Government digital TV plans backed
by set-top box manufacturers
LONDON - The government's proposals to switch off the analogue signal by 2010 received a welcome boost over the weekend as news emerged that several consumer electronics manufacturers were lining up to provide low-cost set-top boxes.
The government's plans to switch off the analogue signal between 2006 and 2010 have looked increasingly shaky in recent months, not least because ITV Digital's future appeared to be in doubt.
ITV Digital parents Carlton and Granada have been lobbying for government support as the platform continued to eat into their profits, which have already been hurt by the advertising downturn.
The government's problem is that without terrestrial digital TV the switch-off can not go ahead as it is the only platform which can serve customers that can not receive cable -- which only passes 65% of UK homes -- or satellite because of planning problems.
ITV Digital also offers the only alternative to Sky Digital for the 35% of UK homes in remote areas that cable networks do not pass.
Carlton and Granada have been holding talks with the BBC, Channel 4 and possibly Channel 5 about a digital coalition, which would allow ITV Digital to use their combined terrestrial satellite broadcasting facilities.
It would also see the creation of a set-top box that would retail on the high street for £100 and be an option for consumers who only wanted to receive the free-to-air channels.
Then, those who wanted to receive some of the premium channels could upgrade to ITV Digital, eliminating the need for the platform to continue offering free set-top boxes -- which cost around £200 each -- and give it access to a load of new subscribers.
Irish company Novapal and Turkish TV maker Vestel Cabot have confirmed they are working on launching free-to-air digital receivers by the middle of next year.
Meanwhile, Pace Microelectronics and French set-top box maker Netgem are working on more sophisticated boxes. Pace wants to offer one that could be upgraded to receive subscription channels and Netgem is working on a box that could provide access to the internet via the TV.
Future owners of the proposed new boxes would be able to receive free-to-air channels such as BBC Choice, BBC Knowledge, ITV2, two 24-hour news channels BBC News 24 and ITN News, plus digital Teletext.
More free-to-air channels are said to be planned once the size of the digital TV audience increases.
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