UK officials say digital TV will not produce windfall for spectrum

Government officials in the United Kingdom have warned that millions of people will be unable to access digital television unless manufacturers and service providers make their products easier to use.

UK researchers found digital TV equipment is much harder to use than existing analog devices, said UK e-commerce minister Stephen Timms. He called on the digital TV industry to wake up and pay more attention to usability.

As in the U.S., the British government has mandated a DTV transition, insisting that analog broadcasts end by the year 2010. But in a separate study announced last week, the UK government has given up the idea of getting a windfall of revenue from the sale of analog TV spectrum. Unlike the profitable auctions of 3G mobile telephone spectrum during the era, UK officials now see the analog television spectrum as not as valuable as previously thought.

The government-backed research on DTV ergonomics by The Generics Group, found that two million people—about seven percent of the UK population—would be unable to use one of today’s digital set-top boxes because it is too complicated, badly designed or “non-intuitive.”

Digital television in the UK, like in the U.S., is also meeting resistance. ZDNet UK last week said “the government’s approach to digital television is increasingly resembling a game of chicken. Its official policy is that it is committed to completing the switch from analog to digital transmissions by 2010. However, some in the industry suspect this isn’t achievable, which reportedly discourages manufacturers and television firms from large-scale investment in digital products and services—making the doubts self-fulfilling.”

Though complexity of digital television has been a consumer issue in the U.S., so far no U.S. government official has openly addressed it. But, added Timms in the UK, “manufacturers must recognize the opportunities and commercial rewards from designing products which are accessible to the widest range of consumers. We cannot expect people to fully embrace digital television unless it is simple and easy to install and use.”

For more information on the The Generics Group's research visit

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