Media Lifeline: HDTV

Once derided by even Rupert Murdoch, high-definition TV has become the latest must-have household accessory.

October 1998: In the mid-90s, Rupert Murdoch had been foremost among media owners dismissing high-definition TV as a white elephant. But its arrival in the UK becomes inevitable when Sky Digital is launched and cheap widescreen LCD TV sets hit the market.

December 2005: Though Sky has been making all the running (in terms of marketing and publicity), cable beats it to market - albeit in a limited fashion. On 1 December, a beta group of 400 selected Telewest customers gets the opportunity to trial an HDTV decoder box. The bad news is that content is still limited because few broadcasters have begun making HDTV as standard - The Blue Planet from the BBC is probably still the main wow-factor show.

May 2006: But the Fifa World Cup in Germany is expected to be a significant driver of HDTV uptake, and Sky confirms that it is to begin installations in May - a month before the tournament begins - to customers who have pre-registered. Some households are destined to be disappointed as demand outstrips supply - clearly a short-term embarrassment, but, analysts say, a good long-term indicator that uptake could be rapid.

February 2007: A new report from Informa confirms this supposition when it reveals that just over two million UK homes had upgraded to HDTV by the end of 2006, and the figure is now projected to rise to 8.8 million (or just over a third of all UK homes) by 2011. It also predicts that, by that date, there will be more than 150 million HDTV households worldwide, 80 per cent of which will be in the US and Japan.

November 2007: Ofcom's chief, Ed Richards, reveals plans for an upgrade of the digital terrestrial TV platform, which will allow it to carry HDTV channels by 2010. The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 will be able to broadcast in HD while maintaining their low-definition Freeview channels.

Fast forward ...

2012: Now Ofcom kicks open a political hornets' nest when, days after analogue TV switch-off is completed (not, in its final months, a controversy-free process), it announces proposals to phase out low-definition TV transmission in time for the Fifa World Cup in Scotland in 2018. The host nation in particular calls for UK government subsidies to ensure less wealthy citizens do not become a disenfranchised media underclass.

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