SwitchCo: UK Unveiling This Week?

There’s been quite a lot of talk in the UK media about SwitchCo, the organisation tasked with switching from Analogue to Digital TV in the UK. Luke Gibbs of OfcomWatch wonders if it will come to life this week?

SwitchCo: UK Digital TV Unveiled This Week?It seems as though digital switchover has been going on for ages. And yet it hasn’t even begun – it’s just been a load of people talking about it!

Despite the Government announcing the creation of SwitchCo earlier in the year no-one has heard anything since. The only things we know for sure are that Barry Cox is the Chairman and some bloke called Ford Ennals is the Chief Executive. No website, no contact details, nothing – the proverbial blank screen. Perhaps it’s a precursor for what’s to come in 2012!

[ed. – an extremely limited site does seem to have emerged today!]

We also know that the Government remains committed to switchover. How? Because, the Labour Party election manifesto outlined the switchover process and thereby made both the process and timeframe an election pledge. So if you voted for Labour you voted for switchover. And if you didn’t vote for them or didn’t vote – well – tough luck they won the election.

Now, it’s possible that Labour will renege on its pledge. It’s certainly been known before for political parties to come into Government and do a spot of backtracking. Could this happen with switchover?

Well, later this week we may get some answers. On Thursday evening Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Rt Hon Tessa Jowell, MP, will make the keynote to the Royal Television Society’s bi-annual conference in Cambridge. As if Jowell hasn’t got enough high profile issues on her plate – licensing, Olympics, gambling – she also has digital switchover.

It is likely that in her keynote will offer a clearer vision of how switchover will take place and what SwitchCo’s role will be in making it happen.

After outlining the process it makes sense for SwitchCo to launch in earnest, publishing the technical and marketing plans for switchover. Will they be what the world has been waiting for?

SwitchCo: UK Digital TV Unveiled This Week?From a technical perspective switchover it is not going to be a walk in the park. A phased switchover to digital by geographical area between 2008 and 2012. And we’ll only know how many people might be unable to get digital television once the analogue signal has been turned off and the digital signal boosted.

The technicalities of switchover will be critical to acheiving it. However, the marketing plan will also be essential to its success. Bringing the two strands together will be no easy task.

A successful switch to digital will release swathes of spectrum for re-allocation. But switchover also provides an opportunity to embed digital technology in the core of people’s homes – digital television is fundamental to acheiving the long envisaged, much touted Digital Britain.

So SwitchCo needs to be more ambitious in its aims than just pushing people to takeup digtial television. Digital television is just the beginning of digital enablement not the end of it.

There may be temptation to promote Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) services such as Freeview over other digital services such as cable (D-Cab) or satellite (D-Sat) because it provides a low cost, convenient method of switching to digital television. However, it is also limiting as a digital technology, providing a few extra television channels and a low level of interactivity. Freeview might allow us to meet the proposed 2012 target but by then it will be out-moded.

It has already been stated that when SwitchCo does launch that it will take a platform neutral approach. So maybe we shouldn’t worry. However, switchover has the potential to become a political nightmare – and if it does there maybe a temptation to take the easiest possible route.

I am certainly not the first person to have pointed these things out. But I thought it was worth re-iterating ahead of various announcements this week, when potentially we will see an important new organisation emerge.