Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1120 - 1124)


Mr Mike Darcey, Mr Vic Wakeling and Mr Martin Le Jeune

  Q1120  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: In terms of new sets, industry research says there are going to be over a million high definition capable television sets sold this year, that was on the previous occasion and you are saying you are rolling it out. There have been stories of the higher cost of high definition to other forms and I just wondered whether this has made any difference to your assessment and the speed at which this is going to be rolled out and the preferred choice. I can see the value. We have seen some of the ways it can be used clearly for sport but also for wildlife films.

  Mr Darcey: I do not know about the exact numbers, but I would say that as we have moved through 2005 I think we have probably become more confident that high definition is going to make a substantial impact and usher in quite a substantial change in the television market in the UK.

  Q1121  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Are you going to be the leaders in this or are the BBC competitive?

  Mr Darcey: I think Sky will have a major role to play in getting HD set-top boxes out into the marketplace, but I think we will be one of many broadcasters who will broadcast in HD channels that can be received by those set-top boxes and I think that the BBC will be a major player in that space as a broadcaster. The DTT platform is limited in its ability to offer HD services, but I think you will see the BBC doing things in HD that are receivable by people who have bought a satellite HD box.

  Q1122  Chairman: Perhaps if there is anything you want to add to that you might drop us a note. Just one very last question. You may have noticed the Committee's first report where we recommended the cost of digital switchover should be met by the Government basically through taxation rather than by the BBC through the licence fee. I do not know if you have any views on that or not?

  Mr Darcey: We have a few views on digital switchover. In terms of who pays, I guess our starting principle would be to ask who benefits and to try and match the two up. It strikes me that there are two broad categories of cost. One is derived from the decision to convert to digital all 1,154 terrestrial masts. That is going to cost a great deal of money. The beneficiaries of that appear to be the terrestrial broadcasters themselves and their shareholders. The reason for that and the reason they are interested in this happening is that they have a strong preference for as many people as possible to be able to choose a digital terrestrial means of converting. The reason is that they strongly prefer the more constrained environment in which they find that their viewing share is not diluted as much as if somebody chooses another platform. They have an incentive for DTT to be rolled out as far as it possibly can. It strikes me that they and their shareholders are the beneficiaries of that, where they are commercially owned, and it does seem odd to ask the licence fee payer to pay for that. The second category of cost I would put down as the marketing costs, the disruption that will be faced by people who are forced to convert, the assistance to the vulnerable and that category of costs. They largely come about because of a decision or a desire to be able to switch off the analogue signal and then to be able to sell on the spectrum that is released from that. It strikes me that at least in the first instance the beneficiary of that is the Treasury and it might then be sold on from there. Again it seems perhaps slightly odd to ask for the licence fee payer to bear the costs associated with delivering that benefit to the Treasury.

  Q1123  Chairman: I think we regard that as a rather useful view. It happens to coincide with our own view.

  Mr Darcey: They are always the best!

  Q1124  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. You have been very patient. We have been going for over an hour and a half and now you have answered our questions extremely well. Perhaps if there are any other points we could put them to you and you could write. Thank you very much for coming.

  Mr Wakeling: We will come back to you on the various bits of information you have asked for. Thank you very much.

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