Bandwidth reductions on DTT, the switch-off for the UK’s first broadcast mobile TV service. Julian Clover reports
Something may be awry with the UK’s digital switchover plans. It’s not so much the switchover itself, despite the glossing over of issues such as video recording and second sets, the process is working fine.
The problem is what Britain is left with once the move takes place. Ofcom has clearly dug in its heels over what will happen to the digital dividend, perhaps better titled the digital phone dividend, as economics will no doubt restrict the number of multiplexes to the present six.
The issue that has been occupying industry minds has been the carriage of HD services on the DTT platform. Sky Digital has by far the best HD platform in Europe, and regardless of what restrictions Sky has or hasn’t made with broadcasters, Virgin Media is only offering BBC HD as a linear channel.
Ofcom’s plans, criticised this week by industry body the Digital TV Group, is to shuffle the present multiplexes so that one can be set aside for three or four HD services; presumably one each from the established UK broadcasters. For the first time the DTG has highlighted the picture quality on analogue services. The BBC is already exploring the possibility of reducing the amount of bandwidth it uses, pressurised in part by having to host other broadcasters after switchover, including Five.
The BBC has already had a brush with the small but vocal audience that represents classical music station Radio 3. The corporation has progressively reduced the bandwidth of its DAB stations, and when Radio 3 was reduced to allow a continuous promo for 5 Live Sports Extra, the corporation was forced into a hasty retreat from music fans rightly annoyed at a reduction in the quality they had paid extra for.
DAB is going through a tough time in the UK. Although it now makes up 10% of all radio listening it is still not enough to make the commercial services viable. The catch is surely that a listener would rather listen to their own CD collection than a small one punctuated by the occasional jingle and a pre-recorded announcement.
The commercial stations are allowed to use a proportion of their multiplexes for data service. This allowed the launch of the video service BT Movio, available of special Virgin Mobile handsets, but the service has become more of a turkey than a Lobster. In a blow for both DAB and mobile TV the service was finally switched off at midnight on January 31.
Despite the PR-savvy announcement from Currys that it would no longer sell analogue radios – no one has mentioned this to my local branch – there is no sign of an analogue radio switch-off. Why would there be? DAB has still to penetrate the mobile market, and interesting RTE’s medium wave shutdown has failed to please Irish listeners. Small markets old and new are the side effect of the plethora of technologies available.