Passion drives technocrat making sure digital TV reaches everyone
Denis Wolinski, of Digital UK, tells Joris Minne why it’s vital every household is kept updated on the digital TV rollout which will ultimately be good news for taxpayers
Denis Wolinski is the Bill Nighy of digital television. He’s a younger, leaner, fitter and more twinkly eyed version of the famously languid actor. But behind the non-conformism is a man who is scientifically precise in everything he does.
That’s because Denis is a full-blown technocrat, a master in his field — in this case, British and Irish television broadcasting, transmission, frequencies, digital technologies, spectrum and all the other mysteries which allow us to access the best television services in the world.
Denis is deeply immersed in his current project as national manager of Digital UK. His job is to deliver a public information campaign over the next 11 months to ensure that every household in Northern Ireland is ready on the date of switchover from analogue service to digital and to assure the Government and the broadcasters in London that no one has been left behind.
“Television plays a central role in all our lives,” he says as we start on our breaded scallop and prawn cakes at pop-up restaurant Home, in Belfast’s Callender Street, “but it is even more significant to the lives of the more vulnerable sections of our community — older people, those in care and other dependants. These are the very people who are most likely to remain unaware of the forthcoming changes and not to know how to make the switchover.”
He estimates that up to 150,000 people in Northern Ireland could be left behind unless his campaign reaches them. Which is why he is co-ordinating one of the most far-reaching communications strategies seen in Northern Ireland since the publication of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
“Northern Ireland’s switchover will complete the UK’s digital project which has been rolled out over the last few years, region by region,” he says.
So why were we last, I ask over the mains of chicken with champ sauce and beautifully breathy lamb tagine? “Only because there is a certain degree of technological inter-reliance between Northern Ireland, GB and the Republic of Ireland,” he says, “and in order to co-ordinate Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland’s switchover (there is a sizeable cross-over of viewers north and south of the border) it made strategic good sense to synchronise the UK’s successful transfer with the Irish one.”
Denis, who grew up in London but has lived in Co Down for the past 25 years, has a forensic knowledge of Ireland’s broadcasting community, north and south. His passion for television and everything that is involved in the sector is palpable. Isn’t this surprising for a man whose career evolved in the regulatory body Ofcom where he was the first director for Northern Ireland?
“If you love the subject you know it well and, as a regulator, you can make better informed judgments, command more respect from the industry and ultimately do a better job.”
When the public service broadcasters set up Digital UK, at the behest of the Government and Ofcom, to manage the biggest development in television since colour was introduced in 1967, the broadcast spectrum’s huge potential value was quickly acknowledged.
“When I was at Ofcom one of the major pieces of work we undertook was the Digital Dividend Review which looked at the value of the spectrum to be released by digital television and how best to capture that for society and the economy. And here I am now at the practical end of ensuring that switchover is delivered. It’s an exciting time.”
When Denis finally closes the door on DUK he will have created a vast swathe of freed-up spectrum which will be sold. It’s worth billions but technocrats don’t work to commission.
“It will be good for the taxpayer and good for the economy and I hope my own contribution will be remembered as a positive one”, he says.
“Then what?” I ask.
“I’ll be looking for something new to work on.”
Scallop and prawn cakes x 2 £13.00
Lamb tagine £10.00
Chicken and champ £10.50
Desserts x 2 £11.00
Ginger beers, coke, sprkl water £8.00
Veggie dips £3.00