Spectrum allocation and the future of Digital Terrestrial Television

Our Managing Director of Digital Platforms, Charles Constable, recently spoke at the Westminster Media Forum on the debate surrounding Spectrum allocation and the future of DTT. Here he addresses the concerns and highlights the future and critical role of DTT.

Future DTT Spectrum Allocation

Future DTT Spectrum Allocation

Question: What spectrum allocation is needed after the next digital switchover to accommodate the UK DTT of the future

Answer: We need enough for the DTT platform to deliver the fantastic array of quality television it does now, in formats that viewers will expect to receive it in, and delivered utilising less spectrum than Freeview or the DTT platform has at present.

Question: Alongside spectrum allocation, how are innovative technologies and content strategies in the UK, shaping the future for the UK’s DTT platform?

Answer: Provided DTT has enough spectrum in the future, we must ensure that it will remain the UK’s most popular and successful platform. DTT must continue to play its absolutely central role in driving innovation, consumer choice, and price competition across all television platforms, both old and new. I think importantly, it can also play a very significant role in driving future broadband take-up and digital literacy across the UK.

Charles Constable, Managing Director of Digital Platforms, Arqiva

Television remains central to most people’s lives.

In 2013 the average punter watched 3 hours and 52 minutes a day of linear TV, on a TV set. Based on 8 hours sleep, that’s nearly a quarter of our waking lives. To view that amount of content, Freeview remains the most popular way; it accounts for 44% of all television viewing and importantly 55% of public service broadcasting viewing. It underpins the UK’s highly successful track record and creative endeavour and the funding of some of the best domestic television content on the planet. I think that DTT will remain the most important way to watch television for a long time to come, and the platforms forecast – to add more primary homes over the next 4-5 years than any other broadcast platform – will extend its market leading position.

Convergence is now real.

Television is now both one-screen-many-people and one-person-many-screens. Martini TV is an increasing reality. In 2013 3.5 minutes a day of television was watched on tablets, smartphones and laptops, that’s about 1.5% of the total. I think that linear TV will retain the lion’s share of eyeballs for the foreseeable future, even more so given that the majority of on-demand viewing is catch up, and is anchored around the linear schedule.

So just ahead of any future spectrum release, in about five or six years' time, I think there will be more DTT homes than ever.

Therefore DTT will be more important than ever to meet consumer’s viewing needs, to sustain investment in high-quality UK origination and to drive competition and innovation.

That’s why it’s critical to the UK creative industries for Freeview to continue to have access to enough spectrum to enable it to continue to offer the stunning range of top-notch content and have room to keep innovating.

Despite the ever growing demand from mobile operators for more spectrum, Freeview needs to be able, in my view, to offer the same number of channels, both PSB and commercial, as it does today, and the same number of people need to be able to receive it who receive it today. It should offer consumers, broadcasters and advertisers the regionality it delivers now, and this all needs to be in the viewing format that consumers expect. For me that means HD has an important role to play.

Commitment will help drive innovation.

There are two main areas of innovation that we see; HD and hybrid television.

Last year Ofcom awarded Arqiva a licence for two new HD Freeview multiplexes. We’ve launched one and will reach our population coverage target of 70% by June this year. The BBC has launched BBC News HD, BBC4 HD and CBeebies HD with us, joining Al Jazeera English HD and Al Jazeera Arabic SD on the multiplex. There’s just one more HD slot to fill.

Some people pour cold water on HD saying consumers only notice when it’s sports programming, but the fact that pay TV platforms pay millions every year to keep HD channels off free-to-air, reveals HD’s importance. I think this will only increase as 4K sets and audiences’ seamlessly endless appetite for larger screen sizes continues, particularly with the World Cup.

Hybrid television is an absolutely critical area for future innovation on DTT, as well as all television platforms. Hybrid TV complements DTT; it allows free-to-air viewers to dip into pay TV on a targeted à la carte lower cost basis, have seamless access to catch up and VoD content, have the ability to transact or interact and the ability to consume content across devices and locations and that’s even before anyone in the industry gets rich working out what on earth we do with big data in the future! It makes the underlying linear television content far more valuable and far more attractive. This is why Arqiva has invested in YouView and in ventures which bring hybrid TV capability across the DTT platform to Freeview homes as well. Arqiva’s Connect TV platform delivers IP linear and VoD programming directly into the Freeview EPG all via the red button from Freeview channels, with associated analytics and data services.

Number one television.

The investment in innovation will, spectrum permitting, sustain DTT. I don’t see IPTV as a substitute for the current broadcast platform for a long time, if indeed ever. At present the Government’s 2017 target of 95% broadband penetration will leave 3 million homes without access to broadband, and there remain millions who could access it but don’t, some because they feel they can’t afford it. Even today, if you have it you can’t be sure it will work and that’s just not good enough for television.

As the number one television distribution platform with no meaningful alternative, DTT needs sufficient spectrum to sustain its vital role in underpinning the UK’s television industry. This will provide the foundation to sustain innovation to help drive connectivity, digital literacy, competition and consumer choice.