Government Insists UK on Schedule for 2010 Digital TV Switch

06 May 2002

Within eight years all television broadcasts in the UK will be digital – or so culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell told frontman David Frost on BBC1’s Sunday’s Breakfast with Frost.

According to Jowell, the demise of ITV Digital will not impact on the government’s timetable to withdraw analogue TV broadcast frequencies. She insisted the switchover will happen as planned, some time between 2006 and 2010 … [significant pause] … “subject to dTV being accessible and affordable to all”.

And if it is not? Jowell avoided an answer.

She rejected accusations that the government’s reluctance to intervene in the ITV Digital debacle was responsible for its bankruptcy, countering: “If you look at our record in the UK we are the leaders for digital television take-up in Europe.”

Four in ten British households now receive digital telecasts, although if additional TV sets per household are factored into the equation, economists guesstimate that only eight million of 100 million TV sets have converted to dTV.

The industry, said Jowell, should now focus on providing services viewers found compelling: “It is the people sitting at home who have to be convinced of the benefits.”

But according to former Channel 5 chief David Elstein, the government had misled ITVd’s owners Carlton Communications and Granada Media on the technological front: “The government had not got a good track record in choosing technologies, and attempting to manipulate the market only distorts it."

Interviewed on Sky News Sunday, Elstein fulminated: “They do not tell you whether you should have 33rpm LPs or CDs; the market decides that and the consumer decides that. There is no reason for the government to try to intervene here – and promising something that was demonstrably non-deliverable, like analogue switch-off, in anything less than 20 or 30 years was to deceive Carlton and Granada profoundly.”

Separately, it was confirmed over the weekend that the ITV Sport channel is to close on May 11 in the wake of ITVd’s failure. The digital channel, which so far has not followed ITVd into administration, still retains the broadcast rights for Football League soccer matches – although these will expire on the day of its closure. It is hoped to salvage some of the channel’s forty-four jobs.

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff