By Valerie Milano
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 2007 – The cable industry’s urgent embrace of digital technology and its aggressive deployment of services such as VOD and SVOD (subscription VOD) is causing some experts to question the global future of digital terrestrial television (DTT). Overall, DTT has gotten off to a disappointing start worldwide, after launches in North America and Europe in November 1998. In Europe, satellite remains the primary mode of digital delivery, followed by cable and then terrestrial. Europe’s five major TV territories Ñ the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Spain Ñ ended 2000 with more than 15.7 million digital pay-TV homes combined. Of those countries, the U.K. leads the pack thanks to the efforts of Sky, which has aggressively promoted digital via free set-top box giveaways. Their nearly seven million digital homes represent a 26 percent penetration and their year-to-year growth is an astonishing 129 percent. By comparison, at the end of 2001, Europe reportedly had less than 1.5 million DTT homes.
Key Media Policy Issues
There is concern that terrestrial digital could fail as a delivery system because of the established strength of cable and satellite services and the issue will only become more contentious as the number of digital channels continues to grow, but some governments are already stepping up to the terrestrial plate. In July 2001, France’s broadcasting regulator, the Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel, announced its promotion of terrestrial digital television, with 22 national commercial channels up for grabs. There will be a total of 33 digital channels, eight of which have been designated as public-service channels, with three reserved for regional and local channels. Hoping to give terrestrial a much-needed boost, France relaxed laws preventing any company from owning more than 49 percent of a national network. Under the new regulations, a company can own 100 percent of a network as long as it doesn’t have an average annual audience share of greater than 2.5 percent. And companies cannot bid for channels if more than 20 percent of their capital is held outside the European Union.
Key Media Policy Issues -DIGITAL TELEVISION CORDEL’S NOTE ON THE BENEFIT OF DIGTALISATION STV’s will be able to offer customers more channels on their system without having to spend a lot of money upgrading their external infrastructure, rather they would be doing in office upgrading at the Head End. The other benefit is that the digital signal and converter boxes are less susceptible to hacking, so the cable operator will have more control over the service. Currently, most of the channels received by cable is in digital format which is then converted to analogue at the cable Head End and transmitted in that form. It must be noted that the switch over to digital systems by cable operators will be passed on to the customers. Broadcasters stand to benefit the most from digitalisation because most of their customers receive free to air tv through cable, so TV stations will not have to invest in digital boxes, albeit they will need to invest in digital equipment. They will also be able to now provide multiple channels, which will all have to be carried under the “must carry rule”. They should therefore shoulder some of the public education that is required for the digital switch-over.
Key Media Policy Issues -DIGITAL TELEVISION • Retailers would be required to display signs near analog televisions. This would help ensure that consumers who are thinking of buying an analog television understand that after Feb. 17, 2009, they will need to connect the television to a converterbox, or to cable or satellite service, to receive broadcast television signals. • Cable and satellite operators would be required to include information in their bills notifying subscribers about the DTV transition and the digital-to-analog converter-box program. Cable and satellite subscribers will be largely unaffected by the transition, but this requirement will help ensure they understand what is happening.
Key Media Policy Issues -DIGITAL TELEVISION FCC Confirms Must-Carry Rules after DTV Transition The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on proposals to ensure all cable subscribers, including those with analog TV sets, can view must-carry television stations on cable systems after the transition to digital television (DTV) occurs on February 17, 2009. By statute, cable operators must ensure that all cable subscribers have the ability to view all must-carry local broadcast stations. To ensure that this statutory requirement is satisfied, the FCC proposes that cable operators must either: (1) carry the signals of all must-carry stations in an analog format to all analog cable subscribers, or (2) for all-digital systems, carry those signals only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content. The FCC also reaffirmed that cable systems must carry high definition broadcast signals in HD format.