Nº 2 2015 > Special Report on the Digital Switchover
Digital switchover in Asia-Pacific
The challenges of digital switchover differ throughout the Asia-Pacific region, depending on market conditions. Where over-the-air television is popular, countries must ensure that digital terrestrial television is affordable for most of the population. Some countries have set up funds for this purpose, to support particular types of viewers (for example, elderly people or lower-income families). However, in countries where other television platforms are widely used to provide digital television and penetration of pay-television is strong, different approaches are needed to make digital terrestrial television attractive to viewers. This article shows how some countries in the Asia-Pacific region have approached digital switchover.
The countries included in this article have all set five- or ten-year plans for digital switchover, for completion between 2015 and 2020. Each country plans to roll out digital terrestrial television broadcasting in phases, beginning with the most populous and usually most economically developed regions.
Not all countries are adopting the same digital terrestrial television standard, or the same approach to the licensing, promotion and availability of digital services. Where digital television services are widely available over broadband networks and a large number of households subscribe to pay television (for example, in Singapore), efforts to make free-to-air digital terrestrial television available are particularly aimed at households that do not subscribe to pay television.
In Viet Nam, the vast majority of the country’s 20 million or more television viewing households has historically been served by free-to-air analogue terrestrial television, with 109 national, regional and local free-to-air programme channels. By 2011, there was already a strong free-to-air digital base, with 12.5% of television viewers served by digital terrestrial television. The first Digital Video Broadcasting — Terrestrial (DVB‑T) trial was launched in 2000 and government policy to roll out digital terrestrial television nationally was confirmed in 2005. There has been simulcast of analogue and digital signals since 2011, with analogue switch-off planned in phases between 2015 and 2020. Plans are underway to deploy DVB‑T2.
With three nationwide broadcasters and 63 local broadcasters, the country’s television industry is marked by regional diversity. In addition, there are around 40 cable operators and four satellite direct-to-the-home operators. Digitization aims to maintain a diverse bouquet of local and national television channels. The existing network providers and broadcasters in each area are responsible for ensuring that the infrastructure is ready for each phase of digital migration.
The government is using digital switchover to restructure the digital terrestrial television industry vertically, so that transmission companies will provide the digital multiplexes for broadcasters. Four national digital multiplexes are being created for free-to-air services, plus a further three national multiplexes to provide pay-television services. A further multiplex is planned in each region to provide digital delivery of existing local television services.
Plans for digital switchover also form part of a wider strategic plan to transform Viet Nam’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector, which includes targets for increased Internet penetration, and better availability of fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure. For digital terrestrial television, the government has indicated a target of almost all households being able to view digital television by 2020, after analogue switch-off.
The government estimates that — without a digital receiver — around 8.5 million television viewing households may be unable to receive signals after analogue terrestrial television signals are switched off. This has influenced the decision to phase switch-off over six years. Viet Nam’s five central cities will switch over first, followed by the central and coastal regions in the south and east, and finally the more mountainous, less densely populated regions in the west and north. Ahead of this, the government announced in April 2014 that all new television sets with a screen size of larger than 32 inches would have to incorporate a digital television receiver, to improve the availability of DVB‑T2 receivers.
The spectrum plan initially involved the upper part of the Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) band (above 790 MHz) being re-allocated for mobile services, and digital terrestrial television using frequencies up to this, although the longer-term plan is for digital terrestrial television to use UHF channels 21 to 48 only (making spectrum above 694 MHz available for mobile use). VHF Band III is also being used for a combination of digital television and digital radio, under the Terrestrial Digital Multimedia Broadcast (T-DMB) standard.
A publicity campaign, funded through a universal service fund, will support digital switchover. The campaign will involve newspapers, electronic and traditional advertising media, street promotions, a website and a call centre. The government is considering tax incentives for consumers and producers of set-top boxes, transmitters and receivers.
Around 3.5 million households in Sri Lanka have a television set. The country is mainly served by free-to-air terrestrial television, and 23 television channels are available to the public.
A 2012 road map showed how Sri Lanka could achieve analogue switch-off by 2017. The framework was subsequently modified, notably by changing the digital broadcasting technology from DVB‑T to Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting — Terrestrial (ISDB‑T), the digital terrestrial television standard developed in Japan. The ISDB‑T standard allows the same signal to be received by fixed, portable and mobile receivers, including any mobile handsets that have the capability built in.
The road map indicated that digital switchover would succeed only if the costs for government, broadcasters and viewers were kept extremely low. The response, outlined in July 2014 by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Mass Media and Information, was that poorer sections of society would access digital television through mobile devices, given the high penetration rate of mobile phones. The functionality of ISDB‑T in supporting transmission to mobile devices was seen as the most affordable for the greatest number of people in Sri Lanka.
In addition to Sri Lanka and Japan, other Asia-Pacific countries that have announced they are to switch to the ISDB‑T standard include the Maldives (confirmed in April 2014) and the Philippines (November 2013). ISDB‑T traditionally used 6 MHz spectrum in Japan. However, ISDB‑T in Botswana and the Maldives has been planned to use an 8 MHz channel. While DVB‑T and ISDB‑T receivers cost a similar amount, ISDB‑T normally uses 6 MHz bandwidth for transmission, whereas DVB‑T uses 7 MHz or 8 MHz bandwidth. A number of countries have also selected ISDB‑T for its earthquake and tsunami early warning messaging capabilities.
Singapore began trials of DVB‑T2 in 2011. It is now partway through its digital migration process, and digital switchover is scheduled to occur before 2020. Digital television was already available to residents in five central areas by June 2014, with roll-out scheduled to cover all residential areas by 2016. Singapore will then simulcast analogue and digital for at least another two years.
It is not anticipated that Singapore will change the licensing or structure of its television market during digital switchover. The country has three licensed nationwide broadcasters: MediaCorp offers nationwide free-to-air channels; StarHub is a cable pay-television provider; and SingNet is a subsidiary of SingTel that offers pay-television services through its broadband network. Nationwide licensees currently pay a fee of 2.5% of total revenue to Singapore’s Media Development Authority.
The government estimates that 1.15 million households had television sets in 2013. Government policies supporting convergence have contributed to the provision of digital television services over national broadband networks as well as digital terrestrial television. Broadband providers StarHub and SingTel both provide digital television services over broadband platforms. It is estimated that StarHub has 543 000 subscribers and SingNet has 391 000, meaning that around 60% of households nationwide already receive digital television through a pay-television service provided by broadband providers.
The remaining non-pay-television viewers in Singapore access free-to-air terrestrial television distributed by MediaCorp, a monopoly wholly owned by the State investment company, Temasek. MediaCorp is vertically integrated, and is a content buyer and producer. There are also nine niche television licensees which offer 80 linear, on-demand channels in various languages across Internet protocol television. Licences are limited to 100 000 viewers per channel, or a daily broadcast reach of 250 000 unique viewers, and are under light-touch regulation, with no carry, ownership or advertising obligations.
DVB‑T2 was trialed from August to December 2011 to ensure its suitability for Singapore’s dense urban environment. In Singapore, each user will require not only the DVB‑T2 set-top box, but also an indoor antenna.
In 2012, the Media Development Authority published DVB‑T2 receiver specifications for manufacturers, and began multi-channel consumer and retailer education, including handing out and posting brochures at major electronic retail outlets, setting up a technical assistance hotline, publishing information on the Media Development Authority website, and issuing press releases. This public education campaign will continue throughout 2014 and 2015, with the government planning to hold roadshow events, before sending information booklets to every household in 2016 and 2017. The Media Development Authority has engaged closely with MediaCorp, SingNet, StarHub and large retailers.
Since December 2013, all seven MediaCorp free-to-air channels have been broadcast in digital format. Four of these channels are also being broadcast in high definition, and the remaining three will be upgraded to high definition by 2016.
The Media Development Authority was allocated the equivalent of USD 173 million in the Singapore budget for 2014, an increase of 18% from 2013. This increase represented funding for public service broadcasting expenditure and the assistance scheme for digital switchover. The government has also announced that households with a monthly income of less than USD 1520, or those that are living in public housing, will receive an assistance scheme package, including a set-top box, an internal antenna and complementary installation service. It is estimated that the scheme will cover around 160 000 households, and will be completed in the next three years. The Media Development Authority will also be working with voluntary welfare organizations on a series of public outreach events to share more information about digital television with residents throughout the year, targeting the elderly and people with disabilities.