UK ends 70 years of analogue TV
October 24, 2012 09.36 Europe/London By Julian Clover

The UK, one of the first countries to commence digital TV switchover, has finally completed its £630 million project.

In doing so terrestrial television, known as Freeview, has extended its coverage to an additional 10 million viewers in reception blackspots. The original language of the digital dividend as given way to the promise of 4G next generation mobile services.

Digital Terrestrial Television began on November 15, 1998, when the first official signals were broadcast from Crystal Palace in South London. Pay-TV service On Digital commencing its fatal run alongside now defunct BBC brands BBC Choice and BBC Knowledge. The process of turning off analogue signals began in 2008.

The final switchover took place in the early hours of Wednesday morning when Olympic gold medalist Dame Mary Peters switched off the last analogue signals in the UK at the Divis transmitter, just outside Belfast and Freeview signals were boosted across Northern Ireland.

John Cresswell, CEO of transmission company Arqiva, said “Along with the completion of Digital Switchover, the launch of YouView cements 2012 as a landmark year in British Broadcasting. These developments should safeguard Britain’s broadcasting future, an exciting TV viewing platform for consumers, with free-to-air at its core that will continue to support a healthy UK media sector and creative industry”

Cresswell’s reference to YouView, the PSB-telco connected TV project in which Arqiva is also a shareholder, suggests that while switchover may have completed the UK consumer is facing a period of continued development.

The switchover campaign was led by Digital UK with Arqiva responsible for the transmitter upgrade, re-engineering of more than 1,100 transmitter sites.

David Scott, Chief Executive of Digital UK, said: ‘Today is a milestone for UK television. Over the last five years switchover has modernised the terrestrial TV network and ensured that the benefits of digital are available to everyone. I want to thank the many organisations that played a part in this success and the viewers who generally took the change in their stride. I am delighted we have not only completed the task on time but also significantly under budget.’

Digital UK estimates it has made savings of 37 per cent (£74 million) over the course of switchover.

The biggest broadcast engineering project ever in the UK, the digital switchover project has involved more than 1,200 man years of effort and the construction of five new TV masts, one the height of 70 double decker buses. With a range of 40 miles, covering 12 million homes in Greater London and surrounding counties, Crystal Palace represented the most complicated element of the switchover.