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High-Definition Television

Volume 210: debated on Thursday 25 June 1992

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To ask the President of the Board of Trade what contribution will be required from the United Kingdom towards the £600 million EC subsidy for the development of high-definition television; what is his policy on making that contribution; and what benefits will accrue to the British television industry from the development of a European system of HDTV.

The call to spend 850 mecu—about £600 million—on wide-screen and high-definition television services broadcast by satellite and cable is made in the European Commission's proposal for a Council decision on an action plan for the introduction of advanced television services in Europe. Such services will use the European developed MAC—multiplex analogue components—transmission standards. The expenditure is proposed over a five-year period. Our contribution would be calculated on a gross contribution of about 17.5 per cent. less abatement, which would depend on the level of United Kingdom receipts. However, the Government have rejected the sum of 850 mecu as unacceptably high. During negotiations on the proposal, the Government have said that they are prepared to consider a case for a considerably lower sum, provided that it is accompanied by a rigorous justification for the use of public money. We have yet to see a convincing business case presented for any expenditure.The Government recognise the potential consumer appeal of wide-screen and high-definition television. There is a market opportunity for such MAC-based services which the satellite and cable TV industry and equipment manufacturers may wish to exploit. The Government believe that it is principally through the cooperation of broadcasters and manufacturers that the market will take off. What benefits the British television industry derives from wide-screen and high-definition television must depend primarily on the investments which the individual commercial players decide to make, based on their perception of the development of the market and the needs of consumers.