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EDITIONS
Friday, 5 July, 2002, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
BBC Digital TV: Expert answered your questions

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  • Click here to read the transcript


    The BBC and transmission company Crown Castle have been awarded the digital television licences vacated by the collapse of ITV Digital.

    Under the BBC deal, viewers will get 24 free-to-air TV channels, including some from satellite broadcaster BSkyB, as well as interactive and digital radio services.

    The BBC's digital TV package will require consumers to make a one-off payment for a digital receiver, which currently costs less than 100, but which is expected to come down in price.

    Viewers with ITV Digital boxes will be able to receive the package.

    Do you think the new digital package represents the best deal for consumers? How will you be affected by the deal? Do you think that licence fee payers should have to fund the new service?

    Carolyn Fairbairn, BBC Director of Strategy answered your questions on how this will affect you in a LIVE interactive forum.


    Transcript

    Newshost:
    Hello I'm Andrew Simmons and welcome to this BBC interactive forum which is all about us, or rather free-to-air digital television. The Independent Television Commission has awarded the digital TV licences left by the collapse of broadcaster ITV Digital to the BBC and transmission company Crown Castle. The BBC offer includes 24 free-to-air TV channels, including some from satellite broadcaster BskyB, as well as interactive and digital radio services.

    Well you've been sending us hundreds of e-mails about the new package and here to answer some of them is the BBC Director of Strategy Carolyn Fairbairn. Thank you very much for joining us. I'll get straight to the e-mails. The first one from Richard Simpson who's from Bedford. "When will this new service be available? How do you plan to improve on the reception provided by ITV Digital?" Important question which a lot of people, I know, want an answer to.

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    Well it's terribly important because as I think a lot of people know it was technology that was one of the big problems with ITV Digital. We want to get up and running by the autumn, we think we need to get this going as soon as we possibly can to restore confidence in the platform. In terms of how we can fix the technology - we've done a lot of work over the last two and three months and we've discovered that if you reduce the number of channels on the platform, there are currently on the ITV Digital platform - there is room for about 40, by reducing that to about 24, and so spreading the channels out more, we discovered that we can radically improve reception and also there were a lot of problems that people had with buses going past, opening the fridge door, the picture would break up, we can pretty well eradicate that problem.

    Newshost:
    What about the timeframe though, because Richard wants to know when it's all going to happen, when will it launch ...

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    In the autumn.

    Newshost:
    And will it be technically ...?

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    Yes, I mean the good thing about this is that you can pretty well switch the button overnight to change the way the signal is broadcast. And we're at the same time going to do power increases which may take a little longer but when we launch in the autumn there will already be substantial improvements.

    Newshost:
    Ok, Ian who's from England wants to know: "Will we be able to receive the new digital service from the BBC on the old ITV Digital boxes that so many of us still have?" And Ian Chard from Candie in Scotland wants to know: "Who'll take ownership of the old ITV Digital set top boxes? Will it be the viewers or the BBC?" A lot of confusion over this can you clear all that up?

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    Yeah. First of all they will work, the ITV Digital boxes, will work. What will happen is as people who currently have them know they are currently receiving the narrow range of free-to-view services with the reception problems. When we launch the new service they will discover they can receive many more free-to-view services and we hope they will see real improvements in picture quality. In terms of ownership of the set top boxes they technically were owned by ITV Digital, however we do not think it is likely - and therefore now they're actually in the hands of the receiver - we think it's very unlikely that there will be any moves to do anything with those, so they will stay in possession of the viewers. And in terms of the servicing of the set top boxes going forward we would like to help all digital DTT consumers, including the ITV Digital consumers.

    Newshost:
    And how much would it cost to buy one of these set top boxes if you don't want to subscribe to these other things - satellite ...?

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    Well at the moment there are boxes on the market around about 99. We're pretty confident they'll come down in price quite quickly, people are talking about 79 next year, 59 the year after. So coming down quite sharply.

    Newshost:
    Ok, a question here from Craig Balsillie from Lanarkshire, a lot of questions from Scotland here: "As an ITV Digital customer how much will I have to pay to get the new service and exactly what channels will I be able to receive?"

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    No cost, not a bean. And what you will receive will be the channels that you have now, which is the BBC's free-to-view channels, they can also get ITV2, TV Channel Shop, QVC - a total of about 12 channels. There will be an additional eight or nine channels and very good interactivity. I'll explain in a bit more detail about that. The kind of channels that we hope to come on to the platform include, for example, a new history channel, there will be a new entertainment channel, what has been said to be a new music channel, a community channel will be on which is a public service channel. So a good range. They'll be a movie channel, Turner Classic Movies, Boomerang, a children's service, and in the news area there will be CNN and Sky News and also Sky Sports News which for those people who've seen it on satellite it's actually quite a lot more than a news service, it provides a very good highlights service as well.

    Newshost:
    And the BBC News 24 of course.

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    Of course absolutely.

    Newshost:
    And on that interactivity, a serious point, because it is quite a complicated issue isn't it, I mean what the viewers are seeing now, those who are watching on digital television at the moment, digital satellite television I hasten to add, seeing us not as a channel but as part of that section of interactivity - the red button. Now what sort of interactive delights do you have to offer - I mean how far are you planning at this stage with terrestrial from the aerial - this service, for example, is this likely to be the sort of thing you're offering?

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    It's been a real frustration to us not being able to do the same kind of interactivity on DTT, as we were able to do on satellite. So, for example, this service is not currently available on DTT but with the changes in the technology and the way we're going to do it going forward it will be there. So this service will be available. Interactive Wimbledon? I don't know if you've seen that service Andrew. People really like this freedom to be able to choose different courts, watch a particular match and the World Cup was terrific. So if we can get up and running in the autumn, as we hope, then we'll be doing sporting events through the autumn, things like some of our top natural history programmes, like the Blue Planet, we have some new very exciting natural history programmes coming up which also have interactivity on DTT now. So it's a real breakthrough I think.

    Newshost:
    Mike McGowan from London, he's asking: "Surely one of the great advantages of digital television is that it provides a huge choice to its customers but this new deal does not offer the most popular channels or programmes. Given that the BBC has now condemned my old ITV Digital box to a bleak future am I immune from the inevitable licence fee rises that will occur to pay for the programmes that I may not even be able to receive on cable?"

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    Well first of all the choice of channels will be wide. For many people who don't currently have digital television they've got five channels, this actually is giving them an additional 19 channels, so I think actually it is a wide choice. What is true though is it will not now offer pay channels, the channels that you pay a monthly subscription for. However, there are two platforms that do offer those services - cable and satellite - there is still very much that choice there. So far from seeing this service condemning any particular group to any particular future it is actually giving a real choice to people who want a very simple service, not to pay a subscription, very easy to use - take a box home plug it in.

    Newshost:
    Right Chris Chambers from Dorchester. "Many people have been excluded until now from the TV revolution, the previous terrestrial digital package was never available in my area - Dorset for example - will the BBC aim to increase digital coverage to include more of the UK?"

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    DTT is still not going to be perfect and still will not cover the whole country. There is just no way of doing that at the moment because the way DTT works is it fits in between the analogue signals in different parts of the country. If you turn the power up too high people start losing their ordinary pictures. So we're restricted. There will still be about 20 per cent of the households in the country who will not be able to get DTT unfortunately. However, we are getting now pretty good at being able to predict by postcode exactly who those people are, so they don't take a box home and find they're disappointed.

    Newshost:
    But do you think you're going to be able to overcome this inevitable criticism that the whole idea of DTT is a flawed concept from the outset?

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    Well I really hope we can in that although it doesn't have universal coverage at the moment we believe that within a coverage area it will actually be very good. And then at analogue switch-off, the day that the analogue signal is turned off, which is something that all the political parties are committed to, then this platform - digital terrestrial - will become universal - you can switch the power right up and it will reach everybody. So one day it will reach everybody and we're dealing with this transitional phase at the moment.

    Newshost:
    Mike Glyde from Worcester: "Will we be able to add channels, such as Sky One and the Discovery Channel, after the service becomes available?" And Darren Barnett from Brighton: "I'm very disappointed that there are no compelling channels in the package, I'm convinced that the current package will not drive anyone to buy a box who does not already have one. Given that BSkyB are involved do you plan to offer a minimum of premium pay-per-view channels in the future?" Two viewers here who want to know about pay-per-view.

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    What our research shows is that of the 15 million people who don't currently have digital many of them actively don't want pay. And so the reason that we have offered a free-to-view service, i.e. without the kind of pay channels that this person is talking about, is to cut through that confusion and to appeal to those people who do want more channels but they don't want the monthly subscription. And what our research shows is that actually people will be attracted to this idea. They only have five channels now, actually 24 channels feels like a remarkable improvement. However, what we would like to do is in the future - it won't be for a while because the platform needs to settle down, consumer confidence needs to be restored - we will definitely consider adding pay channels on at that point. But right now people are terribly confused - it has to be a very simple proposition to cut through that.

    Newshost:
    Jeff Tatum from Bristol: "I've just purchased a digital television, will this new service be free due to the fact that I don't need a decoder or will I have to purchase a viewing card to receive the full package?"

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    One of these integrated digital television sets - they will work. Just as the ITV digital boxes they will work, there won't be a card necessary. As with the ITV digital viewer they're going to be getting a narrow range of free channels now, when we launch in the autumn we're pretty confident - very confident - that the full range of channels will be available to those television owners.

    Newshost:
    Stephen Wadsworth from the UK: "Now that the BBC and Crown Castle have won the DTT franchise what chance is there of transmitting software to upgrade digital TVs so that we can see your much trumpeted interactive services?"

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    Some of the boxes that have been launched at the moment do not have this - it's called MPEG - it's a particular kind of software - in it at the moment. But what will be happening is that that software will be downloaded during July, well sometimes later this month, so they will be able to receive the interactive services.

    Newshost:
    Right ok, so basically that will be done, even though somebody's got an old ITV Digital box, they can get the interactive services because that can be fed down the line.

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    Well they can get it now, actually with an ITV Digital box there's no problem, it has this thing called MPEG, so they should be able to get Wimbledon interactive on that, it's just one or two of the new 99 boxes have not yet got that software in them but will.

    Newshost:
    Time to squeeze one more in. Paul Chapman from Stevenage: "Are there any plans to transmit the national channels of our European neighbours? This would provide an essential public service to enhance our linguistic skills and European knowledge, rather than another ratings chasing game show or shopping channel."

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    I think that's a really interesting idea. One of the things that we really want DTT to turn into is a platform of channels that people want to watch and over time for it to get stronger and stronger and if there was a real demand for channels from our European neighbours we would really welcome that.

    Newshost:
    Excellent. Let's just fit one more in, why not. And this is from Mark Helme from Shrewsbury: "I have an integrated TV with ITV Digital will I be able to receive the 28 free-to-air channels or will I have to get my IdTV modified?

    Carolyn Fairbairn:
    No they will be able to receive them. No modification. It's all kitted out to receive the channels.

    Newshost:
    Carolyn thank you very much for joining us. That's all we have time for on this BBC interactive forum. Thanks to our guest and to you for sending in your questions but for now from me, Andrew Simmons, goodbye.



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