Digital switchover of
television and radio in the United Kingdom
CHAPTER 1: Introduction
1. The Committee decided to undertake an inquiry
into digital switchover as it affects both television and radio
in the United Kingdom. The programme to switch over television
broadcasting from analogue to digital is now well under way having
started in 2008. The Government's aim for radioas set out
in its White Paper Digital Britain"is the delivery
of a digital radio upgrade programme by the end of 2015".
It soon became clear in our inquiry that the major questions concerned
2. By the end of March 2010 about a fifth of
television viewers will have switched over and the programme appears
to have run relatively smoothly. The major qualification concerns
the Help Scheme where there was a very significant overestimate
of the number who would take up assistance. The estimate was that
65 per cent of those eligible would claim. The figures show that
the proportion of those eligible who have claimed is only 18 per
cent. It means that BBC licence fee payersthe scheme was
funded through the licence feeare likely to have paid between
£250m and £300m above what was necessary. In addition
the licence fee, which is a regressive tax, has also provided
£50m above what is necessary for the communications strategy.
3. One of the advantages of the television switchover
programme was that the benefits of digital delivery were well
accepted and understood. In contrast the case for change in radio
is not as compelling. The surveys show that there is strong public
satisfaction with the present FM system and with the range of
programmes that are provided. The case for radio switchover has
not been made to the public although the date of switchover is
only a few years away.
4. Currently there is public confusion and industry
uncertainty. The public are not yet convinced of the need for
change and there are major issues of policy still to be settled.
Evidence supplied to the committee suggests that between 50m and
100m radios could become redundant and will need to be replaced;
while some 20m car radios will require converters in order to
receive a digital signal. As it stands at present the entire cost
of these changes will be borne by consumers.
5. At present we are in the unhappy position
where consumers are still buying analogue radios although they
may be out of date in a few years' timeor, at best, of
limited use. Retailers are not giving sufficient guidance to customers
and complain of a lack of guidance themselves. Car manufacturers
are continuing to fit analogue radios and say that 2013 is the
earliest date when digital will be standard. Radio broadcasters
are currently being required to meet the extra cost of dual transmission
in analogue and digitalwhich particularly hits the hard
pressed commercial radio sector.
6. No one can be satisfied with the present position.
There is an urgent need for clarity which was emphasised by almost
all those who gave us evidence. No way forward is entirely painless
but at the very least the public deserve to know what is being
planned. They need to be assured that every effort is being made
to minimise their financial loss and that they will benefit from
a better radio service. As taxpayers, they need to know how the
costs of the programme will be apportioned. Our proposals are
aimed at bringing greater clarity to the industry and reassurance
for the public. If nothing is done then there is a danger of a
major public reaction when the radio switchover policy is implemented.
7. The membership of the Committee is set out
in Appendix 1 and the Call for Evidence in Appendix 3. We received
163 written submissions, including 126 from members of the public,
and took oral evidence from 22 witnesses, who are listed in Appendix
2. We should like to express our thanks to all who have assisted
us in our work. We should also like to thank our Specialist Adviser
for this inquiry, Professor Richard Collins, Professor of
Media Studies at the Open University.