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BBC must plan for full ‘switch-off’ of terrestrial TV

The BBC could switch off terrestrial TV and radio by the end of the decade, Tim Davie, the corporation’s director general, has said.

In a speech about the long-term future of the BBC, Mr Davie said the 100-year-old organisation needed to consider a full switch-off of broadcast channels that would mean it would transform into an internet-only broadcaster.

Mr Davie said: “A switch off of broadcast will and should happen over time, and we should be active in planning for it.”

The director general said the BBC should “own a move to an internet future” by 2030 and prepare for “internet-only distribution”. Such a shift would see BBC broadcasts from TV towers switched off after more than a century and all programming moving to streaming.

Mr Davie said: “We must work together to ensure that everyone is connected, and can get their TV and radio via the internet. This isn’t something to resist.”

Freeview, a terrestrial joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky that is used by 18 million people, has a guaranteed spectrum until 2034 but TV channels are ultimately expected to shift to internet-only broadcasting over time.

The BBC’s iPlayer currently attracts 12 million log-ins per week and accounts for 16pc of all viewing of the corporation’s programmes.

Despite early streaming success with the launch of BBC iPlayer in 2007, Broadcasting House is increasingly grappling for viewers’ attention against US streaming giants, such as Netflix and Disney+, and rapidly growing social media companies such as China’s TikTok.

“TikTok is now bigger than the BBC in video for 16-24s in the UK,” Mr Davie said.

Fears for older viewers
The move to a full terrestrial switch-off is likely to prompt a backlash from MPs amid concerns over digital exclusion, in particular of older TV viewers.

Mr Davie admitted that, by 2030, as many as 2 million homes in the UK would still not have a fixed-line broadband connection.

The BBC is facing an uncertain future amid calls to scrap the licence fee from 2028. The public service broadcaster secured a six-year deal to extend the levy on television owners, although it has been frozen for two years at £159.

Appearing before MPs this week, Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, signalled the licence fee was “unsustainable”.

She said: “The licence fee is not a long-term, sustainable model in its own right and we know that because obviously subscription figures are going down.”

In response to pressure on the licence fee, the broadcaster has cut hundreds of jobs at the World Service and in local TV and radio in a bid to save hundreds of millions of pounds. It has also been simplifying its brand, combining its BBC World News channel with BBC News.

Mr Davie, who previously led the organisation’s commercial BBC Studios division, said he planned to “consolidate more activity behind a simple, single brand in the UK: the BBC”.

The director general said the BBC needed its “commercial arm to thrive” for it to survive.

Richard Sharp, the BBC chairman and an ally of Rishi Sunak, said the organisation had a “liberal bias” amid “groupthink” at the broadcaster. Telegraph

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