BBC says digital TV a mass market reality

LONDON - BBC director general Greg Dyke has said that the switchover to digital TV in the UK has become a reality since the announcement that a £100 set-top box will be launched by April and with it 15 free-to-air digital channels.

News of the low-cost set top box came last week from Pace Microtechnology, Europe's biggest set-top box manufacturer, which said last week it would launch an adapter that could receive free-to-air digital channels. The box will retail at £100 and be a low-cost alternative to digital services currently on offer to people who did not want or could not afford to subscribe to the current offerings.

Speaking at the culture, media and sport select committee today, Dyke said the BBC was talking with fellow analogue terrestrial broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 about providing 15 more free digital channels via this new platform.

Dyke applauded Pace, saying that by charging £100 it had set a ceiling on the price of the box, which would eventually be lowered by competition in the marketplace.

According to Dyke: "It will be half that [price] in two or three years' time. That means digital switch-off becomes a reality. There are several million [people] who would be interested in a free-to-air box if it took them from five channels to 15 or 20."

Dyke's comments mark an about-turn on his position on the subject last year, when he said that he did not expect digital channels to be available in every home for a decade.

However, the new box makes the BBC's decision to spend licence-fee money on a raft of digital channels more acceptable. The broadcaster believes its digital TV offering will help speed up the transition to digital in the UK.

The government has been working towards a deadline for switching off the analogue signal between 2006 and 2010 because it wants to auction off the old analogue spectrum.

The UK is currently the world leader in digital TV uptake with almost 40% of households converted to digital, compared with a European average of 16.3%, according to research by Strategy Analytics.

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