Between 2008 and 2012 the UK plans to turn off its conventional analogue terrestrial television and switch fully to digital TV. This is part of a trend across all the technologically advanced nations of the world. The city of Berlin led the way in 2003. The Netherlands became the first country to switch fully in 2006. Digital television was launched in the UK in 1998. Its growth has been dramatic and by no means smooth. The decision to switch fully is, at its heart, a political one: governments and regulators manage terrestrial spectrum and are ultimately responsible for switchover policy. Switching off the conventional analogue television signals to which consumers (and voters) have been accustomed for most of their lives poses a tricky political challenge. It cannot be accomplished by government diktat. Switching to Digital Television shows how, for success, public policy needs to work in conjunction with both competitive market forces and with organised broadcasting industry collaboration. Switching to Digital Television is an authoritative study of the policy of digital switchover. It is based primarily on UK experience but includes comparative studies spanning the United States, Japan and the leading countries of western Europe.
Michael Starks is an associate of the program in comparative media law and policy at Oxford University. He is the former manager of the UK Digital TV Project and has directed much of the BBC’s work on digital television.