Digital Switch to Play Key Role in BBC Charter Review

15 January 2004

The BBC's role in boosting uptake of digital TV will form a key part of the government review of its operations.

Speaking at a media conference in Oxford this week, culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell revealed that the drive to convert Britain's homes to digital television will have a bearing on the renewal of the BBC's ten-year charter.

Jowell, who is sticking by the government target of 2010 for analogue switch-off, said independent assessments of the BBC's digital and online activities would "inform" the green paper on charter renewal, scheduled for publication later this year.

Due to expire in 2006, the charter sanctions the BBC's public financing through the licence fee and details its obligations. Some of the broadcaster's critics are calling on the government to change its funding methods as the BBC grows more commercially minded.

The BBC spent £279.9 million ($513.5m; €405.9m) on digital services last year, up from £184.4m the year before. With both its digital and online activities, the broadcaster has attracted criticism from commercial rivals who claim it is unfairly using public money to compete with the private sector.

Over 50% of UK homes now have digital TV, but the government will not contemplate switching off the analogue signal until this figure rises to 95%. Although Jowell maintains the 2010 target, she has not yet announced a timetable for the process of wholescale digital conversion.

Despite pressure from delegates, she remained vague on this subject during this week's conference, saying that the timetable would be announced "by the end of this year or by the end of next year".

This cut little ice with Stephen Carter, ceo of communications regulator Ofcom. "The time has now come to say: what's the decision and what's the structure to take it forward," he declared. "It would be jolly useful to have a target deadline to aim for."

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff