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Status of DTT in Germany
In mid-September, the public service broadcasters ARD and ZDF created a stir when they announced plans to transition their DTT platform to the second generation DVB-T2 standard. Services using the DVB-T2 standard will launch in 2017 with the transition to be completed by 2020.
By transitioning to DVB-T2, the public service broadcasters havere- affirmed their commitment to the DTT platform. They consider it to be the only option for viewers who wish to view free content from a portable or mobile device. By transitioning to DVB-T2, ZDF and ARD would be able to offer their content in high-definition which is not possible using the current standard given the limited frequency capacity available. According to the head of ZDF, Thomas Bellut, a transition to DVB-T2 will not only allow the DTT platform to maintain its relevance but also to strengthen its position.
However, such plans seem contrary to the recent fears evoked regarding the future viability of the DTT platform.
Threats to the DTT platform
Most recently, the commercial broadcaster RTL announced plans to no longer make its television services available on the DTT platform. In a first step, RTL exited from the DTT platform in Munich on 1 August and plans to exit from the platform nationwide by the end of 2014. In explaining its reasons for doing so, RTL has criticised both regional media authorities and the government. According to RTL, regional media authorities have failed to allow for the introduction of pay-DTT services while the government has failed to provide sufficient guarantees that sufficient spectrum capacity will be available for the DTT platform beyond 2020.
The allocation of frequencies for the DTT platform is increasingly a topic for discussion. This follows the decision made at the last World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-12) to update the Radio Regulations at the next WRC so that mobile telecom services can be introduced in the 700 MHz band (from 694 – 790 MHz) on a co-primary basis alongside broadcasting after 2015. In July, the federal communications regulator, BNetzA opened a consultation on its strategy for mobile broadband services after 2016. The draft strategy document calls for the universal coverage of mobile broadband services and suggests that frequencies in the 700 MHz band should be used to achieve this goal. The consultation is open until 4 October.
In its response to this consultation, the Medienanstalten, which represents the 14 regional media authorities in Germany, called for the continued use of the 700 MHz band by broadcast services. Not only would the allocation of this band be insufficient to meet the goals of the national Broadband Strategy, but these frequencies are necessary for a transition from the DVB-T to the DVB-T2 standard. Instead, such frequencies should only be released by broadcasters once they are no longer needed although this is unlikely to occur before 2019/2020. The Medienanstalten is prepared to provide its support in the DTT transition towards the DVB-T2 standard.
Opportunities on the DTT platform
Despite the decision of the commercial broadcaster RTL to exit the DTT platform, other broadcasters are prepared to fill its void. The commercial broadcaster ProSieben.1 has confirmed its commitment to the DTT platform by renewing its carriage agreement with the broadcast network operator Media Broadcast until 2018. Already, it has launched three new television programme services, sixx, ProSieben Maxx and Sat.1 Gold on the DTT platform in Munich. In addition, the media group Discovery has been granted a temporary license to make its television service DMAX available on the DTT platform in Munich.
According to the Digitalization Report 2013 published by the Medienanstalten in September, the number of households that rely on the DTT platform for their primary television services remains constant at approximately 11% of households although it is believed that the number of households that use the DTT platform to access services on their secondary teleivision sets is significantly higher. DTT penetration varies considerably between regions.
In urban areas, where content from both public service and commercial broadcasters is available, penetration is over 20% of households. For example, the DTT platform is used by 24.5% of households in Bremen and 26.6% of households in Hannover-Brunswick. However, DTT penetration is much lower in rural areas where only public service content is available. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the DTT platform is used by only 2.2% of the population.
Recently, a concept has emerged which seeks to make use of the most appropriate delivery platform depending on the content requested by viewers. Dynamic Broadcasting makes use of existing technologies within a framework that can change depending on the anticipated demands of viewers. With Dynamic Broadcasting, content is delivered to viewers using the most suitable delivery technology including a traditional broadcast (DVB-T/DVB-T2) or broadband network. Use is also made of local hard-disc storage capacity.
Increasingly, solutions that can bridge between cellular and broadcast technologies are sought. In one proposal, a Tower Overlay network would allow for users to access both an LTE as well as a broadcast network from a single device. Similarly, the Medienanstalten has called for the development of hybrid receivers that can access services from both LTE and DVB-T2 networks.
Public service broadcasters have made clear their intention to transition from the DVB-T to the DVB-T2 standard on the DTT platform. Such a transition will enable the DTT platform to continue offering new services such as HDTV and maintain its competitivity with other television delivery platforms. However, for such a transition to succeed, it will require support from both commercial broadcasters as well as the government.
The DTT platform has proven most popular in areas where content from both public service and commercial broadcasters are available. For the DTT platform to maintain its relevance, both commercial and public service broadcasters must work together to ensure the appeal of the platform by offering compelling content and services. Yet for commercial broadcasters to further invest in the DTT platform, they will require guarantees from the government that frequencies will continue to be available in the long-term.
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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