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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Migrating broadcast services out of the 800 MHz band in Spain
A little over a week ago, the Spanish government presented its proposals for clearing broadcast services out of the so-called ‘800 MHz frequency band’. These frequencies, from 790-862 MHz at the top end of the UHF broadcasting Band V, have been licensed to telecom mobile operators and are expected to be made available to them from January 2014.
However, uniquely in Europe and perhaps the World, some of these frequencies are currently used for the provision of four nationwide single-frequency DTT networks. These DTT networks make very efficient use of spectrum which was released only a decade ago from military purposes, but now the services they contain will need to be found alternative frequency capacity lower down the UHF broadcast bands. Government and broadcasters must agree on the plan for moving the services and negotiations are currently underway in an atmosphere of significant time pressure. The government hopes to have an agreed plan in place in July so that the frequency changes can begin this autumn.
Current DTT platform
The DTT platform provides viewers with standard-definition and high-definition services from national and regional broadcasters. The platform is accessible to more than 98% of the population and is actually used by 90% of the population as their primary television platform. It is estimated that over 35 million DTT receivers have been sold since the launch of the free-to-air digital platform in 2005.
Following the completion of analogue switch-off on 2 April 2010, the capacity for the DTT platform almost doubled from 6 to 10 multiplexes. In accordance with the Spanish Royal Decree of March 2010, each of the six leading commercial broadcasters (Telecinco, Antena 3, La Sexta, Cuatro, Net TV and VEO) have been allocated a full DTT multiplex while the public service broadcaster RTVE has been allocated two DTT multiplexes. In addition, DTT multiplexes are allocated to regional broadcasters.
Commercial broadcasters currently use their allocated multiplex to provide one television service in high-definition and four television services in standard-definition. RTVE offers standard-definition services in one of its two multiplexes and uses part of another multiplex for the provision of one HD channel. Regional broadcasters provide standard definition services and some regions are currently using a second multiplex for upgrading their services to HD.
Spanish Government proposal for DTT platform
The government and broadcasters are currently negotiating the removal of the four DTT single frequency networks presently using the frequencies from 790-862 MHz. While the previous government had agreed that broadcasters would continue to have the same amount of frequency capacity available, the current government is seeking to reduce capacity on the DTT platform.
In its most recent proposal, the government has called on the commercial broadcasters to reduce their frequency capacity by 17% while the public service broadcaster and regional broadcasters would reduce their frequency capacity by 25% in total. As a result, the DTT platform would reduce its total number of available multiplexes from 10 to 8 multiplexes.
According to the government, this plan does not require commercial broadcasters to reduce the total amount of television programme services that they provide to viewers despite reducing the total number of commercial multiplexes from 6 multiplexes to 5 multiplexes. Three out of the five multiplexes allocated to the commercial broadcasters would provide television programme services in standard-definition while the two remaining multiplexes would provide services in high-definition. Each standard-definition multiplex would provide a total of 6 television programme services while the high-definition multiplexes would each provide 3 services.
As a result, each broadcaster would continue to provide 3 standard-definition services and 1 high-definition service. However, each broadcaster would lose one of its four standard-definition programmes and therefore broadcasters would effectively no longer be able to provide the simulcast of their high-definition service in standard-definition which is currently the case for their flagship programmes. In addition, broadcasters would no longer fully manage their own multiplex, but instead would need to share the management with other broadcasters. It is also feared that the picture quality of the services will necessarily decrease given the total number of television programme services in each multiplex.
For the public service broadcaster RTVE and regional broadcasters, this proposal calls for the reduction of their DTT capacity from 4 to 3 multiplexes. One possible solution could be for RTVE and regional broadcasters to share a single multiplex for the provision of HD services.
RTVE and regional broadcasters have yet not made any official statement although they have called for the continued ability to provide quality television services on the DTT platform.
Commercial broadcasters, at this stage, have only indicated that negotiations are underway, but underlined that they continue to claim one multiplex each. However, they have not yet been as strident in their opposition to this government plan in comparison with the first plan that was originally presented by the government. The first plan, which called on broadcasters to reduce their service offering by half, was labelled as "expropriation" by broadcasters and quickly scuttled by the government.
Costs of the migration process
The government opened a consultation in early June in order to better evaluate the cost of adapting collective antennas for migrating DTT services out of the 800 MHz band and into lower frequency channels. This consultation asked stakeholders to estimate the cost for the work necessary to ensure that viewers continue to receive their television services, regardless of the television delivery platform, following the frequency migration of broadcast services.
It is estimated that 1.4 million collective antennas may need to be adapted as a result of the frequency migration on the DTT platform at a cost of approximately €380 million. Further costs include the duplication of transmissions during the simulcast period, the changes made at the transmission sites and the marketing campaign to inform viewers about the need to re-tune their DTT receivers for the continued reception of services. The government will no longer cover the cost to broadcasters for simultaneously transmitting their services on two frequency channels during the migration period following an investigation opened, but not yet concluded, by the European Commission questioning the legality of what is considered as state aid favouring one delivery platform.
Given that the auction of the licenses to the mobile telecom operators in the 800 MHz band generated €1.3 billion, the previous government agreed to fully fund the cost of the migration of the DTT platform, including mandating this in the ‘law of sustainable economy’ approved in 2011. However, the current government has allocated only €45 million to the adaptation of antennas without any strong commitment for additional funding for the period 2013-2014, citing the current economic difficulties facing the country. The remaining costs for adapting antennas will need to be borne by viewers, which has alarmed consumer advocacy groups, and meanwhile the costs of simulcasting and the marketing campaigns will need to be assumed by broadcasters. However, final costs will be determined by which frequencies are ultimately used by the DTT platform and the extent to which they require changes to be made to collective antennas.
It should be noted that €1.2 billion has already been spent on the analogue to digital switchover by broadcasters, network operators and viewers.
The recent attempts by the government to reduce the amount of frequency capacity available for the DTT platform are worrying for viewers who have already committed significant resources to digital switchover.
Viewers are asked to fund the cost of a new digital migration but do not receive any improvement in service offering as compensation, and will find the content offer is reduced. In consequence, broadcasters will lose 25% of programme services and, in the limited capacity to continue offering their existing services, there will be an inevitable degradation in the quality. They are therefore arguing that there should be a total of 9 multiplexes to accommodate a reasonable content offer.
The current government position is seen as ominous for the future of the DTT platform as it no longer has sufficient frequency capacity to evolve to offer new services such as HDTV or 3DTV. This, in turn, makes it more difficult for the DTT platform to maintain its relevance and compete successfully with other television delivery platforms.
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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DTT NEWS ROUND-UP
For access to the full articles archive, please go to DigiTAG News
EBU recommendation affirms importance of DTT platform
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has issued a recommendation calling for the continued use of the 700 MHz band by broadcasters for the provision of linear and non-linear television services.
Known as Recommendation 136, this recommendation affirms the importance of terrestrial broadcasting in EBU Member markets as well as the diversity between markets.
Source: EBU website
Belgium - Commercial DTT platform to launch on 2 July in Flanders
The cable operator Telenet has announced plans to launch services on the DTT platform on 2 July.
These services will use capacity from the DTT network owned by the broadcast network operator Norkring. Initially, services will launch using the DVB-T standard but will upgrade to the DVB-T2 standard next year.
Source: Telenet website
Finland - DNA's DVB-T2 network reaches 85% of population
The DTT platform operator DNA has announced that its DTT network now reaches 85% of the population.
DNA's DTT platform uses the DVB-T2 standard. It offers 19 pay television programme services, 9 HD services of which two, YLE HD and MTV3 HD, can be viewed free-of-charge. This autumn, DNA plans to launch additional pay and free-to-air services.
Source: DNA website
Sweden - Six television service licenses allocated for DTT platform
The Television and Radio Authority (MRTV) has awarded six licenses for television programme services on the DTT platform.
Five television services will be available nationwide (BBC Entertainment, CANAL+ Mix, TV4 News, Travel Channel, Viasat Explorer) while one service will be available locally (24 HD).
Source: MRTV website
Poland - Success of HbbTV service on DTT platform
The HbbTV service provided by the public service broadcaster TVP has proven successful with 4200 users accessing the service on the day of its launch.
TVP launched its free HbbTV service on 8 June to coincide with the opening match of the UEFA European Football Championship. It allows viewers to access additional information about the UEFA Championship, including statistical data.
Source: TVP website
Hungary - 3D/DTT trial to launch on 25 June
The DTT platform operator, Antenna Hungaria, has announced that it will launch a trial of 3D service on the DTT platform on 25 June.
This trial will allow viewers with the suitable reception equipment to access the final of the Euro Football Championship in 3D. The trial will continue until the month of August so that viewers can also access the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in 3D.
Source: Antenna Hungaria website
Germany - Two commercial services launch in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein
The Media Authority for Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein has announced the allocation of two licenses on the DTT platform.
In Hamburg, the service iM1 will launch offering music content. It is owned by iMusic TV.
Source: MA HSH website
United Kingdom - Freeview calls on 600 MHz band for DTT platform
The head of the free-to-air DTT platform Freeview, Ilse Howling, has called on the government to set aside the 600 MHz band for the DTT platform.
According to Howling, the DTT platform needs spectrum in order to be able to thrive. She noted that the HD/DTT platform is already used by 2.6 million households.
Malta - Nearly 65,000 pay-DTT households
According to the Communications Market Review published by the Malta Communications Authority (MCA), 43% of all pay television households subscribe to the pay-DTT platform.
A total of 64,667 households subscribed to the DTT platform offered by GO. This is an increase of 7% (4,221 subscribers) compared with December 2010.
Source: MCA website
Singapore - Free-to-air DTT platform to launch in 2013 using DVB-T2
In a speech at the Infocomm Media Business Exchange, the Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) stated that Singapore will adopt the DVB-T2 standard for its DTT platform.
This follows the successful completion of a DVB-T2 trial conducted by the Media Development Authority alongside the public service broadcaster MediaCorp and the pay television operator StarHub.
Source: MICA website