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Report Offers Guidelines for Shutting Down Analog TV in the U.K.

Since I started doing these weekly RF Report newsletters, I've been watching the progress of DTV in other countries to see how it might apply to the U.S. DTV transition. Great Britain is a country where the DTV conversion appears to be ahead of the U.S. With over half the households having at least one DTV set (see last week's RF Report), it is useful to look at how the United Kingdom is trying to complete the DTV conversion.

A report released last week by Ofcom, the UK's "super-regulator" covering all aspects of media and telecoms, Driving Digital Switchover - A Report to the Secretary of State said, "The market alone will not deliver switchover. It is time for the UK digital TV project to change gear and move from planning to implementation. Greater certainty over the timing of switchover would be an important step."

The report noted that some disruption would be inevitable, noting "a small proportion of existing roof-top aerials and many more existing portable aerials would be unlikely to be able to receive an acceptable digital terrestrial signal, even after switchover. However, TV screens would not go blank overnight because it is possible to switch off the analogue channels sequentially." Ofcom warned that the switchover not be delayed so that it would fall beyond the lifespan of existing analog transmission equipment.

Ofcom recommended a region-by-region switchover, turning off one or two analog channels at a time so that the digital signal can be boosted. The report said, "Ofcom will consider imposing spectrum pricing to sharpen incentives to promote switchover. Channel 3 licensees and Five already pay for their licences to broadcast, which include an implicit charge for spectrum. Ofcom will ensure that licensees do not pay twice for the same spectrum. If spectrum pricing is introduced, charges could apply for the first time to the BBC, Channel 4 and S4C in 2006."

Ofcom also recommended the British government add specific obligations to the BBC's current general obligation to promote DTV. "They should include obligations on rolling out digital transmission nationwide, providing public information, continuing to provide its channels on the free-to-view satellite platform, and providing on-air marketing of digital TV on a platform-neutral basis."

The report cautioned, "Switchover will simply not be possible unless consumers are persuaded of its benefits. Although half of households have digital TV, the other half are unlikely to go digital as quickly or as readily. Around the switchover date in their region, consumers will require further information and support. The promotion drive should not just include on-air advertising, but also direct marketing, help-lines, clear product labeling and possibly in-home support. A regional communications campaign in the immediate run-up to analogue switch-off will need to be developed with specially tailored advice for households who are unable to receive digital terrestrial signals until switchover starts."

The report is worth reading to understand the issues U.S. broadcasters and regulators will face when it comes time to turn off analog TV. Two news articles summarize the report: Ofcom may levy broadcasters to speed switch to digital TV in the Telegraph and Ofcom wants action on digital TV switchover from