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The Economics And Politics Of The New Media, Vol. 6 - 1999, No. 3

Towards Digital Television in Europe: A Race or a Crawl?

, pages: 67-86

On the face of it, DTV would seem to be a technology for which consumer demand is weak at best. As a production, delivery and display innovation, its deployment is more obviously driven by a technological rather than an audience imperative. The major question hanging over its future is how this greatly enhanced distribution system will be supplied with programmes. Much of the debate on DTV so far has concentrated on engineering standards, delivery platforms and the impact of competition, although there is now a recognition, at least in the trade press and broadcasters' conferences, that content, not technology, will drive its adoption. Major film/TV companies increasingly see the roll-out of DTV in the context of a “windowing” strategy, which serves to maximise profits by extending market reach over time as well as across territories. This will go some way towards answering the question of where significantly large new volumes of programming will be sourced in order to drive a “content is king” scenario. But there is the danger, for early adopters especially, that disillusionment may set in as the rhetoric of abundance, pushed hard by the TV industry for so long, is confronted by viewer realisation that “multiplexing” is really synonymous with “repeats,” thus elevating the existing problem of viewer resistance to repeats in analogue broadcasting to new heights. In Europe, there is little doubt that public service broadcasters should play a major role in content supply, beacuase of their vast archives of programming and their accumulated investment in production infrasctucture. But the strengths of both cultural affinities and barriers in existing, analogue TV markets, even where regulators demand quotas, must be carefully assessed before we can extrapolate to any new digital environment and the role of PSB in it. We must also assess the current tensions between public and private TV systems, intensely focussed on the European Commission and its relationship with national governments since the adoption of the Protocol of the Amsterdam Treaty, in particular the guerrilla war being waged against the EBU, the attempt to redefine PSB as a set of programming genres, the contention that the licence fee is a form of “state aid” and the argument that PSB will be competing unfairly with private TV interersts if allowed to develop “new services.”

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