The Digital TV Group (DTG) has lashed out at proposals by industry regulator Ofcom for the development of high-definition terrestrial television in the UK, saying it could lead to a second-class HDTV service on Freeview.
Dermot Nolan, the new director general of the DTG, says Ofcom's current proposals for the introduction of high-definition services could seriously compromise digital terrestrial television's long-term viability.
He believes there should be a comprehensive national strategy for HDTV encompassing all TV platforms (Freeview, cable and satellite) to ensure the UK doesn't end up with first- and second-class HDTV services.
The DTG has specific concerns in the following areas:
1. Ofcom's proposals only allow for a very restricted HDTV service on DTT (3-4 channels). Implementing those services is likely to compromise the picture quality and reach of the existing standard-definition channel line-up.
2. Ofcom's proposals are entirely reliant on the reconfiguration of existing services on the existing multiplexes. That process is likely to require considerable investment and may be very difficult due to long-term contractual arrangements. Furthermore some services may be lost entirely to certain UK nations.
3. The international trend towards high quality HDTV has been established in cable, disc players, games consoles, IPTV, satellite, and also via terrestrial in the US, South Korea, Australia, Japan and many other countries.
However the Ofcom proposals call for a lower quality HDTV service - operating at approximately half the current transmission rate of established UK HDTV services now broadcasting on cable and satellite.
4. The 3-4 channel HDTV service proposed by Ofcom for the Freeview platform significantly undermines the Public Service Broadcasters' ability to deliver a common, simultaneous sustaining HDTV service to each of the competing UK delivery platforms (cable, Freesat, Freeview, IPTV, and Sky).
It removes the possibility of delivering the economies of scale which a common sustaining service would deliver and may compromise PSB's competitive position in what is now a burgeoning international HDTV market.
5. Private commercial broadcasters who have invested significantly in Freeview are concerned about the emergence of a HD 'digital divide' between HD-haves and HD-have nots. Their legitimate commercial concerns are not reflected in Ofcom's current proposals.
6. In the forthcoming DDR spectrum auctions, currently scheduled for 2009, broadcasters could potentially win spectrum at auction to deliver SDTV or HDTV and use whichever DTT transmission technology they preferred as the auctions are planned to be technology and service neutral.
7. Ofcom's proposals are based on a series of 'forward-looking' assumptions regarding the development of embryonic new transmission standards and the evolution of currently available commercial compression standards. These 'forward-looking' assumptions about timing, technology and transition are still to be convincingly demonstrated in practical systems.
8. In 2012, when the digital switchover is complete, Ofcom's own modelling indicates Freeview holding a 50 per cent share of the market. It is a platform that has been resoundingly endorsed by the consumer, as evidenced by their £15 billion + investment in digital equipment.
That investment is seriously compromised if a 'two tier' system of public service broadcasting is created and is at odds with the implied Universal Service Obligation of Public Service Broadcasters.