Ofcom Warns of 'Tipping Point' for Digital Terrestrial TV in UK by 2034

Ofcom warns that supporting digital terrestrial television (DTT) in the UK may become financially unsustainable due to declining viewership. The regulator suggests three strategies to address the issue, including investing in a more efficient DTT service or planning for its eventual switch-off.

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Nitish Verma
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Ofcom Warns of 'Tipping Point' for Digital Terrestrial TV in UK by 2034

Ofcom Warns of 'Tipping Point' for Digital Terrestrial TV in UK by 2034

The UK's communications regulator, Ofcom, has published a report warning that the country is approaching a"tipping point"where supportingdigital terrestrial television(DTT) may become financially unsustainable. This is due to a decline in viewership as consumers increasingly turn to streaming services.

Why this matters: The potential loss of DTT channels could have significant implications for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, low-income households, and people with disabilities, who rely heavily on traditional TV for access to information and entertainment. Furthermore, the shift towards internet-based TV viewing could exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities if not managed carefully.

According to the report, 3.9 million UK households currently rely on DTT for TV access. However, watching scheduled TV channels through DTT and satellite is forecast to drop from 67% of total long-form TV viewing in 2022 to 35% by 2034 and 27% by 2040.

To address the issue, Ofcom suggests three possible strategies. The first is to invest in a more efficient DTT service, which could be sustained if audience numbers for DTT were supported with new equipment and more efficient broadcasting signals. The second is to maintain a minimum number of core channels to cut costs and ensure a basic level of TV access is maintained. The third option is to plan for DTT to be switched off, with the UK supporting households in transitioning to alternative TV access methods to ensure no one is completely cut off.

The UK government has committed to supporting DTT until 2034. Ed Leighton, Ofcom's Director of Strategy and Policy, stated, "Digital Terrestrial Television faces big long-term challenges and audiences who rely on it deserve a solution that is sustainable and fit for the future. It requires a new vision and planning across industry and Government."

The report highlights that households relying solely on DTT are more likely to include people who are older, less affluent, or have a disability. For these individuals, television serves as a lifeline, providing access to daytime TV, news, and favorite programs. The potential loss of DTT channels could leave thesehouseholdswithout access to TV, making it crucial to find a sustainable solution.

As the shift towards internet-based TV viewing continues, the future of digital terrestrial broadcasting in the UK remains uncertain. With 3.9 million households relying on DTT and the government committed to supporting it until 2034, Ofcom's report serves as a stark warning of the challenges ahead. The regulator emphasizes the need for a new vision and collaborative planning across the industry and government to ensure a sustainable and inclusive future for TV access in the country.