BBC cuts back on HD commitment

Chris Forrester

BBC HD viewers do not necessarily want sport, films or even jaw-dropping natural history in HD. "Our research shows that what viewers want in HD are the programmes that they love to watch in SD," says Danielle Nagler, the BBC's head of HD, speaking at TVB Europe's annual HD Masters event in London June 23. Nevertheless, statistics from the BBC show that far from boosting HD output, the broadcaster is falling well short of previous HD promises.

Ms Nagler said that factual programming, modern drama, Saturday night family shows all figured, with soaps, news and comedy programming "not far behind". She explained that over the last year on BBC HD "we've tried to strengthen and to broaden the programme mix. There is still - of course - more work to do. But it is no coincidence that over the same time period we've seen audience growth of more than a120%, to around 1.2m viewers a month."

She said that during the past year the BBC has stretched and tested itself as far as HD is concerned. "the challenges around moving to HD are substantial. We are effectively asking the entire UK production base to make a transition from the tools with which they are familiar to a new suite of cameras and post production equipment which is at a less mature stage in its development, which can be less versatile and is certainly less forgiving of mistakes. We are asking them to do that at a time when the funding for television content is reducing, and we are asking production companies, resource providers, facilities owners, and freelancers to invest time, skill and money in a technology for which although it is growing, the audience and the immediate return to parts of the value chain remains limited."

She explained that the BBC has been experimenting with Sony's EX-1 and EX-3 camera systems, as well as planning to test Panasonic's new lightweight shoulder-mounted HD camera later this year.

"Last year 23% of all the programming produced for the BBC - excluding news hours - was delivered in HD. This will increase this year and I hope that by 2012 we will see at least 70% of BBC programming being made in HD," said Ms Nagler. This promise is significantly down on earlier BBC announced plans, which was to "produce all programmes in HD by 2010".

Nevertheless, Ms Nagler said the UK was now very close to an inflexion point as far as HDTV was concerned, "I believe that we are already very close to the inflexion point at which HD take-up will start to accelerate away to stratospheric growth rates. Two things only are critical to that - the widespread availability of HD (and of course the equipment to receive it), and the availability of a rich seam of content in HD which audiences want to watch."

"But [the London 2012 Olympic Games] will mark HD's coming of age in the UK. We are working on ways to ensure that as many as possible of the hours of events that will make up the London Olympics are available to audiences in true HD. And I believe that the vast majority of our UK audience will watch at least a part of the action in HD. There will be moments - as during the coronation year sixty years previously with colour television - when families and friends will gather around sets to watch together. Not because they don't have access to the pictures in other forms, but because if you can't be there, viewing in HD will be the way to get as close to the action as possible."