Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Philippines Digital TV Update

ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. in the Philippines continues to press ahead for a license to broadcast in digital to leverage on its present network of analog broadcast assets.

The company made its formal application to the National Telecommunications Commission for a terrestrial television license (DTT) in late June.

ABS-CBN sees DTV as a cost-effective alternative to cable or satellite systems for the average home as its requires just an antenna not a satellite or cable TV connection..

ABS-CBN recognises that broadcasters worldwide, particularly those operating in countries with low cable and satellite penetration, are starting to make inroads into DTV programming. These nascent services include interactive TV, multi-channel programming, interactive advertising, TV-based online shopping and banking and the delivery of premium television content directly to mobile phones.

In its letter to the National Telecommunications Commission, ABS-CBN said: “ABS-CBN remains legally, financially and technically qualified to maintain and operate the proposed DTT service".

Another part of the submission read: "As part of its efforts to upgrade its broadcast operations and enhance the efficiency of its service, the applicant (ABS-CBN) hereby manifests its intention to provide DTT service, through the conversion of its existing analog service to digital"

ABS-CBN first step will be for its flag ship television station in Manila, DWWX-TV Channel 2 to upgrade from analog to digital broadcast. The company says this is already underway and is being undertaken to assist the Philippine government’s initiative to effect migration of television broadcast stations from analog to digital transmissions, “at the earliest time practicable.”

ABS-CBN expects there to be a changeover period where analog and digital transmissions will run side by side.

The ABS-CBN application has becoming a pressure point for the company that has seen its ratings and earnings dip after main rival GMA-7 Network has been eating into audience share. New income generating revenue streams over digital would make its content/programming output more valuable being used across a number of distribution platforms.

But the Philippines is behind much of the rest of Asia in adopting the International Telecommunications Union’s 2010 timetable to start switching off analog broadcasts. Both regulators and the private broadcasters are still undecided as to the path to follow.

According to the ITU, most countries have already designated specific dates for the switchover to DTT programming from analog programming.

For the US, its Congress passed a law in December last year calling for a mandatory switch-off date of February 2009, while the UK opted for a switch-off date of December 2012. Although Australia has just delayed from 2008 to a movable goal post deadline between 2010 and 2012. Canada has decided to leave it to the free market to decide.

Meanwhile, sister company to ABS-CBN, Bayan Telecommunications Inc. (Bayantel) announced late last year of its plan to offer Internet- based broadcasting or IPTV (broadband) services.

Bayantel has already formed a working group with ABS-CBN and cable TV firm SkyCable, that will engineer the master plan for the rollout of IPTV across the country.

It wants to offer IPTV by bundling the video content of ABS-CBN and SkyCable with the telephony and Internet services of Bayantel, and then selling the package at an attractive market rate.

In another unrelated move, Nokia Philippines started preliminary discussions with broadcasters on the question of broadcasting to hand held mobile devices in the country.

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