Next year, analogue TV in the UK will be as dead as a dodo. That's because, according to the official digital switchover dates, 2012 is when the country's TV service will finally become digital-only. The digital switchover began in 2008, headed up by Digital UK - an independent, not-for-profit organisation that was set up by public broadcasters at the request of the Government.
So, is the switchover all going according to plan? Will we really see the last of the analogue TV signal next year? And is there anything else that consumers need to do before it's all too late? To find out, Pocket-lint put some questions to the man in the know - Digital UK's chief executive, David Scott.
Is the switchover progressing according to schedule?
Switchover is well underway and going smoothly. The process has now been completed in the Border, West Country, West, Granada, STV North and Channel television regions, and Wales has become the first nation in the UK to switch to digital-only TV. This year will be the biggest for switchover so far, with almost 11 million homes switching across the Central, Anglia and Yorkshire TV regions, and Central Scotland.
Have there been any hitches?
The programme is on time and on track, and there haven’t been any serious problems. The vast majority find switchover straightforward but of course there are those who need help on the day. In particular, there are some who find retuning Freeview equipment difficult, especially in areas where TV signals from neighbouring regions overlap. If they contact us, we can normally help them through the process in a few minutes.
Do people understand what the switchover is for and how it will affect them?
In general, yes, people do understand. Our latest research indicates that most viewers are aware that switchover is coming and have already converted their main set. The truth is, as a nation we love digital TV and most of us have been watching it for many years.
How will the switchover affect the way that people watch TV?
Switchover is about extending viewer choice. Millions of homes currently unable to receive digital TV free via an aerial will be able to receive around 15 Freeview channels for the first time - up from just four or five on analogue. Most homes will be able to receive more than 40. Turning off the analogue system will also free up spectrum for other services, such as mobile broadband.
Of course, digital TV also brings other benefits, such as the ability to pause and rewind live TV, and record an entire series at the touch of a button. Once you get a digital recorder, it’s very hard to live without it!
What is Digital UK doing to combat rogue traders who are selling unnecessary or overpriced equipment?
We are aware of isolated reports of rogue traders, but there’s no evidence to date of serious problems. Nevertheless, we maintain contact with consumer protection agencies, consumer groups and charities to monitor any issues in this area. Digital UK promotes the "digital tick" to help people identify reliable products and services, and we include general consumer advice in our leaflets. If people encounter problems we will always encourage reporting them to Consumer Direct or Trading Standards.
How much has the switchover cost?
In total, £201m has been ring-fenced from the BBC licence fee settlement for Digital UK’s information campaign and programme coordination. Through efficiencies, we expect the project to complete around £55m under budget.
Has all of the funding come from TV licensing?
Digital UK’s information campaign and the Switchover Help Scheme, run by the BBC, are funded from the licence fee. Our operational costs and those for the upgrade of the terrestrial network are met by the broadcasters and multiplex operators.
Is the switchover still scheduled to be completed in 2012 and have their been any delays in individual regions?
Given our progress to date, we can be confident that switchover will complete on time at the end of 2012, and also under budget, but we haven’t yet published the exact date. Engineering work is always subject to weather conditions and heavy snowfall last year in the north of Scotland certainly brought its challenges. However, all regions have switched on the dates we planned.
Will we be doing anything similar to this again in the future?
After switchover, frequencies in the 800Hz band will be cleared to align parts of the spectrum with other European countries. This will enable the UK to benefit from economies of scale in equipment manufacture and spectrum usage, particularly for the next generation of mobile broadband services. Digital UK is currently working with Ofcom to plan this and where possible this has already been integrated into the switchover plan.
The coalition Government has also launched an action plan on digital radio switchover and is currently working towards a target date of 2015, provided certain criteria are met. A separate company, Digital Radio UK Ltd, has been established to manage this.
What is Digital UK doing to help people with the switch?
Digital UK runs regional public information campaigns to ensure viewers know that switchover is coming and what they need to do to get ready. These include TV and press advertising, roadshows, detailed leaflets sent to every home and even on-screen messages. Our advice line and website offer extra support for viewers. We keep our campaign under review and try to learn lessons as we go.
In addition, we have dedicated teams in each region who are vital to the successful delivery of every switchover. They work closely with their communities, local charities and our partners at the Switchover Help Scheme and Digital Outreach to ensure everyone knows what to do, and that older and potentially vulnerable viewers receive the advice and help they need.