Web Letter

September 2011

DigiTAG seeks to inform members and non-members about important developments in the digital terrestrial television market. Each month, DigiTAG distributes its web letter with news updates and further exploration of one topic.

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Planning for the future of DTT
in France


The DTT platform in France has generated much attention in the past month. Most notably, the head of the CSA, Michel Boyon, issued his recommendations to the Prime Minister on the future of the DTT platform calling for the introduction of DVB-T2. In addition, the pay broadcaster Canal+ announced its plans to enter the free-to-air DTT market. And early reports about the release of the European Commission’s formal opinion on the attribution of the so-called bonus channels on the DTT platform indicate opposition from the European Commission.  

The DTT platform in France has been, according to Michel Boyon, “an uncontested and remarkable success.” The platform offers 18 free-to-air services, 10 pay services as well as 5 HD services. Hybrid broadcast/broadband services using the HbbTV standard were launched by the public service broadcaster, France Télévisions, this month following several trials earlier in the year. Currently 60% of the population has at least one DTT receiver making DTT the key driver of digitalisation. Analogue switch-off, which began in 2009, is expected to be completed by 30 November 2011.

Boyon report

With the completion of analogue switch-off fast approaching, the government asked the head of the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA), Michel Boyon, to give his recommendations on the future evolution of the platform. The report, issued on 12 September, recognizes the importance of high-definition (HD) on the DTT platform and calls for the launch of new services using the DVB-T2 standard.

Currently, 6 multiplexes are available on the DTT platform offering services to 95% of the population. With the completion of analogue switch-off, two further multiplexes (R7 and R8) will be made available and reach 95% of the population within 1 year. According to the report, plans for the roll-out of 11 national multiplexes, as initially planned by the government, are unrealistic given frequency scarcity along the national borders. A ninth multiplex could be launched, but only to 85% of the population. In addition, calls by telecom operators for a second digital dividend in the 700 MHz band would reduce the DTT platform to 5 national multiplexes.

Given the lack of frequencies available, coupled with the need to provide services on the DTT platform in HD, Boyon calls for the introduction of the DVB-T2 standard. Should the platform continue to use DVB-T, it will not be possible for all of the current DTT services to be available in HD. Rather, 4 television services will need to remain in standard-definition. However, by introducing DVB-T2, all of the current television services could be provided in HD and an additional 2-3 television services could also be launched.

For Boyon, the questions of how and when DVB-T2 should be introduced must now be addressed. He recommends an immediate launch of DVB-T2 on the R7 and R8 multiplexes and calls on the government to make a political decision by the end of November. In addition, Boyon recommends that the government set a date to end the use of the MPEG-2 compression standard and move to MPEG-4 AVC. He proposes a deadline of 2015 or 2016 when it is expected that 90-95% of the population will have MPEG-4 AVC receivers. He also recommends that this transition be managed jointly with the transition towards DVB-T2.

Canal+’s foray into free-to-air television

In early September, the media group Canal+ surprised many when it announced plans to acquire a 60% stake in the two free-to-air DTT television programme services, Direct 8 and Direct Star, from the Bolloré Media Group. Canal+ will take operational control of the two broadcast services and retain the option to acquire the remaining 40% stake in three years’ time. This acquisition is costing Canal+ a total of € 280 million which it will give to the Bolloré Group as stocks in its parent company Vivendi.

This acquisition allows Canal+, the leading pay operator in France, to forcefully enter the free-to-air DTT platform. Canal+ first ventured onto the free-to-air DTT platform with the launch of its continuous news service iTélé to the consternation of other broadcasters. In March 2011, it announced plans to launch another free-to-air service, Canal 20, offering generalist programming such as cinema, culture and French productions.

This foray into the free-to-air television has encountered opposition. Some broadcasters fear that Canal+ will become overly dominant and limit the role for independent broadcasters. Others argue that a significant presence of Canal+ on both the free-to-air and pay television platforms could give it an unfair advantage when negotiating broadcast rights. Others have bemoaned the further erosion of media pluralism in France. The proposed acquisition of Direct Star and Direct 8 by Canal+ follows the recent acquisition of NT1 and TMC by TF1. Ultimately, however, the CSA and the competition authority will need to decide whether or not to approve the acquisition. Such a decision is not expected before the first quarter of 2012.

Launching the so-called “bonus channels”

In announcing its plans to launch Canal 20, Canal+ anticipated using the additional frequencies it had been allocated as per the legal framework governing digital switchover, Télévision du Futur, in March 2007. The Télévision du Futur legislation awarded each of the three incumbent commercial broadcasters on the analogue terrestrial platform, TF1, M6 and Canal+, one additional television service slot (bonus channel) on the DTT platform in compensation for the return of their analogue terrestrial television licenses prior to their expiration.

However, Brussels took issue with the provision, fearing that it contravened European Union state aid rules and the Telecom Directive. Despite further information from France defending its legislation, the European Commission is expected to issue a reasoned opinion stating that the award of the so-called bonus channels is disproportionate compared to the grievance that the broadcasters faced. Rather, according to the Commission, the early switch-off of the analogue channels has allowed a savings for the commercial broadcasters.

In his report, Michel Boyon expected such outcome and recommended that the French government change its legislation in accordance with the Commission’s opinion rather than to engage in a lengthy legal battle. Incumbent broadcasters will likely agree. They would prefer to delay a launch of a new free-to-air DTT services by Canal+ and maintain the current configuration of the DTT platform for the next few years. Meanwhile, the newly emergent broadcasters will likely continue their fight to obtain more capacity on the DTT platform.



Source: Natalie Mouyal, on behalf of the DigiTAG Project Office


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United Kingdom - ASO completed for 63% of the population

Nine out of the 15 regions in the United Kingdom have now completed analogue switch-off. This follows the switch-off in Yorkshire and the West Midlands on 21 September.

A total of 63% of the population has now completed digital switchover. Sixty-five percent of the population will complete the process by the end of the year.

Source: Arqiva website

Denmark - Boxer to launch HD/DTT services in April 2012

The pay-DTT service provider Boxer has announced that it will launch services in HD on 1 April 2012.

These HD services will use the DVB-T2 standard. Boxer has not yet announced which services it will make available in high-definition, although it will include TV2, the most popular Danish television service.

Source: Boxer Denmark website

Russia - Government commission favours DVB-T2

A governmental commission has recommended the use of the DVB-T2 standard on the DTT platform. Currently, the platform has been launched using the DVB-T standard.

For the past year, it has not been clear which standard Russia would adopt. Current DVB-T networks are expected to be upgraded while new networks will launch using DVB-T2.

Source: Telecom Paper

Hungary - New pay-DTT services to launch on 1 October

The pay-DTT platform, known as MinDig TV Extra, is set to expand as of 1 October following the launch of a new DTT multiplex.

The launch of the multiplex, using the DVB-T and MPEG-4 AVC standards, will allow for the provision of 31 television programme services. Previously this multiplex, known as Multiplex B, provided DVB-H services. It is available to 80% of the population.

Source: Antenna Hungaria website

Lithuania - ASO to be completed by end Oct 2012

The government has announced that analogue switch-off will be completed in Lithuania on 29 October 2012.

It has also announced that subsidies to be used towards the purchase of DTT set-top boxes will be made available for low-income households and that an organisation will be set-up to provide information on the analogue switch-off process.

Source: Broadband TV News

Italy - Opposition critical of DTT allocation process

Opposition is mounting against the government's plans to allocate 5 DTT multiplexes. These multiplexes will be made available following the completion of analogue switch-off in 2012.

The government has decided to allocate these frequencies using a "beauty contest" method. However, according to opposition, the government would have been able to generate up to €1.5 billion had the multiplexes been allocated through an auction process.

Source: Financial Times

Bulgaria - Sale of NURTS completed

The incumbent telecom operator Vivacom has sold its remaining 50% stake in the broadcast network operator NURTS.

The 50% stake has been sold to Bluesat Partners Ltd and approved by regulators. The amount of the sale has not been disclosed.

Source: Broadband TV News

United States - FCC to trial white space database

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that it will begin testing a database system to allow devices to make use of spectrum available between television services (white spaces).

According to the rules previously approved by the FCC, devices must make contact with a database system to obtain a list of frequency channels not in use by television services at their current locations to prevent possible interference.

Source: The Hill