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Using pay television to instigate digital switchover:
The situation in Albania and FYR Macedonia
Many countries have successfully launched their DTT platforms with an extensive offer of free-to-air content. Notable examples include the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic. In other countries, pay-DTT platforms have been the dominant business model, offering extensive services that can successfully complete with multichannel satellite, IPTV, and cable operators. These platforms often operate alongside a rather limited free-to-air offering as is the case in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. In contrast to the other European countries, however, Albania and its neighbour the Former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia have launched pay-DTT platforms as precursors to free-to-air DTT platforms.
The consumer profile and habits in a given market will impact the type of services that the DTT platform will offer. In countries where viewers are accustomed to paying for their television services, it is not uncommon to launch a successful pay-DTT platform.
However, the ability of a market to offer free-to-air content on the DTT platform will also be impacted by the funding available to the public service broadcasters. In countries where funding for the public service broadcaster is limited, it will not be possible to offer extensive new content for the DTT platform. This situation could be further aggravated should other free-to-air broadcasters on the analogue terrestrial platform decide against investing in the free-to-air digital terrestrial platform.
Pay-DTT services in Albania launched on 15 July 2004. The pay-DTT platform offers up to 40 television programme services across four multiplexes to approximately 50% of the population. It is operated by DigitAlb which also operates a satellite platform. It has over 120,000 subscribers which account for over 10% of all television households. More recently, the operators TRING and TV SHIJAK have launched their own pay-DTT platforms although so far they have not rivalled the popularity of DigitAlb.
However, none of these pay-DTT platforms operate within the legal framework for the DTT platform adopted in May 2007. As a result, efforts are underway to make changes to the Albanian legal framework to allow these pay-DTT services to operate legally and with a license issued by the government. In May 2012, the Council of Ministers approved changes to the legislative framework that limits the number of multiplexes reserved for the public service broadcaster and reserves 3 national and 11 local multiplexes for commercial operators. Previously, the legal framework limited commercial operators to one DTT multiplex and required that half of the capacity be reserved for free-to-air content. For DigitAlb, these conditions conflicted with its existing business offering as it would need to significantly reduce its service offering to comply with the legislative framework.
The changes to the legislative framework proposed by the government combined with the adoption of the more capacity efficient DVB-T2 standard could enable DigitAlb to continue offering its existing pay-DTT services while simultaneously operating within the DTT legislative framework. And signs indicate that DigitAlb would like to render its DTT platform legal.
The government can also benefit from the legalization of the DigitAlb pay-DTT platform. DigitAlb can provide support to a more comprehensive digital switchover by helping to encourage viewers to switch to a digital television platform but also make the DTT platform sufficiently attractive to encourage other broadcasters to join the platform. In the past, broadcasters have shown limited interest in launching a DTT platform. In an initial licensing tender process undertaken by the national regulator NCRT, broadcasters on the existing national analogue terrestrial platform were unwilling to participate.
The public service broadcaster has also been hampered by its limited funding which prevents it from launching a free-to-air DTT platform. To help local broadcasters, the government has proposed either the use of the public service broadcaster's DTT network or to jointly operate a local DTT network.
It is with these plans underway that it will be possible for Albania to begin considering digital switchover. The Analogue Switch Off process is expected to be completed by 17 June 2015. In terms of the digital dividend, the 800 MHz band has been reserved for mobile telecom operators and will become available to them once analogue switch-off is completed.
The operator ‘One’, which is a fully owned subsidiary of Telekom Slovenije, launched its pay-DTT platform, Boom TV, in November 2009 offering 42 television programme services across three DTT multiplexes. It has nationwide coverage reaching 95% of the population.
Subsequently, it was two years after the launch of the pay-DTT platform that free-to-air services were made available. This followed the licensing of the operation of two DTT multiplexes to One for the provision of free-to-air services. In December 2011, the public service broadcaster PE Macedonian Broadcasting launched four television programme services in the capital city Skopje. The commercial broadcaster Kanal 5 has also launched its service on the free-to-air DTT platform.
However, the launch of the full free-to-air platform had been impeded by the lack of the necessary legislative framework. In December 2012, the Broadcasting Council adopted its plan for the allocation of television programme services on the free-to-air DTT platform. According to this new plan, two multiplexes are reserved for the public service broadcaster while two further multiplexes will be available for commercial free-to-air services which will be selected by the Broadcasting Council. The selection of the free-to-air commercial services will be determined by audience share. However, it is not clear how DTT services will be licensed nor the financial relationship between the multiplex operator and broadcasters.
Analogue switch-off is set to take place on 1 June 2013. The public service broadcaster has set aside €17 million to support the process and will manage the help scheme which will offer subsidies to approximately 40,000 low-income households. Through Boom TV, One has viewed itself as a key catalyst to digital switchover in FYR Macedonia alongside the national broadcast network operator.
Pay-DTT operators support for digital switchover
As in many countries with significant pay-DTT platforms, the pay-DTT operators in FYR Macedonia and Albania have enabled the success of the DTT platform through its appeal to viewers and competition with other pay operators. However, unlike in other countries, these pay-platforms have been the catalyst for the launch of the DTT platform and placed pressure on other broadcasters to ensure the availability of their services on the platform.
By being the first platforms to launch, either outside of the legislative framework as in Albania, or without the full framework in place as in FYR Macedonia, national administrations were obliged to take action effectively to update their regulations to take into account the demands of the market. While it would be undoubtedly preferable to put in place first a legislative framework prior to the launch of the DTT platform, nevertheless by pressing ahead in spite of the lack of legislation, the pay operators in FYR Macedonia and Albania have helped kick-start the digital switchover process.
Ideas are beginning to emerge on ways which broadcasters can share frequency capacity with other service providers through the introduction of such concepts as shared spectrum usage, dynamic broadcasting, and white space devices.
Source: Natalie Mouyal, on behalf of the DigiTAG Project Office
DigiTAG is an association of stakeholders in the digital terrestrial TV industry and has members from broadcasting, network operators, regulatory, and professional equipment and consumer electronics manufacturing organisations throughout the world. DigiTAG has recently re-launched with new Statutes and the mission of defending and promoting digital terrestrial television on a worldwide basis, and, notably, will work tirelessly to protect spectrum for broadcasting, regardless of the technical standard used on the DTT platform.
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