Ilse Howling, Managing Director of UK digital terrestrial TV platform Freeview, has suggested that the future of the service is at risk should unfavourable decisions be made in terms of the reuse of UHF spectrum.
Advising delegates at the Westminster eForum Keynote Seminar on ‘The future of free-to-air TV’ that the platform had reached 2.6 million HD viewers, with an additional half a million in the first quarter of the year, Howling suggested that in order for Freeview to continue thriving, it was essential to set aside the 600MHz band. “If you lose the 600 MHz band and the 700 MHz band, Freeview will be a pale imitation of itself,” she warned.
She reiterated previously-expressed concerns that mobile operators should bear the cost of protecting viewers’ TV services. Noting that 2.3 million households are at risk of losing their digital TV signal from 4G interference, Freeview has called on the Government urgently to revise its 4G proposals on the levels of support being offered to consumers.
Her concerns were echoed by Charles Constable, Managing Director, Digital Platforms at broadcast infrastructure specialist Arqiva, who said that viewers should be entitled to receive the services they were already getting “without having to put their hands in their pockets”.
He stressed that the matter should be addressed straight away, as there was a risk of setting precedents, particularly in respect of the so-called ‘White Spaces’ of ” of unused spectrum between broadcast TV channels. “I don’t think a clear and compelling case has been made for using spectrum in this way,” he suggested, adding that if this were the case, it should be a requirement for DTT spectrum to be found to maintain existing services and development technologically.
Kim Chua, Strategy Consultant and Value Partners Management Consultants, warned that the 4G spectrum issue risked becoming another Digital Switchover, but “on steroids”. Furthermore, free-to-air TV would be weakened by the loss of 700 MHz, leading to capacity constraints, and a reduced ability to spend on content.
She recommended that policy-makers should support digital terrestrial TV’s ability to compete on functionality; safeguard the ability to invest in original content, and simplify and streamline the DTT value chain to speed up platform development.