparent plethora of content choices – makes the need for active public policy intervention to secure this kind of public space no longer necessary,” said Thompson.

Praising the role of Freeview and Freesat in the digital switchover process, Thompson said their success had been derived from work completed by BBC Research and Development. Work on DVB-T2 was singled out, both for its role in bringing high definition television to UK terrestrial audiences and its development internationally. Freeview, Freesat and the BBC iPlayer would not have taken place had the BBC not invested in platform innovation, he said.

According to Thompson, pay-TV platforms seek to control the user, ensuring that the content the public found within the EPG was that of favoured content partners. “There will be no choke-points in YouView. The user-experience and search and navigation environment will not unfairly exclude or favour some content players. Sky, Virgin and all other mainstream players will be able to offer channels and content to the public via YouView and we’d be delighted if they take up that opportunity”.

Addressing Net Neutrality, Thompson said the BBC had a responsibility to work with ISPs to understand and minimise the stress broadcasters placed on their networks. “Supporting net neutrality does not mean being against premium high speed services which households can choose to subscribe to and which guarantee the very highest quality experience of catch-up and other internet resources. Such premium services are a good idea, could help de-commoditize broadband and make the business case for infrastructure investment”.

Thompson said the BBC’s support net neutrality does mean that the level of basic internet should not in itself provide a very good, and consistently and fairly delivered, service. “Just as in the case of over-the-air broadcasting, the objective should be that, once we’ve achieved universal broadband roll-out, every household – not just those who have elected to pay for premium services, nor just those who want to access content in which the network provider has an economic interest – should enjoy a quality service”.