Broadcasters and manufacturers are pressing the case for terrestrial HD spectrum. Julian Clover reports from the DTG Summit
Almost every television set on sale in the major high street stores is now described as ‘HD Ready, the industry standard set to ensure common specifications for the high definition format. The problem is that while the sets may be HD Ready the means by which they will be able to receive high definition signals looks to be restricted to satellite and cable.
This week the television industry, broadcasters and manufacturers, came together at the annual DTG Summit at BAFTA, London. Minister of State for Industry and the Regions Margaret Hodge spoke about energy saving initiatives and the interoperability of devices, but it wasn’t the HDMI cables she had in mind. When questioned about the possibility that spectrum released following digital switchover the minister was non-committal.
“We’re all thinking about it, but we’re not good at predicting what consumers want, and that is the dilemma that faces us,” she said. “As we think about the allocation of spectrum of course we think about public policy, access and inclusion.”
The public service broadcasters and members of the HD for All campaign argue that two tiers of public service broadcasting will be created if high definition does not appear on the terrestrial system. The thousands of viewers, who have taken the Freeview route, have in many cases purchased HD Ready sets, expecting an HD signal to follow.
Delegates criticised Ofcom’s current consultation on the grounds that it was examining how an auction should take place as opposed to deciding whether there should be an auction in the first place. Channel 4 CEO Andy Duncan said the broadcaster, which will already receive a subsidy for its transmission costs, did not have the resources to participate in an open auction.
Peter Bury, Director of Strategic Resources at Ofcom, encouraged the industry to participate in the consultation. He said the regulator would examine the evidence, but would not pass comment on calls for spectrum to be set aside for the purpose of HD.
Manufacturers enthusiasm for HD is easy to understand, new formats as we have seen with Teletext, Nicam stereo, etc, in previous years, encourage people to buy their product. It also helps increase the margins.
Broadcasters face expense, initially in production, and certainly in transmission costs. Britain, and indeed the minister, needs to be reminded that the country will be far from the first to digital switch off. While there are other interested parties for the spectrum, some squatters’ rights must surely go to the incumbent broadcasters, if they are to maintain the position of universal access.