Split-screen coverage?

Lord Norton

On the Parliament Channel, coverage of the House of Commons takes precedence over the House of Lords.  I understand why the Commons takes precedence, but a friend, Ken Batty, has raised with me the question of why there needs to be a hierarchy.  Why cannot coverage be split-screen, enabling viewers to see and choose between the Commons, Lords, and committee meetings?  

I gather this is technically quite feasible.  It strikes me as eminently sensible, enhancing viewer choice.   It is something I plan to pursue.

As a postscript, the photograph was taken this morning when I was walking in to Westminster.

8 comments for “Split-screen coverage?

  1. 14/08/2008 at 10:41 pm

    I like the idea of people getting to choose which they watch too, though it won’t affect me since I live in the U.S. 🙂

    Love the picture!

  2. Matt Korris
    15/08/2008 at 9:49 am

    Lord Norton,

    I’d expect the BBC’s answer would be that they don’t have the channel space at the moment to accomodate a split-screen feature along those lines. The interactive red button can make it appear that multiple options exist on a single channel, but actually it’s just a menu system that takes you to another channel. This is usually freeview channels 301 and 302 for BBC content, but you may have noticed at the moment that the BBC Parliament channel has been entirely taken over to allow for more live feeds from the Olympics.

    After the digital switchover is complete in 2012 more channel space may become available to facilitate extra coverage of Parliament, though how much of the ‘cleared spectrum’ is given over to freeview broadcast is as yet undecided to the best of my knowledge. Ofcom’s Digital Dividend Review is consulting on this at the moment.

    Matt Korris
    Hansard Society

  3. 15/08/2008 at 10:09 am

    I think you’ll find that BBC Parliament is already broadcast at a very low bitrate compared to the main BBC channels. So while it’s possible to split the others, e.g. during a sports competition, doing so with the parliament channel would mean unacceptably poor picture and sound.

    This illustrates how poorly the airwaves are being managed for digital TV and radio. When analogue TV is switched off, the government plans to sell off most of the spectrum to private companies for mobile services. While this will produce a one-off windfall, those frequencies will then be lost forever. Currently, so many digital TV channels are squeezed into a small space that the picture quality is far below what should be achievable (the situation with DAB radio is even worse). Selling off the frequencies will mean this can’t be addressed, and worse, many people still won’t be able to receive digital terrestrial television.

    I feel this issue needs to be taken up as a matter of urgency, before the government sell any more of the family silverware so that it’s lost for future generations!

  4. lordnorton
    15/08/2008 at 11:07 am

    Thanks for the extremely helpful – and informed – comments. There is clearly an issue here to be pursued which goes beyond that of the coverage of Parliament.

  5. lordnorton
    15/08/2008 at 2:55 pm

    Jonathan: I will be raising this with colleagues who are specialists in the field; if there is any further information you feel it would be useful for me to have, feel free to mail it to me at the Lords.

  6. Senex
    15/08/2008 at 7:50 pm

    Jonathan: You say, “the picture quality is far below what should be achievable”

    This is a shame as our own terrestrial digital TV picture is excellent; assuming you are not referring to HD. Shortly after switching over we bought a PVR for about a hundred pounds from a supermarket and have never regretted the purchase.

    There are problems at this time with signal strength and reception:


    As soon as your area closes its analogue channels down they will boost the digital signal strength considerably and you should receive a better picture. I remember an earlier era when plugging a coat hanger into the aerial socket would give a picture of sorts with lots of ghost images.

    This can never happen with digital TV, its all or nothing as far as the picture goes. The plus side is that the ghosts have gone completely, the down side is that picture freezes will occur if the signal is not strong enough.

    If you have a distributed TV system in your home you can still use your existing TV sets by installing a multibox:


    This allows the existing channels to receive all of the main channels and cuts the cost of conversion considerably. If I have a grumble at all about digital TV it is one of not having enough channels that support public information topics like say the House of Lord’s. I suppose this might change after changeover is complete.

    Have you considered satellite reception on an HD box?


    What is impressive about this box is its one-watt standby power. Why can’t all manufacturers do this with everything?

  7. Mike
    17/08/2008 at 12:59 pm

    Jonathon, what do you think the mobile firms plan to do with all that bandwidth? They aren’t going to sit on it, that’s for sure!

    That bandwidth is going to be re-allocated to internet access. Why, exactly, should we allocate scarce spectrum to a TV channel – which I can’t seek within, search, embed clips of into a blog, send to my friends and so on when we could be publishing each days activities as a series of YouTube style videos?

    Why should we allocate scarce spectrum to an MPEG2 video stream (a codec that is now several generations out of date) when video-over-mobile can use far more efficient compression schemes and can be quickly upgraded to newer codecs as they are developed?

    The traditional argument has been scalability: you can broadcast a TV channel to millions of people at once with only small increases in costs. But the internet can do this too, although it’s not well known outside of the engineering community. In fact the BBC are already running experiments with IP multicast, in which you only have to transit a data stream once regardless of how many people are receiving it.

    I can’t think of any particular reason why we should continue to pursue traditional fixed broadcast technologies over infinitely more flexible IP distribution. And that’s why the trend of re-allocating spectrum to IP services is likely to continue.

  8. 18/08/2008 at 11:59 am

    Mike, you have a point about the way TV is delivered and consumed. I did add another post before yours where I said this, but it seems to have disappeared…

    I don’t like the spin the industry and government put on digital TV and radio. They tell us it’s so everyone can have much better picture and sound quality. Yet the real reason is to free up the airwaves so they can sell them off.

    Will the new internet TV be free-to-air, or will it cost as little as the present Licence Fee? And will the mobile internet access cost as little as my ADSL connection? I doubt it: the operators will have to claw back the billions they spent bidding for the bandwidth!

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