Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1120
TUESDAY 6 DECEMBER 2005
Mr Mike Darcey, Mr Vic Wakeling and Mr Martin Le
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
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.
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!
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
Mr Wakeling: We will come back to you on the
various bits of information you have asked for. Thank you very