Web Letter

December 2006 | # 57

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.

To subscribe to the DigiTAG Web Letter, send an email to the DigiTAG Project Office.

Launch of DTT services in Estonia

DTT services have been officially launched in Estonia today. This makes Estonia the first country in the region to launch DTT services and the first country in the world to launch a DTT platform using only the MPEG-4 AVC video compression standard. Approximately 50% of the population are within the coverage area of the 18 pay-DTT services of ZUUMtv.

Pay-DTT offer

Services currently available on ZUUMtv include: music from Eeter and MTV, five television programme services from Discovery, movies from Hallmark and Turner Classic Movies, sports from Eurosport and NASN Europe, continuous news from EuroNews and CNN International, and Russian language services from PBK Estonia, RTR Planeta, NTV Mir and Ren-TV, a children service Cartoon Network, and the adult entertainment service Hustler TV. It is expected that a total of 22-24 television programme services will ultimately be made available to viewers, of which 6-8 will be free-to-air services, when the DTT platform is completed.

ZUUMtv is offered by Eesti Digitaaltelevisiooni (EDTV), a company jointly owned by the network operator Levira (34%) and the leading Estonian cable operator Starman (66%). While Starman is responsible for the marketing and sales of services and content acquisition, Levira provides the multiplexing and distribution of services. Levira holds the frequency licenses for the three DTT nationwide multiplexes available prior to analogue switch-off.

In terms of coverage, DTT services are currently available in the capital Tallinn and around the Valgjärve transmission site located in the south-eastern part of the country. Coverage is expected to increase to 95% of the population by September 2007. A third multiplex offering further DTT services is planned for launch at the end of 2007. All three multiplexes will have the same coverage levels.

Current television market

Of the approximately 555,000 television households in Estonia, 50% rely on the terrestrial platform for their primary television reception. While terrestrial remains the most popular television platform, it is closely followed by the cable platform which is the largest pay television platform and available in nearly two-fifths of television households. In order to compete effectively against the cable platform and maintain its current market share, it became increasingly important for the terrestrial platform to launch digital services.

Pay and free-to-air satellite services are also available. The pay satellite platform, offered by Viasat, has made significant additions to its market share in the past six months due to heavy marketing and significant rebates. In addition, the incumbent telecom operator Elion launched its IPTV services over DSL in April 2006.

Currently, viewers can access three channels on the analogue terrestrial platform, one channel from the public service broadcaster (ETV1) and two channels from commercial broadcasters (Kanal 2 and TV3).

The role of the PSB

While DTT services in other launched countries have benefited from the lead taken by well-funded public service broadcasters, this has not been the case in Estonia. Rather, the public service broadcaster Eesti Televisioon (ETV) has suffered financial instability in recent years which has in turn affected its audience share and made it the least watched of the three available channels on the analogue terrestrial platform.

Since 2002, ETV has been prohibited from showing commercial advertisements. This measure had been taken in order to help commercial broadcasters which had, until that time, been generating losses. In compensation, commercial broadcasters are required to pay a yearly license fee of EEK 23 million (€1.5 million). However, the fee payment is made directly to the government rather than to ETV which has caused ETV to become dependent on Parliament for its funding each year.

Nonetheless, the public service broadcaster has been a strong proponent of DTT services. It has actively participated in DTT trials and is planning to introduce two new services on the DTT platform. However, no certainty exists that resources will be available for the launch of these services.

Financing the DTT platform

The launch of DTT services has only been possible as a pay platform in order to ensure its financial viability. Despite the partial privatisation of the broadcast network, the government has not made funding available to roll-out the DTT network. At this stage, the government has not yet announced any plans to help finance digital switchover.

Because DTT services are mainly offered as a pay service and use the MPEG-4 AVC standard, they will primarily target relatively affluent viewers.

Such a model may prove to be a hindrance to the widespread penetration of DTT services which, in other countries, has benefited from inexpensive set-top boxes and a large free-to-air service offering. This could have an impact on the analogue switch-off date, which is currently set for February 2012, unless the government is able to provide funding to help increase digital penetration.

Post ASO plans

The Geneva 2006 Agreement has allocated 9 DVB-T coverage layers following analogue switch-off. It has not yet been decided how these coverage layers will be used.
The government's plan for digital television, Concept of Digital Television, produced in June 2004, recommends the introduction of new DVB-T and DVB-H services in Estonia. Already, the use of MPEG-4 AVC provides broadcasters with some of the necessary infrastructure in place to provide HDTV services. Testing for DVB-H services are likely to begin in the middle of 2007. The leading mobile operator EMT and Levira have both announced their plans for DVB-H trials.

Source: Natalie Mouyal, DigiTAG Project Office

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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 some 60 members from broadcasting, network operators, regulatory, and manufacturing organisations throughout Europe and beyond.
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the Netherlands - First country to complete ASO

In the night of 10-11 December, the Netherlands switched off its analogue terrestrial television network. This makes it the first country in the world to completely switch-off its analogue terrestrial television services.

The process was quite a smooth with only three hours needed between switch-off and getting the digital signal on the air.

Source: KPN

Spain - 2.5 million DTT receivers sold in 2006

Latest data shows that DTT penetration is growing in Spain. Already, 2 million DTT set-top boxes and 500,000 iDTVs have been sold in 2006 in addition to the DTT receivers in homes prior to the DTT launch in November 2005.

In related news, the organisation promoting DTT services, Pro DTT, has announced its plans to launch a massive advertising campaign on the advantages of DTT services.

Members of Pro DTT include the network operator Abertis and all broadcasters on the DTT platform.

Source: Reuters and advanced-television.com

United Kingdom - Ofcom sets out DTT multiplex licensing conditions

Ofcom has published the license conditions for DTT multiplex operators further to its public consultation on the issue in July 2006. The conditions ensure that multiplex operators deliver appropriate levels of digital coverage following switchover.

Multiplex operators carrying public service channels are required to achieve a DTT coverage of 98.5% coverage of the population while multiplex operators carrying commercial services are required to provide a DTT coverage of 90% of the population following switchover.

Source: Ofcom

Czech Republic - CTU proposes 2010 ASO date

The communications regulator CTU has opened for consultation its plans for digital switchover in the Czech Republic. The proposed plan calls for analogue switch-off by 2010.

Following an approach similar to the one used in Germany, digital switch-over will take place by region with DTT services launched followed by a rapid switch-off of analogue services. Altogether, 11 regions will cover the entire country.

The first region is expected to launch its DTT services in 2007.

Source: CTU website

United Kingdom - Initial results of the HD/DTT trial

Findings from the HD/DTT trial indicate that viewers expect HD services on the free-to-air DTT platform in the future. The trial was undertaken jointly by the broadcasters BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five.

The trial has been available to a closed sample group of 450 selected households in the London area since June 2006.

Of the trialists, 98% stated that it was important to have HD services on DTT platform in the future, with 86% expecting these services within three years. In addition, 90% believed that the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five should be at the forefront of HD developments.

Source: BBC

Japan - DTT coverage expanded

DTT services have been launched in eight western prefectures of Japan, including Okayama, Kagawa, Saga, Oita, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Kagoshima. Coverage is available to approximately 84% of the 47 million households in these areas.

Japan launched its DTT services in December 2003 using its ISDB-T standard. Analogue switchoff is set to take place on 24 July 2011.

Source: Broadband TV News