CHAPTER 2: What is digital switchover
in television and radio?|
8. In this chapter we consider the differences
between analogue and digital broadcasting for both radio and television.
For each, we outline the advent of digital broadcasting and trace
the point reached today. We then look at Government policy and
progress on television switchover and Government plans for digital
radio switchover. The move to digital radio is variously described
as switchover, migration and upgrade. We have used the word switchover
in this report. When we refer specifically to the Government's
radio switchover programme, we have used its full name, Digital
Radio Upgrade, or Upgrade.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ANALOGUE
AND DIGITAL BROADCASTING?
9. Both digital and analogue television and radio
broadcasts are transmitted using the part of the electromagnetic
spectrum (radio spectrum). Analogue broadcasting transmits sound
and pictures as a continuously varying signal, while digital broadcasting
first encodes them into a series of binary digits (zeroes and
ones). This means a digital broadcast can be 'compressed' by computer
processing, so it uses less space in the spectrum than an equivalent
analogue broadcast. In the case of television, up to eight digital
television channels, as well as radio and text-based services,
can be carried in the space occupied by one analogue television
channel. In the case of radio, for example, up to ten or eleven
national radio services, using the Digital Audio Broadcasting
(DAB) system, can be carried in the space required for one national
analogue network. The space freed up on the spectrum by switching
from analogue to digital television broadcasting is in demand
for other services, but the space freed up by digital radio broadcasting
has limited current economic value for services other than radio.
10. Digital television signals can be broadcast
by terrestrial transmitters, by satellites or via cable. A set-top
box or integrated digital television must be used to decode the
signal. Digital radio signals are broadcast, in the UK, using
the DAB system, and digital radio is also available via digital
television and the internet.
11. Digital broadcasting offers the following
potential benefits to consumers:
· A greater choice of services
· Extra information on programmes and interactive
· Easier tuning and new functions
· Less interference to pictures or sound
ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL BROADCASTING
12. Analogue television broadcasting started
in the UK in 1936. From one channel, the BBC, it expanded gradually
to five by 1997. Analogue cable and satellite broadcasting began
to compete with the terrestrial channels during the 1980s, but
commercial digital television only started with Sky's digital
satellite service, launched in October 1998. Later that year,
the first digital terrestrial television service, ONdigital (later
ITV Digital, which closed in 2002), was launched. All terrestrial
television channels are now transmitted digitally and the only
channels which are transmitted in parallel in analogue form are
those of the public service broadcasters (PSBs)BBC One,
BBC Two, ITV1, Channel 4, and Five. The PSB channels which are
received by 98.5 per cent of the population will be switched
off in their analogue form by the end of 2012.
13. There are currently three main ways of receiving
digital television in the UK, Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT),
satellite and cable (the latter two are mainly subscription-only
· DTT, broadcast by transmitter masts and
received via the same aerial used for analogue signals. The main
DTT service is Freeview, launched in 2002 and owned by BBC, ITV,
Channel 4, BSkyB and Arqiva (the monopoly transmitter operator).
It provides around 40 channels which are free to view after purchasing
a set-top box or Freeview-enabled television. DTT services are
broadcast on six national
multiplexes. Some pay channels are also available via DTT.
· Satellite, transmitted from space and
received through a satellite dish. The main satellite television
service is Sky's subscription service. In May 2008, BBC and ITV
launched a free to view digital satellite service called Freesat,
which offers a slightly larger range of channels to Freeview and
does not require a subscription. BSkyB also offers a similar service.
· Cable, transmitted by a wire directly
to the television. The main cable operator in the UK is Virgin
Media which offers a subscription service.
· Additionally the internet can be used
to receive digital television but the viewing figures are not
available for this.
14. Figure 1 shows the take-up of television
in the UK via DTT, satellite and cable. The proportion of homes
using DTT stood at just over 70 per cent.
Platform take-up in the UK Q3 2009
Source: Derived from OfcomThe Communications
Market Digital Progress Report, December 2009
ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL BROADCASTING
15. Radio services in the UK were launched by
the BBC in 1922, broadcasting on AM (also known as Medium Wave
and Long Wave). In 1955, the BBC launched FM (sometimes known
as VHF) services, which offered much better sound quality but
required listeners to buy new radio sets to listen to FM. The
BBC broadcast all services on both FM and AM, as did commercial
radio from its launch in 1973. By the 1980s, the majority of listening
was on FM. AM (particularly Long Wave) services, however, remained
important for services such as storm warnings, the shipping forecast
and emergency communication. This is because transmissions on
Long Wave frequencies have a greater range than transmissions
using the frequencies on which FM and DAB services operate.
16. In the late 1980s, both commercial radio
and the BBC began to offer different services on AM and FM, so
that listeners needed sets with AM and FM reception if they wanted
to receive the full range of services broadcast in the UK.
17. The BBC began broadcasting its existing analogue
radio services in digital format in 1995, but the first radio
services developed specifically for digital transmission were
in the commercial sector. The Broadcasting Act 1996 allowed for
licensing of commercial digital multiplexes through a tender process.
It provided an incentive for digital broadcasting by offering
a 12 year extension of national and local commercial analogue
radio licences for services that were simulcast in digital. In
return for security of tenure, almost all stations decided to
opt for simulcasting, despite the extra cost of transmission without
18. National digital services are carried on
two multiplexes. The first national commercial radio multiplex
was awarded in 1998 to Digital One, the only bidder. By August
2000, Digital One was carrying ten national digital radio stations.
In 2002, the BBC launched its digital only channels, Radio 5 Live
Sports Extra, 6 Music, 1 Xtra, BBC 7 and the Asian Network.
It currently uses its own separate national digital multiplex
to broadcast these services, the five networksRadio 1,
2, 3, 4 and 5 Live, and the World Service, all of which are also
available in analogue.
THE DECISION TO SWITCH OFF ANALOGUE
19. Ofcom identified three key drivers behind
the Government's decision to switch from analogue to digital television
were (p 37):
· To benefit the consumer by extending digital
terrestrial coverage to match analogue coverage: Prior to the
start of switchover, around 27 per cent of the population had
no access to DTT and the substantially higher number of channels
that it offered, and this was a source of considerable consumer
dissatisfaction. After switchover, 98.5 per cent of households,
matching existing analogue coverage, will have the option of receiving
between 15 and 40 television channels,
which will be broadcast from all 1,154 transmitter sites. 90 per
cent of the population (served by 80 of these sites), will receive
around 40 channels.
· To benefit the UK economy through the
more efficient use of spectrum: The opportunity to release valuable
space (about one third of the total analogue space) on the spectrum
which could be sold for other sought-after services such as mobile
communications services, and satellite links.
· The analogue television system was designed
over 50 years ago and needed updating.
20. In addition, the Government expects that
switching over from analogue to digital broadcasting will benefit
UK public service broadcasters as a result of their costs being
lowered by no longer having to transmit services in both analogue
and digital. Overall,
we believe the case for digital switchover for television was
convincing both for the consumer and the British economy.
21. In 2005, the Government's cost benefit analysis
of digital television switchover estimated that the likely cost
to the UK economy of £4.6bn, would be outweighed by benefits
of about £6.3bn.
This cost benefit analysis, based on conservative assumptions,
foresaw spectrum benefits of £1.7bn. In 2009 Ofcom estimated
that reuse of the spectrum alone would realise economic benefits
of £5bn to £12bn.
These estimates therefore suggest that the benefits of television
switchover will considerably exceed costs.
22. The costs of switchover will be met by the
public service broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, Teletext,
S4C) through funding the upgrade of the transmission network (£0.8bn);
and by consumers, who will shoulder most of the cost, as they
need to acquire and install digital receiving equipment (estimated
at around £3.8bn).
THE GOVERNMENT'S PLANNING PROCESS
FOR SWITCHOVER FROM ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL TELEVISION
23. In 1999, the Government set out two criteria
to be satisfied before analogue television switch-off.
· Everyone who could get the main public
service broadcasting channels in analogue form (BBC 1 and 2, ITV,
Channel 4/S4C, Channel 5 and Teletext) would be able to receive
them on digital systems;
· Switching to digital would be an affordable
option for the vast majority of people.
24. In 2001, the Government formed the UK Digital
TV Project to advise on whether to proceed with switchover and
also how and when. In September 2005, the Government committed
to replace analogue television with fully digital television in
the UKthis programme is known as digital switchover.
The digital switchover programme involves the new digital transmission
network being put in place and the analogue signal switched off,
region by region, in a phased programme from 2008 until the end
Television switchover programme by region:
Source: Digital UK
THE GOVERNMENT'S PLANS FOR DIGITAL
25. In June 2009, the Government set out its
plans for Digital
Radio Upgrade, covering the choice of DAB as the UK's dedicated
digital standard for broadcast radio,
a structure of services on digital and FM, and a target date and
criteria for the Upgrade to go ahead.
26. The Government has set two criteria which,
when met, would make possible the announcement of a date for Digital
Radio Upgrade. Implementation would be at least two years after
the announcement. The two criteria are:
· When 50 per cent of radio listening is
to digital sources; and
· When national DAB coverage is comparable
to FM coverage, and large local DAB coverage reaches 90 per cent
of the population and all major roads.
27. The Government's intention is that these
criteria "should be met by the end of 2013",
paving the way for delivery of the Digital Radio Upgrade programme
by the end of 2015.
There will not be a complete switch off of analogue radio services.
The Government envisage that following the Upgrade:
· All national and large local services
will be carried on DAB multiplexes only and will no longer be
broadcast on analogue; but
· Ultra-local radio services, consisting
of small commercial stations and community stations will continue
to broadcast on FM.
28. This means that radio services currently
on Medium Wave will move to DAB or, if they are ultra-local, move
to FM. The Government envisages that these changes would create
three tiers of radio services:
· A national tier, broadcast in digital,
via the BBC's and commercial radios national multiplexes;
· A regional/large-local tier broadcast
in digital, via the regional and local multiplexes run by commercial
radio, also carrying BBC's local and nations' services;
· An ultra-local/community radio tier, broadcast
It has not yet been decided which local services
will be included in the second or third tier of radio services.
The Government has said that "... there is no simple answer
and the decision of individual licensees is likely to be driven
largely by the relative economics of broadcasting to their audiences
on DAB and FM".
Some estimates suggest that over 120 commercial stations are likely
to remain on the third tierthe FM network (p 77).
29. The Digital Economy Bill, introduced into
the House of Lords on 20 November 2009, proposes a number
of changes to the existing legislative and regulatory framework
which would enable the Digital Radio Upgrade to go ahead.
While the Bill does not set a date for digital switchover of the
specified services, it gives the Secretary of State the power
to nominate the date (or dates). The Bill also provides Ofcom
with additional powers to ensure an orderly migration from analogue
to digital. These powers cover matters such as renewal and termination
of licences, variations in the coverage of multiplex licences
and sharing of premises and costs between analogue stations.
1 In late 2009, one of these multiplexes was cleared
to be used for forthcoming high-definition television services. Back
The BBC's strategy review of March 2010 proposes closing down
6 Music and Asian Network (see Chapter 5). Back
As well as offering many more channels than analogue, all digital
television platforms offer differing levels of interactivity,
for example, the option to watch a number of sporting events at
the same time, or obtain more information on a programme using
the red button on a remote control. Some digital platforms also
offer the potential for viewers to catch-up with television programmes
that they would like to watch after the programme has been broadcast
(known as on-demand). Back
Economic impact of the use of radio spectrum in the UK, November
2006, Ofcom Back
Cost benefit analysis of Digital Switchover, DTI and DCMS, 2005 Back
Digital dividend: Clearing the 800 MHz band, Ofcom, 30 June 2009 Back
The Digital Switchover programme-programme structure. Ofcom 2007 Back
Digital Television Action Plan, October 2004 Back
In May 2005, the European Commission also issued a communication
stating that the Commission expected all member states to be ready
to switch off analogue television by 2012. Back
The UK's entire network of 1,154 terrestrial television transmitter
sites needs to be converted to digital, so that near universal
coverage of digital television can be provided. This requires
major and complex engineering work to convert each of the transmitters,
and therefore the work is being done as a phased regional switchover
rather than a single UK-wide switchover date. When a region has
switched over to digital, its analogue signals will be switched
Digital Britain, June 2009, p 91-103 Back
DAB is one of a number of platforms which can be used to receive
digital radio. Given the present speed of technological development
we are aware that by 2015, the expected date for radio switchover,
existing technologies will be more fully exploited and new ones
may emerge. In particular the Government is committed to ensuring
that all households in the UK have access to broadband and therefore
the internet. Internet radios are already available on the market. Back
These criteria reflect the proposals of the Digital Radio Working
Group, which was established by the Secretary of State for Culture,
Media and Sport in November 2007 to consider, amongst other things,
what needed to be achieved before digital platforms could become
the predominant means of delivering radio. The DRWG submitted
its final report in December 2008. Back
Digital Britain, June 2009, p 93 Back
The Digital Radio Working Group's final report did not propose
a firm date for migration, but contained an "aspirational"
timetable, suggesting that migration might take place in 2017. Back
Letter of 10 March from Lord Young of Norwood Green, Minister
for Postal Affairs and Employment Relations to Lord Fowler, available
at: http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/digitalbritain/digital-economy-bill/ Back
Digital Economy Bill, 19 November 2009, sections 30-36 Back