Market Insight

UK and Ireland complete switchover to digital terrestrial television

October 24, 2012

Martyn Hannant Martyn Hannant Manager – Research and Analysis, Service Providers & Platforms

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The final analogue terrestrial signals in the UK were switched off this week, with Northern Ireland the last region to switch over at 11.30pm on 23 October 2012. Ireland followed with the full transition to its free digital terrestrial (DTT) service Saorview on 24 October 2012.

Despite estimates from local sources that around 100,000 of Ireland’s TV households have failed to make the switch, analogue switch-off in the Republic went ahead as planned at 10am on 24 October 2012. The Irish switchover process has reportedly been characterised by a late surge in households switching to the replacement free DTT service Saorview as opposed to a gradual switchover, with a large proportion of primary analogue terrestrial households in Ireland switching in the month preceding yesterday’s switch-off date.

In both the UK and Ireland, some of the network space freed up by analogue switch-off will be used for mobile broadband services.

The UK’s region-by-region conversion of free analogue TV to free DTT has been a particularly long process in comparison to other Western European countries, starting in November 2007 when Whitehaven in Cumbria become the first area to switch over. In fact, if the UK’s initial launch of the ill-fated pay DTT service ONdigital in November 1998 is taken into account, digitisation of terrestrial television has taken the UK almost 14 years. This is the longest period of time to elapse between the launch of a DTT service and full analogue switch off in Western Europe.

In contrast to the UK, Ireland was the last Western European country to introduce a free DTT service when its Saorview service arrived in May 2011, which has resulted in a relatively short switchover period. Ireland’s switchover process was additionally assisted by the introduction of a six-channel free satellite platform, Saorsat, in Q1 2012, which was targeted at the two per cent of Irish households not covered by Saorview.

From the time of the first Freeview rollouts at the end of 2007 to the switch off yesterday, the UK television market has remained relatively unchanged. Free DTT was available on 35.2 per cent of primary TV sets at the end of 2007, and at the end of 2012 IHS Screen Digest estimates a penetration rate of 40.5 per cent. Pay TV penetration in the UK has also remained fairly stable, at around 46 per cent at 2007 and, we estimate, 54 per cent at the end of 2012. This is largely due to the well-established pay TV platforms from BSkyB and Virgin Media in the UK, and the slow and measured switchover in the UK. Due to Ireland’s comparatively swifter switchover process and the subsequent concerns in regard to the remaining analogue households, IHS Screen Digest expects to see a relative spurt in DTT penetration in comparison to the UK, as Irish households that previously relied on analogue as their primary form of viewing discover digital television. 

Freeview Saorview
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