Page last updated at 08:40 GMT, Friday, 17 February 2006

Digital broadcasting: Ask the industry

Couple with TV remote control

The digital age is transforming entertainment - and this is your chance to question key figures at the top of the industry.

A virtual panel of broadcasting executives is waiting to answer your questions about how new technology is changing the way you watch TV and listen to radio.

Send your questions below. They may relate to the broadcasting industry's current practices or the future of TV and radio in the digital era.

Does the industry let you watch and listen how you want? How will traditional broadcasters cope when viewers have more control?

Why must the UK switch to digital TV by 2012? Or will we all be watching over the internet by then anyway?

We will post a range of questions here and pick the eight most important and common ones to be answered by the panel.

The broadcasting panel comprises:

  • Brian Sullivan, BSkyB's head of customer products and services, who is leading Sky's development of new technologies such as high definition TV, TV via broadband and TV via mobile phones.

  • Patrick Walker, who is responsible for developing content strategy and partnerships for Google Video in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Google Video is expanding its service to allow users to buy and watch TV shows over the internet.

  • Ford Ennals, chief executive of Digital UK, the body in charge of promoting and co-ordinating the UK's switch from analogue to digital TV between 2008-2012.

  • Ian Dickens, chief executive of the Digital Radio Development Bureau, the trade body representing digital radio broadcasters in the UK.

  • Simon Spanswick, chief executive of the Association for International Broadcasting, which represents cross-border broadcasters, and an expert in digital radio and TV technology.


This debate has now closed.

I sit and watch an action scene degrade to digital mush as the provider is skimping on the bandwidth. I have no recourse on this. In the future, my ads may be unskippable, events unrecordable, recordings may come with forced expiry and it could be illegal to try and work around any of it. Who will be looking out for the viewer when digital broadcasting becomes compulsory, and will they have any voice?
D White, Reading

The advent of technologies like the Slingbox from Slingmedia will allow the individual to watch TV from the UK anywhere else in the world over a broadband connection - I could set up my digital TV in the UK and then watch the BBC programme here in Bratislava for instance - what are the implications broadcasters, their broadcasting licences and their revenues?
Chris McGeachin, Bratislava - Slovakia

I have Sky+, but I can't use any of its recording features whilst using a BBC (or other broadcasters') interactive services. Are there any plans to sort this out, such as by giving the interactive feeds channel numbers, like on Freeview?
Paul Jefferson, Leyland, England

TV on demand via broadband gets touted a lot nowadays. What will be done for those of us who have already reached the max speed for broadband due to distance limitations ? (1mb in my case ?)
Paul Gale, Southampton, UK

When will Sky and the cable companies allow users to install proper digital tuners in their PCs for watching TV? Currently the only option is to use a combination of set top boxes and IR "blasters" which is not only unreliable but also degrades the signal!
Alistair, Berkshire, UK

Why do services like Google Video and more importantly BBC IMP try to impose restrictions beyond those that exist in copyright law or existing TV systems?

Aren't viewers, especially those that have already paid for the BBC through the licence fee, better off getting versions free of DRM from unofficial sources?
Ewan Mac Mahon, York

In a world where every radio and TV station could conceivably be received anywhere on the Earth, via the internet or satellite technology, will local stations be able to survive? Will their unique services to the community warrant the efforts to keep them alive, in the face of competition from the bigger, more global players?
Stuart, Vancouver, Canada

In the Isle of Man, although our Island is a separate country from the UK, we still pay the same TV license fee as people in the UK. We do not, however, receive the same level of service as people in the UK. Nor do we receive the same level of service as those people in Guernsey and Jersey, who have their own radio station provided by the BBC whereas the Isle of Man does not. We do not have access to Freeview channels, or digital radio. We pay the same license fee, will we eventually get the same level of service as UK citizens?
Peter Fisher, Port Erin, Isle of Man

We cannot get digital at the moment without changing our aerial which we cannot do as we are in a listed building. Even with a changed aerial plus boosters, a friend 2 miles nearer the transmitter says they switch back to analogue because the reception it is better. Will the coverage be improved before the switch?
John Douglas, Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Why should the licence fee payer have to pay all the costs of helps schemes and communications when the Government will pocket massive proceeds (at least £5bn) from the spectrum released through switchover.
Susan Collins, London UK

I get my digital TV service from ntl, and have recently received their 'On Demand' service that allows me to watch movies and the best of the week's BBC TV when I want. Some of my friends live outside of a cable area and I wondered if this sort of service will be available nationwide by 2012?
Rachael Bruce, Northampton

What does Sky think about the ever increasing availability of good quality free premier league streaming over the internet? Because of broadband streaming is now of a much higher quality making it comparable to watching a small television. Are their any plans to offer a legal internet based service when the new contract is negotiated?
Chris, England

What is the real fate of Internet TV ? Is an I-TV transmission watched simultaneously by millions going to be feasible in near future? The SD signal in already lossy MPEG4 format takes up to 3Mb/s of a bandwidth. Imagine a mere million of viewers scattered around the world and across a plethora of ISPs each one of them sucking 3Mb/s at the same time from the same source. It's a whopping 3Tb/s of upload. Does it sound doable at all considering existing technology and infrastructure of the networks?
Przemek, Stevenage, Herts

Is the timetable for switch off of analogue radio signals the same as that for analogue TV, and will the bitrate/sound quality issue be resolved before of after the switchoff has occurred?
Dave Finlow, Manchester, UK

Why is the bandwidth of the terrestrial digital channels lower than that of their equivalent analogue counterparts (after decompression)? Why do the terrestrial broadcasters chop the top and bottom off the original 4:3 aspect ratio images to create an illusion of ¿widescreen'. Is this done to reduce the data rate and consequently reduce the compression artifacts in the digital transmission?
Stephen Elton, Durham, England

I have been asking questions of the BBC, my MP and others for about 2 years: Digital Reception FAILS in certain weather conditions, whilst analogue and FM radio may become snowy or hissy they have never failed to be watchable or audible. Whilst there are "benefits" in digital in terms of quality and interactivity it is in my opinion inferior since reception is not guaranteed. I strongly suspect that in a few years we will have to "pay to view/listen", achievable for digital broadcasts but not so for FM and analogue... Just another tax.
David, London

DAB claims to have more radio stations, but where I live I can pick up stations from as far as Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire. Will I still be able to pick up the 20 or so radio stations which aren't for my region through DAB?
Dylan, Wrexham, North Wales

For all the early promises about DAB radio, its sound quality does not come close to that of FM. Accepting the fact that in any response to criticism of DAB quality the BBC invariably fudges the answer by mixing reception quality and audio quality, can you state whether BBC digital radio audio quality will ever be allowed to match that provided by FM?
Chris Rowe, Milton Keynes

When I watch a DVD on my PC monitor, the picture is superb - even when viewed from short distance. Will HDTV be as good?
Paul Smith, Farnborough, Hants.

Many people are sure to find the switch-over to digital TV confusing, unnecessary and expensive - how can the Government and TV industry justify switching off the analogue signal?
Jonathan, Nottingham

If the BBC music and film archive was built up using the licence fee, when will it become available for download? What are the reasons behind not offering it to the British public who have effectively paid for it?
Alex, UK

When will HDTV be introduced to digital services, will I need a new decoder to receive and use HD, and if so, how much would he receiver cost?
Darragh Donnelly, Colchester, UK

What do you expect the effect of the BBC IMP (that will allow downloading of BBC programmes up to a week after broadcast) will be on commercial broadcasters?

Can we expect a similar advertising funded totally free service from the other broadcasters, or do you think that the current ridiculously overcharging (about £1) to download (from a currently limited selection of) already aired programmes or short "specials" to remain?
David Giles, Cricklade, UK

Traditional broadcast media is usually governed by a geographical copyright e.g. a broadcaster buys the rights to show a movie in the UK only. Given that digital media respects no such boundaries are there any plans to move towards a subscription based copyright model which would allow people to (legitimately) access broadcasts from abroad?
Stephen, Germany

Personal Video Recorders (PVR) systems have always been prevented from employing systems to automatically skip or not record adverts by media companies. The reason cited for product placement in TV programs is because PVRs make it a lot easier for a viewer to "fast forward" through the advertisements. Now that product placement is to be allowed in the UK shouldn't we have the choice to buy technology that skips adverts? Are media/advertising companies having their cake and eating it to the detriment of the general public as usual?
Justin Spooner, Wales

Regarding Interactive services: Will there ever be one standard software application for the running and access of Interactive services across all the Digital TV platforms (ie Cable, Freeview and Satellite), eventually?
Dominic Maudlin, Lowestoft, Suffolk, UK

As part of the "ex-pat" community, I would warmly welcome the chance of being able to keep closely in touch with my cultural roots. I and many others of my ilk worldwide would love to take advantage of any opportunity to benefit from English television programmes. Pay-per-view via the internet appears to be a very viable option and would be revenue generating for the industry and open to the international community as a whole. Are there any plans afoot to provide such a service and how long before it is made available?
Ingrid, Vienna-Austria

I want to know what Sky doesn't allow Freesat customers to watch the same channels as Freeview? Especially when those who cannot get Freeview will then have to pay for the same channels which are free on Freeview.
B Robertson, Ardrossan, Ayrshire

Despite living in one of the major towns in the south-east, according to the postcode checker I am still not in an area covered by Freeview. What is being done to ensure all major towns and cities are covered?
Vince Williams, Stevenage, Herts

I have never owned a TV and I don't have one now because I have no interest in watching television. My main concern is that as I own a computer and use the internet for study and shopping, I will one day have to pay for a licence.

Is it really true that due to digital transforming, people who never watch TV will have to pay licence fees? Will computers need any modifications to watch online programs and is it possible to use a computer online that will not receive digital programmes?
Cheryl Shilvock, Ash Vale, Surrey

My boyfriend and I have invested in a top of the range HD LCD screen especially for this year's World Cup - so I'm desperate to find out if the BBC and ITV coverage will be in high def, and if so how will I get it?? I've tried calling various TV companies but no one can give me any information.
Fay, Woking, Surrey

When HDTV comes out, I'm told that we will have to have TV sets which support HDCP (Copy protection) or we won't be able to watch. What's the point of this? If I record an HDTV programme, will I be able to watch it on a different TV? Will I be able to record my camcorder onto DVD-Rs and play them? I just don't see the point.
John Smith, London, UK

As a British expat living abroad (Moscow)? will I be able to stream BBC or other British TV to Moscow by the Internet and so escape the banal and costly cable TV available here? I believe that many of us would be happy to pay a fee to receive such a service.
Thomas Langley, Moscow, Russia

When High Definition (HD) television is launched later this year, will I need to buy a HD digital receiver and a HD ready TV to enjoy the service? If so, what will be the estimated cost?
Tina, Liverpool

Are we going to be dogged by Digital Rights Management for TV recordings in the future? The music industry is already cracking down on what we can do with our purchased music files... will there be a similar fate for PVR's? (Personal Video Recorder).
Craig Mason, Oxford, UK

As purely a listening medium it is difficult to see where radio can improve beyond the excellent digital quality available at present. Can we expect any sea changes to the listening experience in the next 10 years? Is there any potential in exploring interactivity with the listener?
Glenn Southall, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

Will Sky be offering a system where programmes will be available on demand? I love Sky+ but find it really annoying when I miss programmes due to technical faults or power cuts, also sometimes there are more than 2 programmes on that I want to watch!

Is the soon to be BT system going to really do this, and will the coverage of programmes be extensive or quite limited?
Linda, Preston, United Kingdom

Most people have about 3 television sets. The second and third sets are mainly portable TVs picking up signals via a portable aerial. These sets will become useless unless people invest in a set top box for each TV.

My concern is that portable aerials are not able to pick up the digital signal. How do you propose to overcome this problem because I have found that the signal quality differs from room to room.
Keith Cotton, Stoke-on-Trent

Will the BBC still be able to justify its tax aka licence fee in the future if its shown that its audience share is diminished significantly by the abundance of new channels funded commercially?
Oliver Reed, Cambridge

Will the way we record television ratings change?
David, UK

Are there any plans to abolish the TV licence and make the BBC compete for viewers in an open market like all of their competitors? Do you believe that people will be more willing to invest in new digital technology when this unfair and unjust tax on television is abolished?
Justin Robinson, Cardiff

At present I'm told that digital radio runs approx seven seconds slower than analogue making it impossible to give an accurate time reading with news etc. Is there any plans to change that?
Joseph McTaggart, London

Why pay for a TV licence when non-UK residents can access live TV via internet or mobile phone? Specifically Eire which has always had this option and most of northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. How can it be managed if users can be anywhere in the world, ie a UK PC user in India?
John Smith, Leeds , England

With piracy concerns, concerns about cannibalising existing distribution channels, low visibility for consumer adoption (of more advanced functionality such as TV on handheld devices), how do you see TV and movie entertainment industry evolving as a business model?
Mark H, USA

Digital radios are heavily advertised as the latest gadget to have and that the quality of sound is an improvement over FM.

However, what is not revealed is that in some cases digital radio reception is worst than FM. This is certainly the case where we live. We have a digital radio but we can't get half the digital stations. Of those we do get we can only receive them when the radio is in the upstairs rooms and even then some e.g. Radio Two get severe interference.

What is the industry doing to ensure: that areas such as mine get the reception that is promised in the advertising; how long is it going to take and; given the cost of digital radios make it clearer that there are problems (in some areas) with reception. I only found out after reading the literature that came with the radio and logging on to the web site.
Gillian Neville, Gravesend England

Once the UK goes 100% digital in terms of television, will the freeing up of BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five on Freeview offer more space for more channels, if so, roughly how many?
Robbie, Liverpool

Hi, I would like to know when we can expect to see an HDTV service launching in the UK and what channels will be available?
Olly Morrison, United Kingdom

What do you think of the plans to release the new Wi-fi radio?
Dewi, Manchester

Regarding Freeview: When the analogue transmission ceases, will these channels (radio spectrum) be used for more digital channels or will the government sell it off to the highest bidder for any (non-TV) use?
Stephen John, Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire

Will HD TV have subtitles for the deaf?
David Stanford, Weeling

Is there any information about the BBC/ITV's FreeSat? Is there any news on the channel line-up and how much it will cost for the satellite dish and digibox?
Andy, Chelmsford, Essex.

What provisions are being made for high-definition content to be delivered with digital TV and when will we start to see it?
Wayne Briggs, Nottingham, UK

Send your questions to the panel below.

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The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.




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