Ofcom calls for £400m support scheme to aid digital switchover

The switch to digital TV over the next eight years could require the Government to spend as much as £400m, according to an Ofcom report unveiled at last week’s Westminster Media Forum on Digital Switchover.

The report said social groups that will be hardest to shift from analogue to digital television would be vulnerable pockets of people that are socially isolated.

It also said the Government needs to provide a support scheme, financial help and a public information campaign aimed at those people to prevent them from facing blank TV screens when the analogue signal is switched off.

Speaking at the forum, broadcasting minister Andrew McIntosh said that digital switchover must be a “truly inclusive revolution” and recommended that SwitchCo (the collective that is overseeing switchover) should work with the voluntary sector and local government to develop a plan to help these people.

Talking about digital TV, McIntosh said: “Today these benefits cannot be enjoyed by everyone. There is still a divide between the digital haves and have-nots. We want to create a genuine digital democracy, where everybody has the best possible access.”

The report said: “Digital switchover presents the biggest challenges for those who are socially isolated – people who will have difficulty in finding out about switchover, in understanding what it means and hence who are unable to take effective steps to deal with it. People without an adequate network of support from friends, family, neighbours or carers will, therefore, be particularly vulnerable.

The analogue TV signal, which provides around half of the UK with the five basic terrestrial stations, is expected to be switched off within the next eight years. By then, the Government hopes to have transferred all UK viewers to the digital signal.

Although now more than half of UK TV households are digital, uptake has not been as rapid as predicted.

“Most urgently, we urge those leading the switchover process to implement at the earliest opportunity a public information campaign for digital switchover.

“This will be integral to ensuring that the widest possible number of people understand the ‘what?’, the ‘how?’ and the ‘how much?’ of digital switchover,” said the report.

There are already a number of measures in place to aid the process of public education required to speed up switchover.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has already launched a public awareness campaign which will run for five months, and a switchover trial is taking place in South Wales to help gauge the technical issues that could arise as a result of a change in the TV signal.

Ofcom yeterday published its draft digital licences for ITV, Five and Channel 4, including a proposed date for digital switchover of 2012.

The regulatory body said it would be rolling out a timetable for the road to switchover as soon as possible next year.

By Deborah Bonello

Broadcasters under attack for sending out wrong message

Broadcasters and the Government are hampering digital switchover by promoting set-top boxes at the expense of TV sets with in-built digital capability, a major electronics manufacturer has warned.

Steve Dowdle, managing director of Sony UK, told the Westminster forum that Ofcom’s claim that 55% of UK households can receive digital TV disguised the reality.

Dowdle said annual sales of integrated digital TVs represented just 5% of the market.

Part of the problem was that broadcasters such as the BBC chose to promote set-top boxes rather than conveying a neutral message.

Sony has also called for a neutral chairman for SwitchCo and proper representation for the UK’s electronics manufacturers.

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