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Tipping Point for DTT Viability Identified in UK Regulator Report

UK regulator Ofcom has provided the Government with a report on what it sees as the future of TV distribution. The report was authored in response to a request from the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2022 for an early review of market changes that may affect how content reaches audiences on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT).

Taking account of responses to an earlier call for evidence, research into audience behaviours, and analysis of commercial dynamics, the report outlines the following findings:

  • UK consumers are spending less time watching TV broadcast over DTT.
  • Changing audience habits and rising costs could force a tipping point within the next decade where investment in DTT cannot be sustained – undermining the platform for those who rely on it.
  • Three broad approaches that could sustain the universal availability of TV services are suggested.

In recent years, there has been a radical shift in UK viewing habits. TV is increasingly being viewed online, driven by the mass take-up of broadband, a range of different devices, new platforms, and ways to consume content. The average person spent 25% fewer minutes per day watching broadcast TV in 2023 than in 2018.

Ofcom says the trend is expected to continue, with watching on scheduled TV channels through Digital Terrestrial Television and satellite forecast to drop from 67% of total long-form TV viewing in 2022, to 35% by 2034 and 27% by 2040. Much of that remaining viewing will be done by households that rely solely on DTT, which are more likely to include people who are older, less affluent or have a disability.

The report says UK broadcasters have identified a potential tipping point for DTT where it may no longer be economically viable to support DTT in its current form. This could lead to removing HD from Freeview or reducing the number of channels the platform can broadcast – but without support for those viewers who rely on DTT to access those services over the Internet.

The UK regulator says approaches to delivering universal TV in the future may include:

  1. Investment in a more efficient DTT service – potentially supporting audiences with new equipment for more efficient broadcast signals.
  2. Reducing DTT to a core service – retaining a minimum number of core channels while maintaining infrastructure that could deliver radio or TV, including if there are internet outages.
  3. Move towards DTT switch-off in the longer term – ensuring people are confident and connected with internet services, so DTT could be switched off.

Ed Leighton, Ofcom’s Director of Strategy and Policy, said: “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. We’ve set out three broad approaches for how this could be achieved in the long term, and we’ll continue to support Government with further analysis as it considers options for the future.”

Visit Ofcom’s full report on the future of TV distribution

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