BBC Three week: what does TV look like in 2025?
Looking back a decade: Feburary 2005
It is almost shocking to look back just ten years, because we find ourselves a week ahead of the founding of YouTube and almost three years away from BBC iPlayer being let loose on the British public.
On the normal TV front, Freeview has been up and running for a year – it has 30 TV channels - but doesn't yet have E4, More4, ITV4 or Sky Three. Sky+ has started to taken up by subscribers, but high definition services won't start for 18 months.
And it will be almost another couple of years before the first of Apple's iPhones is seen in the UK.
Most homes still have cathode ray tubes for the TV sets: the next decade will see almost all of these replaces with wide, flat screen devices.
Looking forward: 2025
It is very hard to look forward with such disruptive technologies. Although Moore's law – the doubling of CPU power for the same price – can predict the general direction, it is hard to say who will benefit.
So, it could be that existing devices will have much better resolutions – Full HD replaced with 4K and Ultra UD. Or these could be shunned by viewers.
The humble PVR box will no doubt find the hard drive replaced with silent solid state storage in tiny boxes, with all the capabilities of YouView.
In terms of content, a Netflix-like service will now provide access to almost all of every broadcaster's archive of TV programmes for a £10-a-month fee: this will have served the death sentence on repeats channels such a Dave, or US-import channels like 5USA.
Many people will have long dispensed with the tuner in their TV, a later-generation Chromecast providing everything Freeview once provided.
This is because BT provides 20Mbps internet free into every home, with most people having basic 1,000Mbps services for a payment of £20 a month.
A large part of the viewing done is on mobile devices. Tablets, phones and dongles on tuner-less displays ("look, no TV Licence") use a mixture of wireless internet and 4G.
Most of the TV frequencies have been reallocated to 4G and 5G.
For years the idea of watching TV at a set time has seemed old fashioned: most programmes are released on batches, or in whole seasons.
Freeview still exists, but only a single multiplex carrying three BBC channels, and couple each from ITV and Channel 4. These are mainly used by the elderly and infirm, with even the youngest Children preferring video-on-demand.
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I'd take issue with several of the 2025 predictions:
Full HD hasn't been a runaway success and I don't think people will switch to 4k or UHD until they are the standard and don't command any additional premium, especially if more video content is consumed on mobile devices where the screen really isn't big enough to warrant anything more than 'standard' HD;
I agree re PVRs going solid state and increasingly being replaced by USB-stick size devices, that's happening already;
I don't see a widespread switch to pay-per-month services necessarily happening either. The popularity of Freeview has been due to its 'free' nature. There are also technical issues re universal internet availability and bandwidth; there are people in rural areas not that far from major towns now who still can't get anything you'd call properly broadband, let alone 20Mbps. Unless the government funds it, I can't see BT being in the business of giving anyone (let alone everyone) free connectivity at any speed.
The other option for rural connectivity I suppose is that if more of the frequency spectrum now used for Freeview is given over to 4G then 5G that might provide an alternative with fast enough connection for usable video on demand, but it's still limited by geography.
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Whilst broadly agreeing with Michael Walker, he doesn't mention one key factor against internet deliver - server capacity. Those of us with the benefit of fast broadband, my new service is running at about 36 Mbps, a number of services run quite slowly and appear no better than my old service which ran at 1.9 Mbps. The problem is that whist the data that gets onto the internet transfers quite quickly, many servers are just not able to deliver the required data fast enough for all those asking for it. So the main 'bottle necks' are at the servers and not entirely the fault of internet connections. Having a fast connection does not make the provision of the data by the server any faster. Indeed, it may be slower because of the workload placed upon the server itself.
Now consider what happens when some thousands of people decide they want to watch a programme via the internet. The server tries to deliver the data sequentially to each individual viewer, but because there are so many each individual stream takes up the bandwidth available at that server and puts a load onto the NICs and processors. If there is any limitation (which there always has to be) in that delivery then the viewer may well suffer buffering. Then consider that an HD stream has more than twice the data of an SD stream, so more workload for the server. Then consider UHD or 4k - with at least 8 times the data requirement as SD and so the server workload has grown enormously! Then add another million viewers!!!
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Michael Walker: I agree with your point about rural broadband. Actually, I agree with Ian's view of BT's rollout of broadband! The idea of 20mb as standard universally any time in the next decade is somewhat optimistic, looking at the current state of the market.
And none of these reports make you any more optimistic:
Government failed to promote competition over rural broadband programme - News from Parliament - UK Parliament
Committee publishes report on the Rural Broadband programme - News from Parliament - UK Parliament
BBC News - Rural broadband: BT attacked on broadband costs
And broadband is the chokepoint. If you got rid of Freeview. etc, you'd have to replace it with a fast, high capacity and universal broadband network. It would have to be relatively low cost, and there should be availablity of all services, which is interesting looking at Net Neutrality issues being discussed in the States right now.
I'm actually not sure that Freeview or Sat. system will disappear in the next decade. Now I certainly agree with solid state PVR's and HD/4K becoming standard. HD is the default standard - try buying a TV in the last 7 years that is not HD Ready. T2 tuners are increasingly standard as well. As for 4K, I've been very surprised at the amount of interest in the technology, although since the cost of a decent 55in 4K (such as the Sony x8 series) is about the same as a high level HD screen, and that pattern is going to continue. If Sky introduce 4K this year (and they are well placed to do so), then thats going to grow even more.
So your going to want, as a household, to watch a 4K screen (15mb or more), plus perhaps an HD programme (5mb?), online gaming, checking emails, YouTube, Skype, surfing the net, and of course your smart kit, such as the fridge, and perhaps your smart meter. Thats a lot of bandwidth.
On the other hand, Freeview is 'free'. You can still use the TV you bought 30 years ago, with the aerial you put up in 1974 in the loft (my dad did, and its still works fine). Yes, you need a digibox, but thats a relatively cheap addon. Or use the PVR, solid state or whatever. Despite the new technologies avaible over the past 40 years, we still watch most TV live, and in our living rooms.
Yes, we have internet access, Ipads, mobile, etc, but yet we mostly sit in the same room that our parents did, and record using a PVR, rather than a VCR. And although we tend to update our TV's around every 5-7 years (looking at my customers), many last much longer than that (35 years between replacement TV's was one customer). And even the replaced TV seldom goes to the dump - instead it ends up in the bedroom, with the kids in their new home, or perhaps to their parents. So a TV system is going to be around for a good decade or more. And if you can go from SD to HD by just adding a box, then thats what you'll do.
TV's are not an everyday purchase - you replace when the one you've got looks small, bulky, rubbish, stops working or when you move and its no longer fits. However, there is a limit to the size of the TV in any particular room, and once you've got the 'right' size, your less likely to change it unless it goes wrong. Even if you have the net, you have to get out of the habit of doing what your were before, and that can take a long time. We dont really like change much, and I cannot see Freeview going gently into that good night - they are going to fight.
And the same goes for Sky. Its essentially a distributor, and one that is built largely on content you cant get elsewhere. If large media companies like Viacom have their own critcal mass of content, why not cut out the middle man, and stream directly to the customer? Sky might have some content, including Fox's film library, but its business model is one of multiple platforms, not just one where its advantages are almost nil.
So ten years time? We will watch on multiple platforms (mobile, tablet, etc), but with the large screen still being the main focus. They will be somewhat larger, possibly OLED (in many cases), smart and connected to other devices, such as games machines. HD will be standard, and 4K will be everyday. There will be solid state recording/streaming devices, and much of our content will be on the cloud, streamed, etc. But, many of us will still use Freeview, etc, since it requires no broadband, and record what we like for later. For many older people, this will be the default, although the number of channels may reduce. Discs will become less popular, but there are a great many machines and content still out there - and we like to physically own things.
Broadband will be much faster for many, but with worries over neutrality, especially if we are still reliant on BT for the backbone of the network (BT Sport streams faster than Sky!). And network reach and speed will still be patchy and not universal, although 5G might fill the gap. 1000 Mbps - not cheap, and not universal.
Ironically, the BBC might not be the worse off in this scenario - they have a huge amount of content, and were early into ondemand. They have a strong brand, and are able to offer specialist programming which is not available elsewhere (CBBC, etc). They, like the other PSB's, might be saddled with the costs of Freeview, but they might do better than the rest. They can even have that nifty solid state PVR rebranded as a Beebox!
The dangerous place to be is a 'channel' or provider with no original content (does the originator of the content need you?), no realor strong brand, and reliant on one form of delivery, and with a business model where you cannot monertize your content. Thats not just Dave, thats ITV.
May we live in interesting times...
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@MikeP: The problem is that the ISPs do not back up the aggregate capacity they have sold to all their customers with the necessary peering capacity with other ISPs, backbone providers, and the content providers' networks.
I recently did a bit of research into how much capacity would be required to just stream one popular live programme: the New Years' Eve fireworks. That programme was estimated to have attracted 12.5 million viewers according to BARB (within 7 days of original transmission, but I can't imagine that too many people watched it on catch-up or PVRs!) iPlayer currently streams at 1.5 Mbps according to their FAQ - BBC iPlayer Help - Having trouble playing iPlayer programmes? Try an Internet Speed Checker . Let's assume that each household is typically 2 people and we only need 6.25 million streams (each receiving device requires an individual copy of the data packets, at present - I'll come back to this).
I make that 9,375,000 Mbps total flowing from the BBC to customers, if you were to replace all broadcast viewing with internet streaming. That's 9.3 terabits per second.
Then I compared that with the current traffic level reported at the London Internet Exchange (LINX). This is one of the major points where UK ISPs connect with each other, with backbone providers like Cogent and Level3, and with the BBC. This data is public, you can find it at LINX Website - LINX Traffic Stats . On that graph, there is currently a peak of 2.15 terabits per second on the public peering system, and they estimate another 2 terabits per second of private peering.
So to support streaming *one* programme, in SD, we require more than double the entire capacity of the main UK peering exchange. There are nearly 40 full-time streams on Freeview. HD requires about five times the bitrate of SD (the BBC iPlayer HD streams aren't, they're 720p, only requiring about 2.5 times the bitrate). HEVC will come to devices soon, with the hope that it will eventually reduce bandwidth by half for the same resolution and picture quality, compared to H.264/AVC. However, UHD has four times as many pixels, so a UHD HEVC stream is likely to require twice the bitrate of HD AVC.
The only solution to this is multicast - where the same packets are delivered to each receiving device. That only works for live viewing, of course, and it means lost packets are lost - the device can't re-request any missing data, so you'll get the same kind of glitches in streaming TV as you would from interference on broadcast TV. The BBC were supporting multicast for some radio streams but I think that's now ended with the move to Audio Factory. I don't believe iPlayer on the web supports it.
As far as mobile data networks (e.g. 4G) go, the regular base stations only support unicast - point-to-point data. Data is addressed to specific devices. There is a standard called eMBMS (enhanced Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service) but it basically requires reserved capacity. It's not at all clear that it can be enabled as devices choose to request a service, it looks like the use cases are more for the networks to push specific content, e.g. live replays within a sports stadium. Up to 60% of the cell time can be given over to eMBMS, but the capacity available in 10 MHz channels is only up to 16.9 Mbps and only if using dense single-frequency networks - slide 7 of LTE eMBMS Technology Overview . Note that DVB-T2 delivers 40.8 Mbps in an 8 MHz channel!
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So what I surmise about the internet not being capable of delivering IP TV in a way that is reliable for all viewers, as was the case with analogue TV, is born out by your submission for which I am grateful.
But it is Ofcom who take the decisions as to how and when the possible changes might happen and they don't seem to be particularly familiar with the technical issues. The do appear to be familiar with the profit motive though.
Add in also the fact the the Government have stated that currently they think some 850,000 people will not be able to get an internet connection by terrestrial means so are considering offering a 'sweetener' to encourage them to look at satellite internet services. These may help some but with surprisingly high latency makimg the playing of on-line games almost impossible (if that's what they want to do) and there are still some locations that, because of mountains and so on, cannot get satellite signals from the Astra satellites at their 28.5 and 28.5 degrees East orbital positions (you have to have uninterrupted line-of-sight between your dish and the satellite) so they can't benefit from satellite internet nor TV.
Reflecting on the changes over recent years (at least the last 10) and the possible future changes, I am still very concerned that the interests of viewers is being ill-served.
Thanks again for your useful submission.
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Mike Dimmick: Thats an excellent overview of the kind of challenges universal (and adequate) net access faces, even if it wasn't BT bascially in charge!
However, even if by some miracle BT did manage to get a decently robust network to the bulk of UK citizens, there are still barriers to all TV services switching over to the web.
We are generally unaware of just how hot a topic 'Net Neutrality' is in the US. 'Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers may not discriminate between different kinds of content and applications online. It guarantees a level playing field for all Web sites and Internet technologies. ' Net neutrality - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This is a major topic because a change to the 'common carrier' rule would (its argued) give the chance for a 'two tier' internet. For the UK, you have to ask youself, if I was Sky, would I be happy that the only real means of transmission of my product was over the net work owned by my rival? BT have just bid a large amount of money for football rights, against Sky, and wants to supply other content. Virgin Media also supplies content. There well might be other networks, but these two are certainly the only ones with 'last mile' acces to the vast majority of homes. So you have a duopoly, which seldom serves the customer well.
Now obviously no ISP would bar or throttle the access of a rivals content, would they? Well, thats exactly what US cable companies did Proof that US ISPs deliberately harmed US consumers and businesses and its seems that using too much data meant that AT & T also throttled speeds Federal Trade Commission Sues AT&T For Limiting Data Speed , which might be interesting when everyone wants to watch the Cup Final via the net.
US consumers mostly watch via cable, but they really dont like the companies that supply them very much. Many are basically local monopolies, often with poor service, high rates, and bundling means that you pay for channels that you will never watch, such as sports. And of course some cable companies are huge. Comcast owns cable companies, ISP's, NBC Universal and Time Warner, which means there are clear conflicts of interest. They also wanted fees to improve Netflix access speeds More Digital News from Variety
If I was Sky, using just the net makes the delivery of my services reliant on the very people I am in competition with, and much the same can be said of Netflix, etc. You have what you hold, and if Sky has its own means of transmission, then keeping that might make a lot of sense. The same might be said for the terrestial broadcasters - Aquiva isnt going to throttle the speed of transmission, it isn't going ask for 'special payments', etc.
So at present, the network does not yet exist to handle that much data, and even if it did, it does not reach everywhere. And its gatekeepers are currently a duopoly, who are in direct competition with other providers. I'm sure its going to work out well......
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As long as BT is the main supplier to most ISPs we will have a problem. Virgin are increasing their footprint. But only where the money is. 10 miles or more from a city forget it for the near future. A lot of areas are lucky if they get 2Mb which is a joke really.
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