Digital Switchover in Europe, Vol. 14 - 2007, No. 1
This paper aims to assess the role the Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) have played in driving overall digital take-up and therefore bringing forward the likely date of digital switchover across Europe. While pay television has driven the initial uptake of Digital Television (DTV) in Europe, saturation of the pay television market in terms of penetration may be occurring. Attention was focused on the free-to-view market and with the launch of a number of free-to-air services (e.g. the BBC-led Freeview service in the UK in 2002; the France Televisions-led TNT in France in 2005), Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) in many parts of Europe has turned into a free-to-air platform. The re-direction of DTT towards a primarily free-to-air system in which PSBs have a key role has proved compelling to many households, particularly affl uent, older customers, who are skeptical about pay television, as evidenced by Freeview’s success (more than 7.5 million customers in early 2007). This paper argues that PSBs have played a significant role in enhancing consumer interest in digital services and making the target of prompt analogue switch-off across Europe in 2012 seem achievable.
Preparation for the digital switchover in Central and Eastern Europe adds to the complexity of post-Communist transformation in broadcasting. The following problems are apparent: (1) lack of sufficient understanding of the issues involved in the digital switch-over, especially as regards the broadcasting, programming and market issues involved; (2) turf wars between broadcasting and telecommunications regulatory authorities; (3) the impact of politics on the process of preparation and execution of digital switchover strategies; and (4) in some cases, launching the process prematurely, for inappropriate reasons. Depending on one’s point of view, this is either a “premature” digital switchover in countries not yet ready for it, or a case of countries needing a wake-up call to face technological and market realities that they are not responding properly to. Poland is in the process of changing its switchover strategy. The process is to start in 2010 with the roll-out of one digital multiplex, covering the whole country, and carrying the existing analogue terrestrial television channels. Plans for further moves are hazy. Meanwhile, many market players are launching alternative projects to take advantage of digital technology, e.g. by means of satellite technology.
Britain is almost unique in giving its incumbent public service broadcaster, the BBC, a leading role in driving digital, thereby hoping to hasten digital take-up, and thus allowing analogue switch-off by 2012. This paper is divided into two parts. The first part investigates the recent historical past with respect to the making of policy, drawing on the analytical framework of policy cycles. Why has the British government given the BBC a lead role in the move towards digital transmission, and how does this decision link and interconnect with other interweaving policy debates surrounding the BBC licence fee and Charter renewal? In a media environment, increasingly driven by commercial considerations, what are the key policy motivations for entrusting a publicly funded institution with a lead role in the digital era, and what have been the main challenges and policy dilemmas in doing this? Part two considers how the BBC has responded to government policy initiatives. What are the key building blocks of its digital strategy and just how comfortably do these sit with its public service remit? For digital means much more than just broadcasting, demanding responses to changes in the way that audiences are likely to interact with content in future. Yet, in positioning itself as a content provider, whose content will be available on demand on myriad future platforms, the Corporation is increasingly impinging on what commercial operators believe is their future route to profitability. In the light of this analysis, the paper concludes by assessing the compatibility of government policy and BBC strategy given their at times diverging aims and objectives, and what this means for the continuance of a public service ethos into the digital age.
This paper analyses the impact of the digital transition on the television industry and market in Italy. A major concern for those interested in issues related to social cohesion and the impact of the digital transition on democratic practices is the fact that digital television platforms continue to produce a polarised market. Indeed, in Italy we are witnessing a shift from “duopoly,” a condition that has characterised the analogue television market, to “duality,” where quality TV content is migrating to pay-TV, leaving programming of lower quality on free-to-air channels. Given the fundamental function that television has played in shaping Italian democracy, the question is how this mutation from “duopoly” to “duality” will inform the evolution of democratic practices in the country. The study includes an investigation of media legislation, an analysis of the digital television market, and an exploration of the public broadcaster’s struggle to maintain a relevant role in the digital environment. It concludes that the determination of the legislature to break down the duopoly is important, but that more government intervention will be necessary in order to ensure that quality free-to-air television becomes universally available.
This article focuses on the political, social and economic trends of the Spanish television system in a moment of transition towards the new digital environment. In 2006, digital television is still in an incipient phase, since less than 25% of the Spanish population have access to digital terrestrial television. In spite of the effort of the government to promote it, there is serious concern about the feasibility of the analogue switch-off scheduled for April 2010. The development of digital TV has shaped an environment in which audience fragmentation and market concentration have increased. But from the point of view of the audience, changes have not been very relevant, as the offer of the new channels is very similar to the already existing and interactive services and contents are very limited.
The development of digital television in Greece is in its infancy. In effect, there is no digital cable TV, while the public broadcaster, ERT, has only recently started digital transmissions on the terrestrial frequencies. On the contrary, digital satellite television has presented some development, but this is due to the only pay-TV operator in Greece, Nova – after a wounded digital war with an early competitor, Alpha Digital. However, total pay-TV penetration, both analogue and digital, is less than nine per cent of TV households, one of the lowest pay-TV penetration rates in Europe. This paper will try to discuss the development of digital television in Greece. It will trace the players, the economics and the politics associated with this new television medium, and it will argue that the domestic market, due to its size and peculiarities, is difficult to create the needed economies of scale of the development of digital television.