Countdown to switchover
Digital switchover has been a hot topic for the UK's television industry, and policy makers, since 1999, the year after digital services were first launched.
- Chris Smith, the then culture secretary, told the Royal Television Society's Cambridge Convention that switchover could "start to happen as early as 2006 and be completed by 2010, but this depends very much on how the broadcasters, manufacturers and consumers behave over the next seven years".
- A government white paper, A New Future for Communications, reaffirmed the 2006-2010 goal and said switchover would not take place until everyone could receive the main public service broadcasting channels on digital systems, and 95% of households had already purchased digital receivers.
- The DTI and DCMS launched the Digital TV Action Plan preparing the coordination of government departments, regulators, broadcasters, retailers, manufacturers and consumer groups.
- Broadcasting minister Lord McIntosh said "we are still on track to complete the process by 2010" and announced that switchover would be a phased process, "perhaps over four years". Switchover would happen region-by-region.
Culture secretary Tessa Jowell put back switchover target period to 2008-2012 following a recommendation from the BBC.
Ofcom set December 31, 2012, as the backstop date by which all licensees would be obliged to stop broadcasting their analogue services.
Ofcom's consumer panel recommended financial assistance should be offered to the elderly to help them transition to digital TV.
Residents of two Welsh villages gave digital TV the thumbs up in an experiment aimed at determining consumer issues of switchover. Sir Gerald Kaufman's media select committee said the Government needed to do more to prepare the public for switchover.
Jowell sidestepped questions in the Commons on a precise timetable for switchover. She later told delegates at the Oxford Media Convention that switchover was "not a question of 'if' ? but 'when'".
Ofcom published its recommended 2008-2012 region-by-region switchover timetable. Border, West Country and HTV Wales would be the first regions to go digital. A cost and benefits assessment conducted by the DTI and DCMS said Britain would benefit to the tune of £1.7bn if digital switchover was completed in 2012.
After a successful trial, the Welsh villages of Ferryside and Llansteffan joined Berlin as the only digital-only TV areas in Europe. Jowell told the Commons in a debate on its plans for the BBC that ministers would "ask the BBC to use the licence fee to help drive the process of digital switchover".
SwitchCo, the industry-funded body charged with the coordination of digital switchover, launched under the chairmanship of Barry Cox. Ford Ennals, previously managing director of the direct marketing division of Universal Music, and a former marketing director of LloydsTSB, was named CEO. Labour's election manifesto pledged it would achieve switchover "between 2008 and 2012, ensuring access to high-quality free-to-view and subscription digital TV".
A survey by Ofcom's consumer panel found that fewer than one adult in three had heard of the term 'digital switchover', and only one adult in five was able to correctly state what it meant. Meanwhile, the European Commission called on member states to set a 2012 deadline for digital switchover. Viviane Reding, information society and media commissioner, said: "The sooner we complete switchover, the sooner our citizens and businesses will benefit."
The new media select committee announced a further inquiry into digital switchover plans.