This could result in just 7% penetration of high definition digital terrestrial television (HD-DTT) in the UK by 2012, with a similar scenario playing out across Europe, according to a new broadcast tracking and analysis service from Understanding & Solutions.
Though many consumers are still confused about high definition, the message is starting to get through and, in Europe, nearly 80 channels provide at least some HD content. Indeed, most satellite, many cable and even a number IPTV platforms are now carrying HD, with some operators offering up to 15 channels. Yet for HD-DTT, the future may be bleak, placing public service broadcasting at a disadvantage and creating a viewing hierarchy of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.
Although bandwidth will be freed up in many countries after analogue switch off (ASO), the spectrum will be sold or auctioned to the highest bidder, and broadcasters will find it hard to match the potential revenue offers from mobile and broadband operators.
“Improvements in compression technologies like MPEG-4 AVC are making HD-DTT solutions a possibility,” says Graeme Packman, Principal Consultant at Understanding & Solutions, “although only with a very limited number of channels. Further technological development will help breach the bottleneck, but it’s a slow process requiring considerable international coordination.”
The UK is currently taking the lead in addressing some of these issues and has two separate sets of proposals. The first is a formal proposal backed by the UK regulator Ofcom, and is going through a structured evaluation process. The second route is a much more ambitious set of proposals from an independent expert industry group, officials from the DVB standards group, and the UK industry body DTG, which could result in 40 HD-DTT channels becoming available. This would certainly give the terrestrial platform critical mass as a HD source, and a fighting chance against satellite and cable.
“Implementation of the more radical of these proposals could require the amendment of currently agreed spectrum allocations,” continues Packman, “which will mean the rapid obsolescence of broadcasters’ investment plans for digital transition. However, it would lead to more frequencies being handed back and potentially a greater opportunity for the government to raise money.
“To make this happen, two of the 14 frequencies due to be handed back at ASO need to be retained with a view to handing back up to ten more frequencies in the future.”
Implementation of the plans may also require modification of the transmission systems already being implemented, which have seen the investment of hundreds of millions of pounds by UK broadcasters. Needless to say, this is not very appealing to them, and gaining their support may be difficult, if not impossible.
Although much of the development work for both proposals has been done for the UK market, the intention is that they could be applied internationally to maximise terrestrial spectrum efficiency across Europe and elsewhere. However, there’s the risk of division in the implementation of HD-DTT across Europe: an unwelcome situation for equipment and component manufacturers who are looking to true pan-European products.
“To compound the problem, most countries are already well down the track of implementing the transition to DTT,” says Packman, “with considerable investment by broadcasters, transmission companies and other interested parties. It will be very difficult for these organisations to change track and write off money that has already been drawn down.”
About the new Broadcast Tracking Service
’Broadcast and Beyond’ is a new subscription-based tracking service from Understanding & Solutions which provides market, product and technology insight to organisations operating within the broadcast field. Focusing on Digital TV evolution (cable, satellite, terrestrial, IPTV), Pay-TV market development, future strategies of service providers, HD broadcasting uptake and household penetration of associated devices, this service comprises market updates, comprehensive strategic reports, a helpline service and debriefings to ensure clients are fully informed of the future trends, opportunities and threats emerging within this dynamic sector.
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