Web Letter

February 2014

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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DTT in Ireland: the prospects for a commercial DTT platform in small television markets


In early January, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) issued a statement indicating that it would not proceed with the licensing of a commercial DTT platform. This followed the recommendations of a study that the BAI had commissioned on the potential for a commercial DTT platform in the country. The study, undertaken by Oliver & Ohlbaum in the summer of 2013, provided an analysis of the current market conditions as well as three potential business models for a commercial DTT platform.

According to the Oliver & Ohlbaum study, the economic situation in Ireland has not improved since the last attempt at licensing a commercial DTT platform which took place in 2008. Instead, the market conditions remain very challenging and it is unfeasible that a financially viable commercial platform could develop. To bolster its position, the study cites the sustained period of a decreased gross domestic product (GDP) and household income which, in turn, reduces the amount of expenditure available for advertising budgets and pay television subscriptions.

As noted in the study, the digital switchover process was a missed opportunity for the launch of a commercial operation. In 2008, prior to the launch of the DTT platform, 30% of households relied on the analogue terrestrial television platform. These households, which a commercial DTT platform could have targeted, have since found alternative means to access digital services, whether through the free-to air DTT platform or a pay television service from another operator.

However, the situation in Ireland remains unique. Its only neighboring country shares the same language and, as a result, attracts many Irish viewers. Uptake of the United Kingdom’s free-to-air DTT platform, Freeview, and free-to-air satellite platform, Freesat, has been remarkably high in Ireland, adopted by 9% and 14% of households, respectively. The free-to-air DTT platform in Ireland, Saorview, is also relatively popular with households. It is used by 38% of households although only 11% rely exclusively on the Saorview platform.

The bleak outlook presented in the study fails to address the strong demand for national and regional content as well the importance of a terrestrial network that can compete with other television delivery platform and safeguard national interests given that it is the only nationally owned platform. The study also downplays many of the successful DTT platforms elsewhere in Europe, including in markets of similar size.

DTT service offering in Ireland

The free-to-air DTT platform, Saorview, officially launched in May 2011. It uses the DVB-T and MPEG-4 AVC standards to offer 8 television and 10 radio programme services. Among the television services, 7 are in standard-definition while one is in high-definition. Saorview is broadcast from 64 transmission sites and is available to 98% of the population. Viewers outside of the DTT coverage area can access the free-to-view satellite service, Saorsat. However, Soarsat is estimated to be used by a negligible number of households.

The free-to-air DTT platform uses two multiplexes that have been allocated to the public service broadcaster RTE. The content is provided by the public service broadcasters RTE and TG4 as well as the incumbent commercial broadcaster TV3 which had been available on the analogue terrestrial television platform. While the DTT platform currently uses two DTT multiplexes, a further 4 multiplexes are reserved for the commercial DTT platform. In addition, as part of the 800 MHz Clearance Plan, a further 3 multiplexes are available for the DTT platform. This plan is part of the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the United Kingdom that seeks to ensure equitable access to spectrum for both countries, including access to 9 DTT multiplexes in the UHF band for each country.

Analogue switch-off was completed in October 2012.

The failure to successfully license a commercial DTT platform can be attributed in part to the inadequacy of the regulatory regime at the time. In 2008, BAI’s predecessor, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI), opened a tender for a license to operate the commercial DTT platform. Three consortia (Boxer, Onevision, and EasyTV) applied but each failed to successfully negotiate with the incumbent network operator RTE NL (now rebranded as 2RN), a subsidiary of the public service broadcaster RTE. As a result, each of the consortia declined the license to operate the commercial DTT platform.

Improvements have since been made to the regulatory regime. It is now possible for the broadcast regulator to serve as a mediator which it had been unable to do in the conflict between RTE NL and the potential DTT license-holders. In addition, in July 2013, the communications regulator ComReg found RTE NL to have significant market power in the provision of wholesale DTT transmission services and, as a result, ComReg has placed certain obligations upon RTE NL including price control and transparency. ComReg has announced that it will conduct a review Weighted Average Cost of Capital of RTE NL which will be published at the end of 2014.

Some have also blamed the broadcast regulator for failing to follow up with broadcasters that had expressed an interest in joining the DTT platform in a public consultation in 2009. They also blame the regulator for not providing the incentive necessary for a parliamentary service, Oireachtas TV, and film service from the Irish Film Board to join the DTT platform despite their keen interest in doing so.

Prospects for a commercial DTT platform

Following the BAI’s announcement that it does not plan to license a commercial DTT platform in the near future, it is unlikely that significant changes to the DTT platform will take place. Instead, the current broadcasters on the DTT platform will need to develop new services to make the platform appealing and competitive. The provision of new content and/or high-definition content could help increase the platform’s appeal. As the only platform to exclusively offer national content, it could perhaps focus on national, regional and community services.

In other markets of a similar size, commercial DTT platform have been successfully launched. In Austria, which, similar to Ireland, is bordered by a large country with a similar language, the DTT platform offers national content free-to-air as well as an extensive pay-DTT offering using the DVB-T2 standard. In Hungary, where the DTT platform was late to develop, the pay-DTT platform is growing aggressively and has met its growth targets. The pay-DTT platforms in the Nordic countries have been successful, in part due to viewer willingness to pay for television services. Less successful pay-DTT platforms have been in Belgium and the Netherlands where the pay-DTT platforms have been operated by a cable and a telecom operator, respectively, that have encouraged viewers to subscribe to alternative pay television platforms.  

In early February, ComReg opened a consultation on the use of frequencies in the UHF band. It seeks to understand demand for the use of the UHF band which could include mobile broadband, white space applications, and public protection and disaster relief. Based on legal requirements, a minimum of 6 multiplexes will be reserved for the DTT platform. However, should frequencies in the 700 MHz band be allocated to mobile telecom services as is currently being considered in Europe, the DTT platform will need to be shifted to a lower part of the UHF band. As a result, up to 50% of households in Ireland may need to upgrade their DTT reception equipment.



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

About DigiTAG

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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Sweden - Successful testing of 4K Ultra HD on the DTT platform

The broadcast network operator Teracom has announced the successful testing of a 4K Ultra HD signal on the DTT platform.

The test is currently underway from the Nacka transmission tower in Stockholm and will last until March. It began at the broadcast industry event TV Puls in January.

Source: Teracom website

Tanzania - Planning for final DSO phase underway

The communications regulator TCRA is preparing for the second and final stage of digital switchover.

The first phase took place at the end of 2012 in 7 regions, including Dar es Salaam. Research by the University of Dar es Salaam shows that 89% of households have converted to the DTT platform.

Source: Daily News

Singapore - Government to provide DSO aid to low-income households

The minister of communications has announced that up to 170,000 households could receive support to help offset the cost of digital switchover.

Support will be given to low-income households, and it is expected that the least financially secure households will receive funding to cover the full cost of DTT receiving equipment and installation.

Source: Today Online website

Ecuador - DTT receiver certification underway

Receiver certification is underway with 55 model now approved for sale in the market.

Receiver certification began in January with the certification of 11 models from the manufacturer Samsung. The Army Politechnique Superior School (Espe) is responsible for certifying receiver conformance. It is the only institutio qualified to do so.

Source: El Valle

Azerbaijian - Teleradio expands pay-DTT network

The broadcast network operator Teleradio has announced the expansion of its pay-DTT network.

The pay-DTT platform will become available in the regions of Guba, Gusar, Khachmaz and Shabran as of the middle of March. Viewers will be able to acess up to 70 television programme services. In addition, the number of pay-DTT services available in Ganja will be increased.

Source: Trend website

StarTimes has 1.5 million DTT subscribers across Africa

The pay-DTT operator StarTimes, with services offered across Africa, had 1.5 million subscribers at the end of 2013.

Its revenue in 2013 reached US $143 million.

Source: Rapid TV News

Slovakia - License to operate local DTT multiplex awarded

The electronic communications regulator TU SR has granted 2M Media the right to operate a local DTT multiplex in Nitra.

This multiplex, known as CME, will use the frequency channel 52. The license is valid until 31 December 2020.

Source: TU SR website

Slovenia - AKOS opens tender for television service licenses on DTT platform

The Agency for Communication Networks and Services (AKOS) has announced that it is opening a tender for 4 licenses to provide television programme services on the DTT platform.

These services will be made available throughout the country on a free-to-air basis. Preference will be given to broadcasters producing their own content.

Source: AKOS website

Nigeria - City of Jos to lead DSO

The city of Jos in Plateau State will be the first to complete digital switchover in Nigeria. It will take place in April.

With the DTT platform, viewers will be able to access 15 television programme services. In addition, the government has announced that it will prohibit the importation of analogue only television sets as of June 2014.

Source: All Africa website