The UK's BBC has pledged to invest #1 billion pounds in digital technology over the next five years, but US experts are already predicting that the path to digital TV will be a bumpy one.
The US Senate is confident that digital signals are the future of television, but believes there will be some big hurdles to jump first - primarily consumer confusion, the cost of equipment and cable incompatibility.
US Congress has already asked the industry to let go of its its current VHF and UHF channels by 2006, the date when nearly all Americans will supposedly be watching digital television (DTV). US broadcasters doubt they will be able to meet the deadline.
The BBC, which has already started to run a 'softening up' campaign in the media aimed at digital sceptics, believes the transition will be far easier in the UK. The company spent #96 million last year getting ready for the country?s digital TV launch this autumn. It has now decided to invest 10 per cent of the revenue from its licence fee over the next five years in digital TV, radio and online technology.
?Digital TV is indisputably the future of TV,? commented a BBC spokesperson. ?We have always been a pioneer and we aim to pioneer digital in the same way we did colour TV."
The BBC is confident that consumers, who will have to pay for a digital set-top decoder or pay a cable subscription, will take up the new technology quite rapidly. ?The British public has always had a good rate of uptake for new technology - look at videos and microwaves," said the BBC?s spokesperson.
It is thought around 60 per cent of the public already has an awareness of digital technology and links it with better quality, thanks to digital cameras and compact discs.
Unlike the commercially funded ITV, the BBC is paying to be part of the BSkyB digital satellite package, which will ensure that its channels are ?universally available? on digital terrestrial, digital satellite and digital cable platforms.
Five services, plus a digital text service, will be available at no extra charge to licence payers. 'Free' services include News 24 round the clock TV news; BBC Choice, which will provide its own programmes plus best of the week before; a Learning Channel; and BBC1 and BBC 2 broadcast in digital widescreen format.
In contrast to the UK, two-thirds of Americans receive TV via cable, which may speed uptake. But also unlike the UK, the US has many small stations, which will have to invest millions of dollars to go digital, but are worried no-one will watch the programmes unless they are distributed by local cable systems.
During the US transition to digital, local stations will be allowed to have two channels, one for digital, the other for analogue. Most cable systems lack the channel space to carry both digital and analogue signals, but upgrades are under way to provide the space, confirmed US Congress.
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