The DVB-T fork in the road

It seems to me that some in Europe are dangerously close to delaying the tough decisions that need to be made to ensure a successful DVB-T transition. I'm especially concerned about the recent report that the UK may be considering extending the analog switch-off date out from 2006 until perhaps 2014. That's a bad idea.

I'm reminded about previous hard work by the technical gurus here who helped develop a COFDM DVB-T solution, establish standards and, in general, successfully oppose the political pressure from the U.S. ATSC group when it came to selecting a European digital TV standard. It seemed to me at the time that Europe's DVB-T technical leadership was strong and committed to ensuring a successful transition to digital television. Unfortunately, it looks like now that the politicians are in control, this DVB-T ship is headed for the rocks.

When a company such as Granada writes off almost E400 billion in goodwill because it's afraid that digital won't happen on schedule, you have to wonder what's going on. Is it merely a company ploy to just clean the books of extraneous goodwill? Does it want to readjust stock prices or other financial entries? Or, and much more serious to those of us in the broadcast and production industries, do such actions reflect a growing sentiment that Europe is going to delay?

Now we hear that the UK may delay switching off analog until 2014. What are we to make of this? Are the Brits coming down with a case of cold feet? That should not be the case; after all, it's not as though the digital television transition isn't working elsewhere.

Australia is well along with its DVB-T plan and actual implementation. And Germany doesn't seem timid either. Germany's DVB-T broadcasts began full-time in the Berlin-Brandenburg area last November with two multiplexes providing eight channels of programming. Next month, four more multiplexes are scheduled to sign on, providing 24 free-to-air channels. The key is that Germany plans firm to cease analog service in August 2003. Now that shows commitment!

For those countries yet to announce firm plans, I hope they'll take advice from a U.S. baseball player named Yogi Berra. Yogi was known for his humorous, but insightful, way of putting things in perspective. He offered this advice when faced with choices, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it.”

Well, folks, we're at the fork in the digital television road, and we have to make some choices. We can try to turn back the clock and hold onto our antiquated analog ways, or we can step confidently forward and implement digital television.

For all this to work, it means telling the public when it needs to have digital technology in place and then sticking with those dates. The transition should be swift and firm. The electronics industry will provide the needed solutions. The public will buy those solutions. The broadcasters will also step forward and provide new and exciting digital services.

We've reached the fork in the road. Now, let's take it!

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