Europe is set for a digital television explosion with many countries well on course to switch off their analogue signals within the next six years.
The number of households with access to digital television signals on their main TV set is expected to quadruple over the next four years to around 44.9 million. That figure represents 16.6 per cent of European television households. Currently around 4.5 per cent - or 12 million homes - have digital access, according to an Informa report.
However, with digital television also able to be delivered over broadband, that figure may at least double - there are more than 40 million broadband users in the EU already.
And BT today announced it is taking pre-registrations for BT Vision - its own IPTV service slated for a launch towards the end of this year, which will offer digital terrestrial television as well as premium content on-demand through broadband connections.
Accenture's Ray Dogra believes the introduction of television over the internet (IPTV) is "definitely going to be a big factor in driving the switch [from analogue to digital]".
Dogra believes greater choice, greater audience targeting and greater interactivity will all help to sell the switchover to consumers, whether they opt for digital through their aerial or through their broadband fat pipe.
He said BT's service is likely to prove a driver for broadband adoption as well, covering off a number of bases for consumers looking to get up to speed on home entertainment and connectivity.
Sky's purchase of Easynet has also led to heightened speculation that the satellite pioneer of UK broadcasting will be at the leading edge of the IPTV rollout. Accenture's Dogra said: "Murdoch has made it very public that News Corp is going to be a truly multimedia company."
Dogra isn't surprised to see Italy among the countries planning to switch over completely, saying the Italian people, along with France and Hong Kong are the most advanced in their adoption of IPTV.
Simon Dyson, author of the Informa report, said France is certainly leading the way in Europe, with coverage expected to reach 70 per cent of the country by the end of 2006 and 85 per cent by the end of 2007. France intends to make the switch in 2010.
Sweden was among the first countries to launch a digital service, with just under half a million subscribers currently. As the table below shows, it is expected to be one of the first to switch off analogue transmissions, in 2008.
Such has been the rapid growth in some digital terrestrial TV (DTT) services that pay-TV competitors have begun voicing criticism about what they perceive as preferential treatment for DTT. The European Commission has set a switchover target of 2010 and the stronger than anticipated success of digital in several countries, including France, Germany and Sweden, means that many European nations will meet the target.
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