Tuesday saw the launch of the HDforAll campaign, formed by a coalition made up of TV manufacturers, retailers and public service broadcasters (PSBs), aiming to secure the future of free-to-view high definition (HD) television programming on the UK Freeview digital terrestrial television platform, writes Fergal Ringrose.
Satellite and cable broadcasts in HD began last summer, and millions of UK consumers have already bought HD Ready television sets and other equipment. The HDforAll campaign is concerned that plans by Ofcom to auction all the spectrum released by digital switchover could jeopardise, for a generation, the only opportunity to launch a range of HD channels on Freeview. It would risk dividing viewers into the ‘HD haves’ and the ‘HD have nots’, according to their ability to pay for subscription television.
The media regulator, Ofcom, has announced plans for an open auction of the publicly owned spectrum that will be released as a result of digital switchover. If the auction takes place as planned it is likely that the millions who have invested in the UK’s fastest growing digital television platform, Freeview, will not be able to experience the crystal-clear quality of HD TV. Freeview has already been chosen in over nine million homes and has been backed by Government and regulators as a crucial platform in achieving full digital switchover by 2012.
Ofcom has suggested that the PSBs could launch HD services using their existing spectrum capacity. This would not be technically feasible without sacrificing a number of existing services on the Freeview platform, thereby undermining the service viewers currently enjoy on Freeview.
There is no obvious way in which the UK PSBs providing free to air television channels could recoup the costs associated with an auction. They thus claim to be at a disadvantage in competing with mobile operators and others, when those commercial operators can afford to pay a premium for spectrum in the knowledge that they can recoup the costs by providing a premium service to their customers.
This is against the background of increasing consumer demand for ‘HD Ready’ TVs. Sales of HD-ready TVs in the UK shot up from 462,000 in 2005 to 2.4 million last year. This is a trend that manufacturers and retailers expect to see maintained over the next few years, supported by the worldwide adoption of HD as a new broadcast standard, the rise in HD gaming as well as the launch of the HD DVD and Blu-ray recording devices.
The HDforAll campaign believes an open auction of spectrum released by the switch to digital will put at risk the unifying role of television in the UK where every citizen has access to the same quality of TV service in return for the purchase of receiving equipment and a TV licence, irrespective of the ability to pay for additional services.