Britain's analogue TV broadcast signal will not now be switched off entirely before 2012 - two years later than the 2010 target date promoted by the government until recently, and a full six years after the original, optimistic projections that digital switchover could come as early as 2006.
Culture secretary Tessa Jowell confirmed in the House of Commons that the target date has been put back just over three weeks after BBC director general Mark Thompson remarked that the 2010 deadline was going to be "a stretch".
It also came just days after Jowell unveiled research on public attitudes to the BBC which underlined the importance of the corporation's role in popular perception as a technology leader.
Jowell qualified her statement by saying that the process of switching off BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five analogue services could begin in some regions by 2007. The reality is that digital switch-off will be a regional patchwork spread over time rather than a single, big symbolic date.
"While broadcasters have not yet reached a full consensus on the optimum timetable, some - including the BBC - have suggested that 2012 may be the most appropriate date for the completion of switchover," Jowell said in a statement. "This could mean beginning the switching sequence as early as 2007".
Viewers will be encouraged to upgrade to digital equipment by ensuring all new sets have a 'sell by' label, warning buyers that the set will become obsolete within a given time-frame. "Consumers must have clear, unbiased information about what is available on each platform and from each provider so that they can make an informed choice," Jowell added.
An Ofcom examination of the criteria for digital switchover, led by senior partner Ed Richards, recently called for the formation of SwitchCo - an alliance of industry groups including broadcasters, retailers and manufacturers - to add momentum to the drive for digital switchover. It appears that the government is reluctant to help fund such a group.
Ofcom chief executive Stephen Carter said the move towards switch-off would gather pace over the summer. "Discussions to date have been productive and we share the government's enthusiasm for the progress made by all parties," he said.
Marcus Coleman, director-general of the Digital Television Group, said: "It is pleasing to see clarity emerging on the switchover timetable based upon a realistic and meaningful analysis of the substantial task in hand.
"The marketplace needs certainty that switchover is actually going to happen and happen in a managed and controlled manner. This statement today is one more step towards that goal.
"The DTG supports the Government's recognition that consumers will need unbiased information to help them make informed choices. The planned switchover logo mentioned in the statement could have a significant role to play in this respect.
"The DTG continues to work with, and on behalf of, its cross-industry membership to help create a successful environment in which to launch and sustain the logo."
Lovelace Consulting | 22.07.2004