ITV's Michael Grade has warned that most UK viewers will not be able to receive HDTV (high-definition TV) when British TV goes digital in 2012. He's concerned that only cable and satellite stations will be able to afford HD bandwidth.
Consumers buying 'HD-ready' TVs today may find that limited digital terrestrial bandwidth means HD broadcasts are limited to pay-for cable and satellite platforms. This means that Freeview - the most popular digital medium, which now penetrates 11 million UK homes - will be left out of the HD revolution.
Analogue TV broadcasts are due to be switched off at the end of 2012. At this point UK government telco regulator Ofcom will sell off most of the available bandwidth to the highest bidders. Free-to-air broadcasters are unlikely to be able to compete in such an auction.
Grade has demanded that the government takes action to avoid the two-tier television system that could develop, with only those able or willing to pay for satellite or cable TV able to watch HD broadcasts.
"We’ve seen off the digital divide, only to see a high-definition divide open," says Grade. "HD will only be open to those willing to pay. What an own goal."