Why the UK is Sleep Walking to the Digital Switchover

Not many people seem to know this… By the end of 2012 the UK will have been the only country in the world to have totally made the switchover to all digital television. The digital switchover starts in 2008 – less than 2 short years away.

End of an era: Robert Hardman at the Crystal Palace broadcast tower

A recent Which Report (Which is the major consumer champion in the UK) shows that in many areas the awareness of the digital switchover is less than 2 %. Even in the Borders Television region – the first to make the change – only about a third of the people surveyed knew what was going to happen.

It really does seem that the UK is sleepwalking in to the Digital Switchover.

Not surprisingly, the whole switchover programme is being watched with keen interest by other nations around the World. The benefits of digital television for broadcasters, manufacturers and programme makers are pretty clear. The new media is already changing programme making – Planet Earth, currently showing on the BBC – is a prime example of what can be achieved. And of course the manufacturers are positively drooling at the thought of all the new televisions, video recorders and set-top boxes they expect to sell.

Consumers are set to benefit too – better pictures and sound, high definition television, interactivity, movies on demand… The list goes on.

Governments have a keen commercial interest too. They own the air waves. And digital television takes up much less band width than conventional analogue signals. So the move to digital frees up precious broadcasting capacity that Governments are keen to sell to the highest bidders. The sale of the mobile telephone spectrum for 3G providers raised over £20 billion. Who would bet that the sale of the television spectrum won’t raise significantly more?

The move to digital television benefits us all. So why do so few people know what is happening?

Simply being able to receive digital television is only part of the issue. Just about every television bought more than 12 months ago, and a good percentage of those being sold now, are effectively obsolete. All of them will need a separate satellite receiver or set top decoder box to receive digital signals. Every video recorder will also need an additional decoder.

The UK Government puts the average cost per household to upgrade to digital television at £132 (0). I feel the real figure is likely to be 4 or times this level. Most homes in the UK have upwards of 4 televisions – each and every one will need significant investment to receive digital television signals.

In the UK 68% of homes already receive digital television in some form- satellite (which means BSkyB – the only UK satellite television provider), cable or terrestrial freeview. In almost all cases digital television is only watched on the main television in the house. The other sets are still restricted to the main analogue, terrestrial stations. From 2008 this has all got to change.

It’s time to wake up. We are at the threshold of the biggest change in the television experience since it was first invented.

Start planning your own digital switchover now.

Keith Longmire is a great believer in the switchover to digital television. His web site, The Great Digital Switchover, is full of information, tips and guidance on planning your digital switchover.

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