The British government has backtracked on its earlier promise to complete by 2006 the compulsory shutdown of analogue TV services in favour of digital transmissions.

The phase-out was due to begin in 2004 with the government underwriting the cost of the necessary set-top boxes and recouping this via the sale of the analogue wireless spectrum to telecoms operators and other commercial users.

However, a costly cocktail of disparate factors – the terrorist ‘war’, the worsening economic climate, foot and mouth epidemic handouts to farmers – have tightened the government’s purse-strings.

Admits a senior government source: “It's going to be extremely tough to switch off by 2006.” The anonymous insider insisted, however, that the government remains committed a phased switch-off between 2006 and 2010.

This ambivalence is not what broadcasters had hoped to hear – in particular beleaguered ITV Digital which has lobbied long and hard for a firm date that would enable it to armlock non-digital viewers into opting for its terrestrial platform.

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