TV industry slams government HD auction plans

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TV industry slams government HD auction plans

Unanimous agreement across the spectrum.

Leaders from all sectors of the UK's TV and broadcasting industry have slammed government proposals to auction off areas of the broadcast spectrum that will be freed up by the switch from analogue to digital in 2012.

Broadcasters, manufacturers and retailers unanimously agreed at the Digital TV Group annual summit in London yesterday that the auction would spell disaster for public service broadcasters.

The belief is that such a move would effectively end the possibility of transmitting high-definition content over free-to-air services.

Ofcom is currently reviewing what to do with the newly available space, and will publish its findings in the Digital Dividend Review sometime in March. 

Interested parties are all clamouring for space to deploy technologies like mobile TV, wireless broadband, public safety services, wireless microphones and of course high definition TV.

The Digital TV Group summit began with a speech by Margaret Hodge, a minister from the Department of Trade and Industry, which focused on usability, interoperability and energy efficiency within the digital TV industry.

Despite the minister's attempt to focus on the upcoming digital switchover, the speakers that followed were all firmly fixed on high definition and the potential repercussions of Ofcom's review should the auction go ahead.

Heads from Channel 4, Sony, Dixons Store Group and the BBC focused heavily on the future of public service broadcasters and the possibility of a two-tier system where HD content would only be available on subscriber services such as satellite and cable.

Andy Duncan, chief executive at Channel 4, spoke of the "broadcasting landscape" over the next several years, suggesting that if Freeview is to remain competitive it must be able to keep up with advances in technology, which includes HD.

If the free spectrum space was auctioned off, public service broadcasters would not be able to afford to bid, effectively and irreversibly ending the potential for HD content over free-to-air channels.

Steve Dowdle, Sony UK managing director, and John Clare, Dixons Group chief executive, both focused on the massive increase in sales of HD ready TVs and the consumer expectation that HD content would become increasingly common across all platforms, including free-to-air channels.

Dowdle talked about the increasing HD "content gap" reflecting the large number of HD-ready TVs in the UK, and the much smaller number of homes receiving any form of HD broadcasts.

Clare pointed out that it is consumers who are paying for the digital switchover through TV licence fees, and that research shows that 65 per cent of customers expect HD content over digital terrestrial TV.

"The whole of the world is in the process of moving to one TV standard, and that standard is high definition," he said.

"We are now in grave danger of creating a two-tier marketplace with digital terrestrial TV becoming a second class competitor in the multi-platform market. "

Tim Davie, director of marketing, communications and audiences at the BBC, added: "Technology is moving, and this is not a static picture. In the long term, to make such a fundamentally final decision, with the stakes being so high, is a legacy I don't think we should leave ourselves with."

The overwhelming feeling was that HD is growing around the world and the UK runs a real risk of being left behind if HD content can only be broadcast over subscription channels.

Professor David Youlton, chairman of the Digital TV Group, compared it to Margaret Thatcher's attempt to introduce a poll tax.

"This is about the voter and the viewer, and these people will not take this s**t lying down," he said.
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