One of the challenges facing Stephen Carter’s replacement as head of the UK communications regulator Ofcom, is how the frequency spectrum released by the move to digital terrestrial TV will be allocated. Not only is the decision crucial for Ofcom, who must reconcile both the requirement to allow the market to operate while taking into account the British citizen, but it also figures in the BBC’s strategy around the impending licence settlement and the organisations’ worldwide ambitions.
Although the World Cup has not been the High Definition eruption many in the electronics retailing sector had hoped for, there is now a realisation in the industry; that the move to adoption of flat screen TV displays has started in the homes of Great Britain.
How will displays receive the content to create the impetus for a large scale take up? The likely options are; Cable under what is expected to be a Virgin branded offering; Sky who are pushing HD to protect and grow their revenue; the BBC who are committed to both an alternative to Sky on Satellite and providing their content on all viable platforms and broadband, which looks increasingly viable by virtue of higher transfer rates to the home, along with improved digital compression technologies.
The issue for Ofcom is, should the frequency spectrum vacated by analogue TV go to the highest bidder (which on past experience looks likely to be mobile communications of some sort), or should it propel TV into the HD age with the potential benefit for the UK’s important media industries?
France, slower off the blocks in moving to a Digital Terrestrial TV service, with its’ amusingly acronym-ed TNT, has a solution that builds in HD capabilities, and for sure the UK will not wish to be seen falling behind mainland Europe.
And where does the BBC anguish become an issue? Well, if the only methods of receiving HD are by commercial operators Sky and Cable, how does the BBC reconcile the cost to all viewers when only a subset can receive it? The BBC is terrified of losing arguments that could justify a decrease of its universal fee, or marginalisation of its place as a leader in the deployment of advanced distribution and production technology. They’re actively lobbying to make sure that new frequency plans allow for both mobile TV and HD terrestrial.
Given all this, it looks like Stephen Carter could be showing admirable timing skills in vacating the OFCOM hot seat.