Public service broadcasting

IRIS Plus 2010-1: Digital Television

Author: Andrei Richter, Moscow Media Law and Policy Center, and Taras Shevchenko, Media Law Institute, Kiev

Published: 01/02/2010

Imagine turning on your television and not receiving any signal. For an increasing number of television viewers this could have been the case had they not re-equipped themselves for digital television. To mention only the early birds: Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden completed the transition to digital terrestrial television between 2006 and 2007. Consumers living in these countries had no choice but to follow suit lest they feared to lose what is still one of – if not– the most used audiovisual media service. If everything goes according to the expectation of the EU Commission, almost all EU member states will meet the 2012 EU target for switch-off and, hence, more digital television equipment will find its homes.

All this hype about the pre-imminent completion of an EU-driven digital television landscape may easily blind us to the fact that going digital is not a piece of cake. Sure enough some EU member states lag behind causing some kind of “European digital divide”. The divide, however, deepens, if one looks beyond the EU borders where for a significant part of European territory, namely Russia and Ukraine, the goal to switch-off analogue digital television still seems to be pie in the sky. The lead article of this IRIS plus focuses on these two countries and their national policies for catching up with their digitally more advanced European neighbours. It explores existing legal instruments that might accelerate the switch-over and alludes to others which would still need to be developed. As pressing as the need for a “digital-proof” legal framework is the necessity to back this up with practical arrangements such as a general frequency policy, multiplex line-up, licensing and control of operators, provision of set-top boxes, and development of new services. Moreover, in both countries the role assigned to the national licensing body is central to the roll-out of digital terrestrial television. Last but not least, the lead article examines ownership issues and some already existing digital terrestrial broadcasting services.

In Europe, the transition to digital television is challenging not only Russia and Ukraine. Among the countries that are members of the European Audiovisual Observatory, the list of those which only very recently introduced digital services or are about to launch them this year reaches alphabetically from Bulgaria to Turkey. Other European States such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia are equally busy with plotting strategies to introduce a system of digital broadcasting. The related reporting-section updates on 2009 developments in many of these countries.

The ZOOM fills the DTT picture for all Observatory member states. Firstly, it presents the number of digital TV households for all reception modes (cable, satellite, terrestrial, DSL). Secondly, it lists the launch dates for digital terrestrial television services, the dates of the analogue switch off, the different DTT business models, the number of multiplexes as well as their operators and/or DTT packagers, and the adopted video/audio standard.

In 2010 and beyond, digital television will certainly be among the key topics for the audiovisual industry as well as its legislators and regulators and therefore the European Audiovisual Observatory. Enjoy the first results of our on-going investigations!