Digital switchover has finally made it to the UK, and everyone says it was a success, Julian Clover is nervous.
Reporting on analogue switch off, or digital switchover, as its protagonists would have it is becoming somewhat routine. Over the past few years we’ve covered the switch in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and this week Sweden. There’s a bit of a dispute between Luxembourg and the Netherlands as to who was actually first. Turns out that the Grand Duchy still has an analogue transmitter beaming into France, so strictly speaking hasn’t completely switched off analogue. The Dutch with 95% of the country cabled didn’t bother to wait until a digital terrestrial network had been completed before switching off its analogue transmitters.
Britain began its first official DTT transmissions nine years ago, when On Digital launched its service from Crystal Palace in south east London. This week it was Whitehaven on the English-Scottish border, where there had previously been no DTT at all, which became the area of the country to make the landmark move to all digital transmissions.
It comes as no surprise that the technical move passed off without event, analogue transmissions becoming digital with a space of less than 40 minutes, as BBC Two switched off and analogue ITV took its place. The spare frequency was then brought into service for the BBC’s high power public service multiplex.
Neither were there any reports of Northern Rock-style queues stretching out of electrical retailers. The BBC, digital TV’s cheerleader in chief (save the cheerleader, save the world), was out and about in the area, interviewing local people, who uttered things about PVRs and set-top boxes in the way that callers on football phone-ins seem to know more about the team sheet than the clubs themselves.
Ford Ennals, the head of switchover body Digital UK, was on hand to deflect any difficult viewer emails. “My picture’s breaking up,” said one. Ford was keen to get over the message of added choice. Surely there couldn’t be a problem in even one home. Another viewer protested at the selection of channels, not enough homeshopping perhaps, who chooses them they wanted to know? Ford said it was a matter for the broadcasters. True, and the little matter of a £12 million fee to the multiplex operators. As Winston Churchill once said: “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”