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The National Audit Office has found that a good start has been made in preparing for the replacement by 2012 of the analogue television service with a digital one. Eighty-five per cent of households have already switched from analogue to digital TV for their main set. However, consumers will have to convert or replace another 26 million television sets if they wish to continue watching television on those sets after the switchover to digital.

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The Government estimates that the programme will cost the UK economy £4.6 billion, of which £3.8 billion is the cost to consumers of converting or replacing television sets. The Government estimates the benefits will be £6.3bn, largely through extending the geographical availability of existing services for consumers and the opportunity for new services.

A help scheme for the switchover which offers assistance to specified groups is being administered by the BBC and funded with up to £603 million ring-fenced by the Government in the licence fee to 2012-13. The first switchover in Copeland had some distinctive features which mean it may not be representative of future areas, but if national take-up were to mirror the lower than expected take-up in Copeland, then the funding requirement would be significantly lower than the ring-fenced amount. It is currently too early to draw firm conclusions on how much the scheme is likely to cost.

Over two thirds of the population is aware of what they need to do in order to continue watching television broadcasts after switchover. However, 31 per cent of people do not understand that they will need some form of digital equipment in order to continue to receive broadcast television. Understanding among some sections of the community – particularly Ethnic Minority and non-English speaking groups – is significantly lower.

In the first seven months of 2007, 45 per cent of all televisions sold in the UK were analogue, even though televisions are replaced on average every seven years. The Government introduced a ‘digital tick’ scheme to inform consumers about television services and equipment that will work through switchover, but 25 per cent of people do not know what the tick is, and in a mystery shopping exercise, around half of retail staff could not explain it satisfactorily.

“The Government’s digital switchover programme will affect almost every home in the UK and most of the costs will be met by consumers. Helping consumers through the switchover process requires strong and coordinated working between Government and delivery agencies.

“Progress so far is encouraging, but there is a long way to go with almost one third of licence fee payers still not understanding switchover, up to 26 million analogue television sets yet to be replaced or converted and nearly 1,200 transmitter sites to be upgraded.”

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office


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