Greg Dyke, director general of the UK’s state-owned British Broadcasting Corporation, giving evidence Tuesday to the House of Commons media select committee, cited research suggesting that “a couple of million people would be interested in a £99 [digital TV] box”. He added: “And if it's £99 today, it's going to be half that in two or three years' time.”

“A switch-off date would help,” urged Dyke, saying he believed the introduction of a free-to-air box would accelerate the switch-off date to “soon after” 2006.

The committee is assessing evidence as to when the government will be able to switch of the nation’s analogue television signal in favour of digital. The government aims to commence the phase-out from 2006 but has undertaken not to throw the switch until 90% of homes have upgraded to digital.

Around eight million of the UK’s 24m households already receive digital TV via satellite, cable or terrestrial networks. Meantime, the BBC is working with commercial broadcasters to evolve a package of free channels to sway the majority of Brits who presently see no advantage in digital TV.

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