As one country finishes its analogue switch-off, another begins. On Monday morning at 8.45am Sweden’s Culture Minister, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, switched off the country’s last remaining analogue terrestrial transmitter at Hörby in Skåne.
Two days later, in the UK, the same process is just beginning. This morning 20,000 households in Whitehaven
, in Cumbria in northern England, woke up to find that BBC2 was no longer available on the analogue terrestrial service. Actually, if everything went according to plan, this should not have surprised any of the residents of this small coastal town. Over the next month the remaining analogue channels (BBC1, ITV and Channel Four) will also be removed, leaving room for the replacement DTT channels offered by Freeview.
Is this a case of the UK falling behind? It would be easy to play the blame game as different European countries progress at their own pace towards an all-digital future. Sweden in fact is the fourth country (after the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Finland) to end analogue terrestrial TV, and a number of German Laender are also digital-only. The UK may just be beginning the process, but it is not the slowest. France and Spain have yet to begin switch-off, and Italy has just revised its schedule
The irony is that the countries that have succeeded in moving quickly towards switch-off are not necessarily the most successful in promoting digital TV. In fact, the UK still has the highest penetration of digital TV in Europe (more than 80% of homes have at least one TV able to watch digital channels). The secret in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany is that many homes there have not used analogue terrestrial TV for many years – they use analogue cable TV, and continue to do so. It is in the less cabled countries – such as France, Spain, Italy and the UK - where switch-off is most challenging. Even though digital penetration in the UK is high, the switch-off process will be arduous. Converting all the second and third TV sets, as well as recorders (VCRs and DVD recorders) to digital will not be a trivial task. If Whitehaven proves successful, the UK's 2012 deadline will looking increasingly realistic.