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about important developments in the digital terrestrial television market.
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Licensing local DTT services in
Proponents of the DTT platform have often noted the platform’s unique advantage in providing local television programme services efficiently in terms of cost and spectrum usage compared with other television delivery platforms. For many broadcasters, the DTT platform is the only viable option for the delivery of their regional and/or local content.
In some countries, notably Italy and Spain, DTT multiplexes have been reserved for the provision of local television services and a large quantity of such services are available. Among European Union member states, over 700 local television services are available. However, the current economic crisis could force some local broadcasters to limit their service offering.
The audience share for local television services appears to be strong. In France, out of the 21.4 million viewers served by local television services, Médiametrie estimates that 7.8 million viewers watch these services. However, should the number of television services increase, as will be the case on the DTT platform in France by the end of 2012, audience share will likely decrease as a result of viewer fragmentation.
In the United States, local terrestrial broadcasters are considered essential for the provision of important local news and information. Despite several difficult years, local broadcasters witnessed a rebound in 2010 with a strong increase in revenue and a stable audience share, coupled with optimism for further growth through the provision of new services, such as mobile broadcast television, according to recent research published by the Pew Research Center.
In the United Kingdom, the government has deemed the provision of local television services to be important and taken steps to allow for such services to be provided on the DTT platform.
Proposals by the UK Government
In June 2010, the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt commissioned Nicholas Shott to explore how best to leverage the potential for local television services.
According to the Shott report, published in December 2010, a DTT network should be set up to provide local content using the shared resources and advertising capacity of a national broadcaster serving as a ‘backbone’. It recommended that 10-12 regions trial local services offering at least two hours per day of high-quality local content. Finally, it suggested that the Internet and IPTV may be the most suitable delivery platform for such services in the long term when households have access to high-speed broadband.
The use of the IPTV platform has been supported by some academics and local broadcasters who believe that IPTV is more suitable for non-linear broadcasting and interaction, which are important for local television. In addition, they believe that audiences will be sufficiently small to be easily managed online, although it will be important to make a distinction between local and regional audiences. This can also lead to a debate as to whether video is the only means for reaching the intended audience. Finally, the government’s target to provide high-speed broadband access to all households by 2015 may be overly ambitious, especially in rural areas.
Following the publication of the Shott report, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) issued its proposed framework for local television in July 2011. The framework calls for the development of local television on the DTT platform, with a single operator (MuxCo) responsible for building and managing the network of local multiplexes. These multiplexes will carry local broadcast services awarded licenses by the communications regulator Ofcom. However, the DCMS dropped the idea of a single national broadcaster serving as a backbone to the local broadcasters.
To help raise awareness for local broadcast content, the proposal calls for their attribution of a favourable position on the EPG channel list. In addition, the public service broadcaster BBC, will provide an initial capital investment of £25 million to help build the DTT network and a further £15 million over a three year period for the acquisition of local content. This spending by the BBC will be subject to European Union state aid rules. Finally, the proposal calls for the use of the IPTV platform in areas where DTT is not able to reach viewers. The DTT platform remains the focal point for the delivery of local services, with IPTV viewed as a delivery platform to be used in a next phase.
The DCMS received over 300 responses to its proposed framework which it took into consideration when publishing its final policy position and timetable. In order to implement its local television framework, the DCMS will need Parliament to approve amendments to the Communications Act of 2003 and the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 2006.
Role of Ofcom
In December 2011, Ofcom opened a consultation on the licensing of local digital television programme services (L-DTPS) and local multiplex services. As part of the consultation, open until March 2012, Ofcom also issued draft versions of the tender documents and coverage plans.
Ofcom has defined 20 locations where it believes that a local multiplex would be technically possible and the provision of a local television service to be likely to be economically viable. These 20 locations include London, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, and Liverpool. In addition, Ofcom has defined a further 24 locations where potential local broadcasters have expressed an interest in providing services and where it is also technically possible to do so. However, the commercial viability has yet to be confirmed. The tender for local broadcast licenses in these 24 locations will potentially be opened in a second phase of the licensing process.
For both types of license, for the multiplex operator and the local broadcasters, Ofcom proposes a 12-year duration. As part of its license obligation, the multiplex operator must reserve capacity at each site for local broadcast services and not charge more than the cost required for the transmission of the service. Capacity for two other standard-definition services will be available and the multiplex operator will be able to choose how to use this capacity. In selecting the multiplex operator, Ofcom will take into consideration the proposed coverage areas above the minimum set out in the tender documents.
Local broadcasters will be required to provide content specific to their region as well as to meet general obligations placed on all broadcasters. News is considered by Ofcom to be the most important type of content and must be provided for at least one hour each day. In their proposals, broadcasters must be able to define how their programming will serve the tastes and interests of the target community.
As a next step, Ofcom will invite candidates to tender for the multiplex license and the local broadcast licenses once the consultation process is finished, assuming that Parliament approves the necessary legislation. Based on the timetable established by the government, licenses will be attributed to the first local broadcasters in the summer of 2012 with the intention of having 10-20 local services on-air by 2015.
The policy framework established by the government clearly establishes the importance of the DTT platform for the provision of regional and local broadcast service. However, as a next step, it will be necessary to ensure the economic viability of such services.
Source: Natalie Mouyal, on behalf of the DigiTAG Project Office
DigiTAG aims to encourage and facilitate the implementation and introduction
of digital terrestrial television services using the Digital Video Broadcasting
Project's Standard (DVB-T). It has members from broadcasting,
network operators, regulatory, and manufacturing organisations throughout
Europe and beyond.
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