7–29 The Transition to Digital
Television in the United States:
The Endgame
31–50 Not the Apocalypse: Television
Futures in the Digital Age
51–68 Would the Real Freeview Please
Stand Up?
69–83 White Spaces – the New Wi-Fi?
85–87 Preparations for Digital
Switchover in Japan: An Update
88 Digital Television Switchover in
China: Editor’s Note
89–93 China’s Digital Switchover:
International Context
95–104 The Positioning and Current
Situation of China’s Digital TV
105–111 A Description of China’s Digital
Cable TV Services
Conference Reports
113–115 Digital Television in Developing
Countries? Reflections from the
Commonwealth Broadcasting
Association’s Asia-Pacific
Conference in Tonga
117–120 Digital TV and Democratic
Media in Post-Communist
Europe: Reflections from
the ‘Beyond East and West’
Conference Hosted by the
Central European University in
121–122 YouTube – Online Video and
Participatory Culture, Jean
Burgess and Joshua Green, with
Contributions by Henry Jenkins
and John Hartley (2009)
123–124 Digital Television in Europe,
edited by Wendy van den
Broeck and Jo Pierson (2008)
125–126 Media and Communication
Technologies, A Critical
Introduction, Stephen Lax
JDTV_1.1_FM_001–002.indd Sec1:1 10/29/09 8:43:55 AM
JDTV_1.1_FM_001–002.indd Sec1:2 10/23/09 8:44:53 AM
JDTV 1 (1) pp. 3–5 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Editorial. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.3/2
The launch of a new journal stimulates a lot of basic questions. Who are we?
What are we trying to do and why? What defines the subject matter suffi-
ciently to distinguish this venture from the range of journals which already
cover media and telecommunications?
Where to start? Well, the editors have a mix of academic and professional
experience and are of three different nationalities (our biographical details are
included at the end of this issue). We hope that our contributors and our read-
ership will be similarly mixed, since our aim is to bring together the work of
academics, policy-makers and practitioners from across the globe. We would
like to see the journal build up, and disseminate, an understanding of digital
television in different countries, as digital switchover takes place progressively
and as the television industry enters a new era as a result.
The backdrop to our initiative is the switchover process, now widespread
internationally, of introducing digital television transmission and, after a
transition period which may be as short as a year or last a decade or more,
switching off analogue terrestrial television. The first regional digital switcho-
ver was accomplished in Berlin in 2003. The first complete national analogue
terrestrial switch offs were achieved by the Netherlands and Luxembourg in
2006, followed by Finland and Sweden in 2007. Switzerland and Germany
came next and the United States achieved its nationwide analogue terrestrial
switch-off in June 2009. The UK and several other European countries have
switched off in certain regions. During the next three or four years most of the
advanced economies of the world are expected to complete their own national
switchovers and many more will embark upon the process.
Nowhere has switchover been without risks or problems – whether com-
mercial, legal or political – and generally, it has proved much easier to start
digital broadcasting than to end analogue. Thus there is plenty of scope for
learning from comparative study.
JDTV_1.1_edt_Starks_003-006.indd 3 10/23/09 12:35:07 PM
Michael Starks
However, the journal’s role will be much broader than this. Digital televi-
sion transmission is part of the pattern of digitization of nearly all forms of
audio and video production, distribution and reception – and this common
reliance on the digital coding of signals has led to the well-known convergence
of the television, computer and telecommunications technologies. This in turn
has sparked innovation in the service provision and consumer usage of televi-
sion and a blurring of the distinction between broadcasting and the Internet.
So the journal will explore the expanding agenda of issues around the result-
ing transformation of television’s operations and audiences, examining the
editorial, financial, social and cultural dimensions.
Closely related is the question of the implications for regulation: first,
what regulatory approach is required in order to achieve digital switchover
and, second, how then to reconcile the historically relatively strict regulation
of television content with the generally lighter system of telecommunications
Given the strength of the current of convergence, is it practical – in setting
the journal’s scope – to continue to separate digital television from related
forms of digital telecommunications? Does digital television retain any
distinctive character within an all-digital communications framework? Our
answer is ‘Not entirely and probably decreasingly, but, even so, yes’. For the
medium term at any rate, television and telecommunications, while over-
lapping, have a different focus from one another, conventionally expressed
as the distinction between ‘one to many’ and ‘one to one’ communications.
Moreover, digital TV is being shaped not just by synergies with telecommu-
nications but also by two other developments (which in many countries pre-
ceded digital switchover):
the spread of multi-platform distribution, diminishing the importance of •
terrestrial television reception;
the replacement of the cathode-ray tube by flat-screen LCD and plasma •
receivers, with large screen sizes boosting consumer interest in high defi-
nition TV.
If we accept the existence of something distinctive called digital television
(albeit with fuzzy edges), why should it be the subject for study on a compara-
tive international basis and what contribution can a journal in this field aim
to make?
At least three fields of research and analysis suggest themselves. The first
is the motivation, at national level, for digital switchover. Commercial motives
are, of course, equally important and in some countries the major analogue
terrestrial broadcasters have had incentives to adopt the new technology,
while in others they have had a vested interest in the ‘status quo’. However,
the decision to make digital television compulsory throughout a whole nation
is ultimately a political one and, on the evidence to date, the policy ‘drivers’
have varied by place and by time. The mix of industrial policy, communica-
tions strategy, and spectrum efficiency motives therefore bears investigation.
For countries which have not yet embarked on digital switchover, especially
developing countries with relatively low consumer spending power and with
other priorities, the question of ‘why switch?’ is fundamental.
Second, enough evidence has now accumulated for it to be possible to
analyse, on a comparative international basis, the key elements required for
a successful digital switchover. The early experience of digital broadcaster
JDTV_1.1_edt_Starks_003-006.indd 4 10/23/09 12:35:07 PM
bankruptcies in the UK and in Spain, and the history of governments naming
a target analogue switch off date and then postponing it, are symptoms of
some of the commercial and political difficulties that underlie switchover pol-
icy. Comparative study can illuminate essential differences between national
markets which require variations of approach – but also common principles
which are relevant to any country designing its strategy. Early work in this
field was based on an analysis of a relatively small number of countries still in
the transition stage of switchover. Increasingly now, as more countries com-
plete the process and others start, the evidence available for comparative study
is expanding, bringing in the perspectives of Latin America and South Africa,
for example, to complement those of North America, Europe, Australasia and
East Asia.
The third major field for research and analysis is the character of dig-
ital television, in its wider communications setting, which is emerging from
switchover. This includes the topics which relate to convergence: on-demand
services, Internet TV, mobile television (or mobile phones with video features
and services). Then there is the ‘digital dividend’ – the benefits which coun-
tries choose to reap from auctioning or reallocating the spectrum saved in
switching off analogue terrestrial TV. As well as seeing what new devices and
services can be developed, it is important to assess the implications for the
former analogue broadcasters and their viewers. What impact does the expan-
sion in the number of broadcasters, coupled with the rise of the Internet, have
on advertisement-based funding? How does the ‘digital supermarket’ of TV
choice affect citizens’ and politicians’ willingness to provide public funding for
television? We will look too at digital radio, where the obstacles to switchover
seem greater than for TV.
Wider political and social questions are also emerging. How is audience
behaviour affected? Are viewers all becoming their own programme control-
lers and, if so, what are the social implications of audience fragmentation?
Does it weaken the financial basis for high-quality expensive productions?
With a plurality of TV channels now, is there any continuing justification for
the reulatory requirement for ‘due impartiality’ in news and current affairs
and, if not, is this a benefit or a loss to democratic institutions?
For an international journal especially, the other topic of great significance
is the pattern of international television. The initial phase of international sat-
ellite broadcasting was associated with the dominance of a relatively small
number of mainly American channels, creating concerns in other countries
about US cultural imperialism and the global imposition of an American news
agenda. Will the continuing creation of new digital satellite television chan-
nels by an increasing number of other countries, coupled with the spread of
cable distribution, redress this balance in the future?
These then are some starting thoughts for the journal’s first issue, mapping
out some of the territory that could be explored in future editions. However,
where the journey takes us in practice will depend on the contributions and
feedback which we greatly look forward to receiving.
JDTV_1.1_edt_Starks_003-006.indd 5 10/23/09 12:35:07 PM
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JDTV_1.1_edt_Starks_003-006.indd 6 10/30/09 8:16:13 AM
JDTV 1 (1) pp. 7–29 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.7/1
Indiana University, USA
The Transition to
Digital Television
in the United States:
The Endgame
The switching off of analogue television on 12 June 2009 and the delays that led
up to it are the focus of the analysis here. All digital transitions are difficult but
the US transition was successful in the end, in spite of a number of decisions and
policies that made life confusing and overly complicated at one time or another
for all concerned. The decision to delay the analogue switch off from 17 February
to 12 June 2009 was one of the first initiatives undertaken by the newly elected
Obama administration. The delay was necessary because of the under-funding of
a programme to provide coupons for analogue-digital converter boxes to those still
dependent on over-the-air broadcasts.
The entire US broadcasting system made the transition from analogue to dig-
ital broadcasting on 12 June 2009; on this date, all analogue transmissions
ceased, with only minor exceptions. The transition to digital television (DTV)
was originally scheduled to take place at the end of 2006, but that deadline was
digital television (DTV)
high definition
television (HDTV)
digital transition
analogue switch off
Federal Communications
Commission (FCC)
must-carry rules
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 7 10/24/09 10:04:22 AM
Jeffrey A. Hart
set back: first to 31 December 2008, then to 17 February 2009, and then finally
to 12 June 2009. The setting back of these deadlines reveals a lot about contem-
porary American politics and even more about the politics of broadcasting.
To understand the debates over deadlines it will be necessary to review
both the original decisions to adopt a DTV standard in the United States and
those made later. One major factor in the most recent delay was the election
of Barack Obama in November 2008, so some effort will be made here to
discuss how the DTV transition became an issue during and after the 2008
presidential campaign.
One way to explain the delays is to examine closely the FCC’s decisions
in the 1990s to adopt a DTV standard during the Clinton administration,
and subsequent FCC policies adopted during the administration of George
W. Bush. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) was the primary
forum for decision making about how to implement the transition. It was
responsible for monitoring the performance of other agencies, such as the
National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), who were put
in charge of certain aspects of the transition. The relationship between the
FCC and Congress is central to explaining the FCC’s policies. The relation-
ships between the FCC and powerful private interest groups like the National
Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable Television Association, and
the Consumer Electronics Association were also important.
The US government decided to adopt the Japanese standard for high defini-
tion television (HDTV) in 1985 but changed its mind when objections were
raised, first by the European Union and then later by powerful domestic
economic interests (Hart 2004). After the election of George H.W. Bush in
November 1988, there was a brief flirtation with adopting a policy of direct
government subsidies for the development of HDTV technology, but top
advisers to President Bush shot down this policy. The task of defining how to
respond to the challenge of the transition from an existing television system to
a new one went to the FCC.
The FCC had already appointed an Advisory Committee on Advanced
Television Services (ACATS) in 1987 (during the Reagan administration) to
examine the question of how to make the transition to a new system of televi-
sion broadcasting. ACATS decided that the best way to proceed was to estab-
lish a competition among groups of firms and research laboratories, who were
asked to produce prototypes of advanced TV systems for testing in third-party
laboratories. The main incentive for participating in the competition was the
potential economic return from owning the intellectual property connected
with developing the technologies for the new system.
Seven systems were proposed by the June 1990 deadline for testing.
Several smaller firms and laboratories who had said they would submit pro-
posals had already dropped out of the running by that time. Two days before
the deadline, General Instrument announced that it was submitting a pro-
posal based on a new method of compressing digitized HDTV video signals
into a 6 megahertz bandwidth. As a result of this unexpected development,
FCC Chairman Al Sikes expressed a strong preference for all-digital systems.
By summer 1991, there were only five major proposed systems left from
the original seven: (1) the Advanced Digital Television (ADTV) system pro-
posed by the Advanced Television Research Consortium made up of the
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 8 10/23/09 9:19:55 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
Digital switchover in the United States: a Federal Communications Commission poster.
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 9 10/23/09 12:22:50 PM
Jeffrey A. Hart
North American Philips Corporation, Thomson Consumer Electronics, NBC,
Compression Labs, Inc., and the David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton,
New Jersey; (2) the Spectrum Compatible (SC) system proposed by Zenith
and AT&T with support from Scientific-Atlanta; (3) the Narrow MUSE system
proposed by NHK; and (4) and (5) two all-digital systems proposed by the
American Television Alliance (MIT and General Instrument).
MIT and General Instrument formed the American Television Alliance as a
joint venture in April 1991, the Zenith–AT&T partnership followed closely on its
heels. The Advanced Television Research Consortium added the Compression
Labs as a partner when it felt it needed more help with creating an all-digital
system. Scientific-Atlanta joined the Zenith–AT&T team to help them develop
a workable HDTV cable system (Sweet 1991). When it was absolutely clear that
the FCC would not choose an analogue system – and just before it was NHK’s
turn to test its narrow MUSE entry – NHK withdrew from the competition.
That left three teams with four systems in the race. The American Television
Alliance – MIT and General Instrument – entered two slightly different sys-
tems in the competition: a joint entry with an 1125/60 interlaced production
format and a MIT-only system with progressive scanning.
The FCC would make its final decisions on HDTV standards based on
the recommendation of ACATS. The recommendations from ACATS would
depend at least partly on the reported results of the Advanced Television Test
Center (ATTC) and Cable Labs testing process. On 16 February 1993, Richard
Wiley of ACATS reported that the tests had yielded ‘no superior system’, and
that all of the proposed systems were quite similar but flawed in some respect.
Accordingly, ACATS recommended two alternative courses of action: (1) ask the
three teams to merge into a super team that would solve the remaining technical
problems to the satisfaction of ACATS and the FCC; or (2) allow the teams more
time to perfect their systems and then have a second round of tests. The first
course of action was preferred because it would save the time and expense of a
new round of tests and would eliminate the possibility that a losing team would
initiate litigation over the fairness of the competition (Carnevale 1993). On
24 May 1993, the three teams announced their decision to merge.
The American system, therefore, would be a digital system. The Japanese
Hi-Vision and European HD-MAC systems were both based on the delivery of
analogue signals by DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite) satellites. There was still
some uncertainty whether it would be possible to devise practical means for
delivering digital HDTV via terrestrial antennas, especially in noisy urban mar-
kets, but Chairman Sikes leaned strongly in this direction in hopes that an all-
digital HDTV will be something the US electronics firms could do better than
the Japanese and the European firms. The Japanese and European firms would
still be major suppliers of HDTV components and systems for the American
market, no matter what standard was selected, because of the Research and
Development (R&D) work they had already done and because the US market
was likely to remain open to imports and inflows of direct investment.
Most of the participants in this debate realized that an all-digital system
would have important advantages over an analogue system in permitting
manufacturers to add computer-like features to television sets and set-top
boxes, and that these features would require some agreement to limit the
types of image formats and digital information that the digital HDTV signal
could carry. Thus, a compromise was worked out prior to the 24 May 1993
announcement of the formation of the Grand Alliance. This compromise
called for the US digital transmission standard to be capable of encoding
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 10 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
and decoding both interlaced and progressively scanned source material. The
interlaced material would have 960 scanning lines at 30 frames per second;
the progressive would have 720 lines at 60 frames per second (see Table 1).
The original press release for the Grand Alliance announcement reported
that all displays larger than 34 inches would be progressively scanned, but
apparently that was an error. The Grand Alliance members felt that this
would be an unnecessary handicap for them should non-members decide
to offer (presumably cheaper) interlaced displays for large screen TVs. Since
they could not legally force all non-members to use progressive displays, they
decided to abandon the requirement.
In the meantime, Reed Hundt had not yet been confirmed as Chairman
of the FCC and the Clinton administration initially showed little interest in
HDTV or the ACATS deliberations. Hundt himself was noncommittal. He
was influenced in his views by his discussions with Negroponte and other
computer industry notables. Hundt was looking for HDTV to play a role in the
emergence of the National Information Infrastructure (NII). He wanted HDTV
to be more like what George Gilder called a ‘teleputer’ – a television/compu-
ter device that was seamlessly connected with computer networks. Wiley was
worried that Hundt and the rest of the Clinton administration would scrap
the HDTV deals made by the Republicans in the Bush administration. He felt
that he no longer had the support of the Chairman of the FCC as he did under
Al Sikes. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) chose this time of
vulnerability to weigh in again against HDTV.
John Abel of the NAB began to focus on the opportunities presented by
digital television as opposed to HDTV. Digital TV did not have to involve HDTV
images. Instead, digital compression of standard definition signals would ena-
ble existing broadcasters to compress more than one programme service into
a single channel, allowing them to provide a greater diversity of programming
through what came to be called ‘multicasting’. A digital broadcasting environ-
ment would permit broadcasters to offer all sorts of digital services such as data
broadcasting, e-mail, paging, telephony, software delivery, etc.
In February 1994, Michael Sherlock, Vice President of NBC, said that many
broadcasters were interested in using the second channel that they would be
Table 1: Six video formats in the Grand Alliance system as of November 1994.
Vertical pixels x
horizontal lines
Frame rate in
frames per second Type of scanning
1280 x 720 24 progressive
“ 30 “
“ 60 “
1920 x 1080 24 “
“ 30 “
“ 60 interlaced
Note: See discussion below for an explanation of the difference between progressive
scanning and interlacing.
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 11 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
Jeffrey A. Hart
given in the transition to HDTV for digital services. He knew that the only reason
that the second channel was being given to broadcasters was so that they would
be able to provide free over-the-air services for analogue (NTSC) set owners
until a large proportion of the viewing public could receive digital broadcasts.
Nevertheless, he argued that the non-HDTV digital services might be more
lucrative for the broadcasters than HDTV itself (Brinkley 1997: 289–290).
Similarly, in March 1994, Rupert Murdoch began to talk about satellite
and cable systems with large numbers of channels. In a March 1994 interview
with Forbes magazine, Murdoch said
The current proposal is that the FCC will give us that spectrum for high-
definition television. But high definition is a luxury. Compared with a
modern TV set it’s not that different. Why shouldn’t that extra spectrum be
given to me or you or anyone to put on that extra number of channels?
(Brinkley 1997: 304)
The NAB pursued this logic politically by proposing an amendment to the
Telecommunications Act of 1995, called the ‘broadcast spectrum flexibility
amendment’. This amendment would broaden the range of services that broad-
casters could provide on the second channel given to them in the transition to
‘advanced television’. John Abel continued to argue that neither the broad-
casters nor the consumers were demanding HDTV specifically, so broadcasters
should not be forced to offer HDTV services (Brinkley 1997: 308–309). In 1995
the Telecommunications Act faced overwhelming Republican opposition to
what they argued was an overly regulatory Democratic bill – the Republicans
having been strengthened in their opposition by their resounding victory in the
1994 Congressional elections – and the Act was finally passed in 1996.
Testing of the Grand Alliance system continued through the end of 1993
and into early 1995. The Grand Alliance’s schedule called for comple-
tion of the system in 1995 and a demonstration of its capabilities at the
1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Technical evaluations were performed in 1994
at the Advanced Television Test Center (ATTC) in Alexandria, Virginia and
at the Cable Television Laboratories (also called CableLabs) near Boulder,
Colorado. Subjective viewer tests were performed at the Advanced Television
Evaluation Laboratory in Ottawa, Canada; the Public Broadcasting Service,
the Association for Maximum Service Television, Inc. (MSTV) and CableLabs
in Charlotte, North Carolina, conducted field transmission tests. The trans-
mission tests demonstrated some of the peculiar characteristics of digital
broadcasting – the quick break up of picture quality beyond the transmission
range of the antenna – as opposed to the more gradual degradation of picture
quality with analogue transmission, but on the whole they were successful.
At the beginning of 1995, completion of the Grand Alliance system was
delayed because of technical difficulties. The main problem was the encoder
that turned base band high definition video into compressed digital high-
definition video at the transmission end. The two Grand Alliance companies
in charge of this effort were General Instrument and AT&T. Due to delays in
getting the new combined system to work, the companies requested a post-
ponement of the final testing date. This time, instead of readily accepting the
delay, FCC Chairman Reed Hundt decided to speed things up. He pushed
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 12 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
Richard Wiley, the head of ACATS, to put pressure on the Grand Alliance
members to complete their system.
Hundt’s perception of the value of HDTV had changed noticeably. Hundt
was impressed with the emerging Grand Alliance system – particularly its usage
of a packetized data structure similar to those used in telecommunications sys-
tems. A Grand Alliance HDTV receiver was a lot more like a computer than ear-
lier HDTV receivers, as it had the ability to process a variety of video signals and
to display both interlaced and progressive-scan images, The successful intro-
duction of digital NTSC satellite services in the form of the Thomson/Hughes
DirecTV or DSS services, using a direct broadcast satellite to deliver digitized
signals to homes with small satellite dishes, satellite tuners, and regular NTSC
televisions, may also have influenced Hundt’s change of perspective. The rapid
consumer adoption of DBS services was eating into the audience share of both
cable operators and terrestrial broadcasters, thanks to the very high quality of
the images and the large number of channels available on DBS services. Many
of the successful satellite and cable channels in Europe and Asia also relied on
digitized signals, especially for pay-TV channels where encryption was neces-
sary to exclude non-subscribers from receiving the signal.
On 12 September 1995, the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee,
Senator Larry Pressler (R-South Dakota), unveiled a plan to auction off HDTV
and other advanced TV spectrum in the largest 25 television markets. According
to Pressler, the auction would raise more than $14 billion, which Pressler
wanted to use to establish a trust fund for public broadcasting. Federal fund-
ing for NPR and PBS was under attack from the new Republican majority in
Congress. The National Association of Broadcasters immediately criticized the
plan and announced that they would oppose it. Pressler dropped his proposal
on 28 September.
Debates over the desirability of spectrum auctions continued, however (see
section below on round two of the auctions debate). The FCC issued a request
for comments on the issue. The due date for comments was 18 October 1995.
FCC replies were due 1 December 1995. Larry Irving of the NTIA continued to
favour an auction. So did the Benton Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform,
and Thomas Hazlett, an economist and an expert on telecommunications
policy. In early December, the Clinton administration floated a proposal for
the auctioning of HDTV spectrum to create a fund for subsidizing consumer
purchases of digital TV converters. The proposal called for a subsidy of around
$50 per consumer. The NAB and MSTV again objected to the idea of auc-
tions and Irving’s idea was strongly opposed by an FCC official on a televised
debate. Nothing more of substance on auctions appeared until the middle of
the 1996 election campaign.
On 28 November 1995, ACATS made its final recommendations to the FCC
on the HDTV standard, based on the laboratory and field-testing of the digital
Grand Alliance system. ACATS reported that each of the six formats proposed
for the HDTV system (see Table 2) exceeded targets established for static and
dynamic luminance and chrominance resolution. ACATS ruled that the MPEG-2
compression system was superior to the four original ATV video compression
systems and it selected the Dolby AC-3 audio system as superior to competing
systems, including DTS (a digital sound system engineered by Lucasfilm with
some Microsoft backing that was already in use in movie theatres). According to
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 13 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
Jeffrey A. Hart
ACATS, the Grand Alliance’s packetized data transport subsystem performed
well, and appeared to be compatible with Asynchronous Transport Mode
(ATM) telecommunications technologies. Finally, ACATS selected Zenith’s
VSB (vestigial sideband) transmission system rather than QAM (quadrature
amplitude modulation) or COFDM (coded orthogonal frequency division
multiplex) as the best method for assuring high-quality terrestrial over-the-air
and cable transmission.
The system recommended by ACATS to the FCC had been vetted earlier
to the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). The ATSC was asked
by ACATS to determine which aspects of the Grand Alliance system required
action by the FCC in the form of mandatory standards and which should be
voluntary. The ATSC divided into five groups of specialists and proceeded to
recommend mandatory standards in five areas: video; audio; transport; RF/
Transmission; receiver characteristics. For this reason, the ACATS recommen-
dations presented to the FCC in November 1995 were later referred to as the
‘ATSC DTV Standard’ (FCC 1996b).
The National Association of Broadcasters announced that they would not
oppose the adoption of the ACATS recommendations by the FCC, but were
concerned about requirements to broadcast HDTV signals. As before, they
worried out loud about the expense of equipping stations for HDTV broad-
casting and their ability to obtain new revenues to offset these expenses. They
continued to argue for the benefits of multicasting NTSC signals instead of
moving to HDTV. John Abel, recently retired from the NAB, said: ‘Consumers
have always gone for more video choices rather than higher video quality’.
CBS lobbyist Marty Franks said that there was ‘no evidence that the public,
if presented with one great picture or five pretty good ones, will pick just the
one great one’. Some local broadcasters disagreed, arguing that multicasting
would only further fragment audiences and thereby reduce advertising rev-
enues. Phil Jones, President of Meredith Broadcasting in Des Moines, Iowa,
said ‘People are smoking something funny if they think [multicasting] is good
for local broadcasters’.
On 12 December 1995, the FCC held en banc hearings on advanced TV
systems. At those hearings, FCC Chairman Hundt said that Congress, not the
Vertical pixels by
horizontal lines Aspect ratio Frame rates
1920 x 1080 16:9 60i, 30p, 24p
1280 x 720 16:9 60p, 30p, 24p
704 x 480 16:9 60i, 60p, 30p, 24p
“ 4:3 “
640 x 480 4:3 “
Table 2: Eighteen video formats in the ATSC DTV standard, May 1996.
Note: In the frame rates column, ‘p’ designates a progressively scanned and ‘I’ an
interlaced image format.
Source: Fifth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FCC 96–207, Federal
Communications Commission, MM Docket No. 87–268, adopted May 9, 1996, p. 4.
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 14 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
FCC, would decide whether the spectrum needed for HDTV broadcasts would
be auctioned, but that the FCC would still decide whether licensees were
required to use their new spectrum for HDTV broadcasts. He also argued that
broadcasters might be required to provide ‘public services’ in exchange for
the privilege of licensing the new spectrum. Hundt raised the question of the
degree to which the regulatory structure already in use for NTSC broadcasting
would translate into an appropriate structure for the new digital broadcasting
system. He left this issue open for future discussion and deliberation.
At the 12 December hearings, Bruce M. Allan, Senior Vice President for
Business Development at Thomson Consumer Electronics, urged the FCC to
give prompt approval for the Grand Alliance digital system. Allan argued that
‘consumers are ready for the superior pictures and sound of digital TV’. The
Advanced Television (ATV) Task Force of the Electronic Industries Association
(which became the Consumer Electronics Association in 1999), an organiza-
tion that primarily represented the manufacturers of consumer electronics
equipment, agreed with Bruce Allan.
Also at the 12 December hearings, a new organization called the Computer
Industry Coalition on Advanced Television Services (CICATS), represented by
Joseph Tasker of Compaq Corporation, argued for abandonment of the inter-
laced video format. Tasker warned that:
Unless the deficits of the proposed standards are remedied, the poten-
tial of the technology revolution will be stifled at birth... Television will
fail to live up to its potential, but will instead remain simply a vehicle for
entertainment, news, documentaries, and advertisements.
The members of CICATS at this time were: Apple, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard,
Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Silicon Graphics, and Tandem Computers.
CICATS was to lead the fight in 1996 to alter the Grand Alliance system prior
to its acceptance by the FCC, focusing particularly on the question of requir-
ing equipment manufacturers to support both progressive-scan and interlaced
video formats in HDTV receivers. CICATS took up many of the arguments first
articulated by Michael Liebhold, but added a few new ones. More importantly,
a wider variety of industry notables stepped forward as advocates of the compu-
ter industry position, including Bill Gates of Microsoft and Andy Grove of Intel,
leaders of the emerging Wintel (Windows and Intel) coalition that was already
setting de facto microprocessor and operating system standards for desktop
and laptop computers worldwide. They also managed to get the support of a
number of Hollywood directors, producers, and actors for their views on HDTV.
At the same time, the cost for broadcasters of converting to HDTV transmission,
the idea of auctioning spectrum instead of loaning it to broadcasters, and the
right of broadcasters to choose NTSC multicasting instead of HDTV broadcast-
ing for their ‘second channel’ all remained contentious issues.
From this point on, most people began to speak about digital television
(DTV) or advanced television (ATV) instead of HDTV. The Grand Alliance
system (also called the ACATS or ATSC DTV system) was more than a HDTV
system because of its adoption of a packetized digital transport system and
internationally accepted compression standards like MPEG-2. Now it was
possible to think about flexibly combining both high and low resolution video
(and other kinds of digital information) on the same channels using ‘smart’
television receivers. It was also possible to think of DTV as permitting both
passive and interactive video applications.
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Jeffrey A. Hart
Congress, the White House and the FCC began talking about an acceler-
ated transition to DTV of seven years instead of the ten to fifteen years men-
tioned earlier. This would speed up the return of the analogue channels to the
FCC. The revenues obtained from auctioning that spectrum would then help
to reduce the budgetary deficit a bit sooner than previously anticipated. FCC
Commissioner James Quello objected to this policy shift because he thought
that people would hang on to their NTSC sets for considerably longer than
seven years and that they would be angry if they had to scrap them prema-
turely (Van and Jones 1996).
On 20 June 1996, at the Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on HDTV
standards, Chairman Hundt again endorsed the idea of auctioning spectrum.
Dr Peter Bingham, President of Philips Research Laboratories, said that the
spectrum auction hung ‘like a sword of Damocles over this digital revolution’.
He argued that the auction would only produce a marginal improvement in
deficit reduction but that it would certainly undermine the economic incen-
tives for broadcasters to introduce digital television expeditiously.
During the week of 22 July 1996, the House of Representatives was sched-
uled to consider an amendment to the FY 1997 FCC appropriations bill pro-
posed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) that would prohibit the FCC
from assigning licenses for ATV services. This amendment was designed to
stymie efforts by the FCC to allocate ATV channels at a meeting on 25 July.
Apparently the FCC was planning to free up channels 2–6 and 52–69 for non-
television uses. The FCC promptly received a letter from the three major net-
works, ALTV, MSTV, NAB, Chris-Craft and Tribune opposing this. Senator
McClain used the occasion to lecture Chairman Hundt in a letter to ‘keep
government intrusion to a minimum’ and avoid freezing innovation by setting
inappropriate standards. Nevertheless, the FCC voted to announce its inten-
tion to allocate ATV channels at the 25 July meeting, although it left the deci-
sion about what channels to allocate (and when) to a later time.
The combined lobbying efforts of the members of CICATS apparently con-
vinced President Clinton to take a stand. On 23 September 1996, in an inter-
view with a reporter from Broadcasting and Cable magazine, Clinton weighed
in on the side of digital convergence:
The best standard would be one developed and supported by all the
affected industries, which could then be endorsed by the FCC... We
want to make sure that there are no roadblocks to future compatibility
between televisions and computers.
(Corcoran 1997)
Accordingly, on 24 October 1996, Commissioner Susan Ness sent a let-
ter to the Broadcasters Caucus, the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers
Association and CICATS urging them to seek a consensus on DTV standards
by 25 November. A series of intensive negotiations ensued; this resulted, ulti-
mately, in a compromise to modify the ATSC DTV standard by removing the
requirement that DTV receivers display all eighteen video formats in Table
2 and leaving it instead to each equipment manufacturer to decide how to
display all the formats, even though they were required to decode all of them.
Thus a small and less expensive ATSC compatible TV might be able to decode
a 1080p signal but might (at the option of the manufacturer) display it as if it
were a 480i signal. This compromise, in effect, recognized the split between
computer and consumer electronics firms over interlaced formats and allowed
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 16 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
them to pursue their own strategies. It also helped to smooth over the conflict
between the broadcasters and the set manufacturers, since few broadcasters
at the time wanted to be forced to broadcast HDTV formats such as 720p and
1080p. The set manufacturers thought that it would be difficult to sell new
sets if they were limited to displaying standard definition video. A letter docu-
menting the compromise was signed on 27 November 1996, in Washington
by Michael Sherlock of NBC, representing the Broadcasters Caucus, Gary
Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association, and Paul Misener of Intel
representing CICATS. This cleared the way for the FCC to issue its decisions
on DTV without fear of further reprisals from the computer industry.
On 27 December 1996 the FCC released its Fourth Order and Report accept-
ing the recommendation of ACATS to adopt a modified version of the ATSC
standard for digital television in the United States (FCC 1996b). The decision
was strongly praised by the broadcasting and consumer electronics firms and
their representatives. The computer industry and particularly the members of
CICATS also expressed satisfaction with the outcome. Media coverage of the
DTV decision began to emphasize some of the problems that conversion to
DTV broadcasting would create for the smaller terrestrial broadcasters, con-
sumer electronics retailers, and owners of NTSC receivers. The FCC turned to
the question of how to allocate the channels it would loan to broadcasters for
the transition to DTV.
In 1997, the FCC issued its Fifth and Sixth Report Orders and Reports in the
US Advanced television proceedings. These documents spelled out in great
detail the plans for allocating loaner channels to terrestrial broadcasters. The
problems they had to solve had to do mainly with assuring existing broad-
casters that their new digital channels would permit them to cover approxi-
mately the same territory as their old analogue channels. In addition, many
low-powered television (LPTV) broadcasters in rural or mountainous regions
were acting as repeaters for nearby terrestrial broadcasters. These stations
were low-budget affairs with just enough revenues from advertising to gener-
ate a small profit. Such stations could not afford to quickly convert to digital
broadcasting. Special provisions had to be made for them. A similar problem
existed for public broadcasters, and they were granted more time to make the
transition than commercial broadcasters.
An important part of the 1997 decisions was the plan to recover for non-
television uses 138 MHz of spectrum – 60 MHz immediately and 78 MHz
within ten years. 60 MHz would come from the former television channels
60 to 69 in the VHF band, which would no longer be reserved for television
broadcasts (these channels were only infrequently used anyway, and then
only in the most crowded urban areas). When the transition to DTV ended
in 2006, all the NTSC channels would be returned to the FCC, which would
make an additional 78 MHz of spectrum available. The recovered spectrum
would be auctioned or otherwise allocated to licensees for various purposes.
In the Sixth Report, the FCC committed itself to allocate 24 MHz of recovered
spectrum in the VHF band for police and public safety purposes.
The idea of auctioning spectrum sooner rather than later was particularly
appealing to the Clinton administration, which at the time was looking for
a way to guarantee further reductions in the deficit before 2002. Hence, one
initiative undertaken by Chairman Hundt was to try to get the broadcasters
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 17 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
Jeffrey A. Hart
in the largest urban media markets to accelerate their deployment of DTV.
Instead of a transition period of ten years, he pushed the broadcasters to do it
in two years. This generated great resistance on their part, but in the end the
broadcasters committed themselves to a two-year transition in some major
markets and a three-year transition in others.
Finally, an important aspect of the April 1997 decision was to reaffirm the
earlier decision to allow broadcasters to choose between HDTV broadcasting
and SDTV multiplexing, and between passive and interactive services, on their
digital channels. Commissioner Hundt thought this proved that the FCC had
embraced a ‘market orientation’ that would give ‘broadcasters the flexibility to
use the spectrum to respond to market opportunities’ (FCC 1997: 1).

efforts to link the DTV spectrum allocation to new commitments on the part
of broadcasters for public service announcements and children’s broadcasting
resulted in the appointment of a special commission to consider the matter.
For a year or so after the 1997 decision, manufacturers were concerned about
a challenge by Sinclair Broadcasting to the FCC decision to require transmission
of DTV signals using vestigial sideband (VSB) modulation instead of Sinclair’s
favoured coded orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (COFDM). Sinclair
filed a petition before the FCC for a reconsideration that was only finally rejected
in February 2000. During the interim, broadcasters and equipment manufactur-
ers were in limbo waiting for a resolution of this issue.
In 1993, the US debate on digital television focused on the feasibility of a
unified Grand Alliance approach. After 1997 the debate shifted away from a
focus on television per se toward a consideration of the broader implications
of digital television for the future of the American broadcasting and electron-
ics manufacturing industries. The increased importance of the Internet and
the World Wide Web, particularly for the Clinton administration, but also for
key players like Compaq, Intel and Microsoft, had made a big difference in
the level of attention given to HDTV and digital television by major political
forces in the country. The Grand Alliance and ATSC approach had helped to
focus the attention of these other players on the DTV issue by adopting dig-
ital packetization and transport schemes that were consistent with the idea of
digital convergence but deviated from that ideal by forcing manufacturers to
make more expensive DTV receivers and set-top boxes in order to satisfy the
concerns of their coalition partners.
The Chairman of the FCC, Reed Hundt, and Commissioner Susan Ness
played a crucial role in forcing the members of the Grand Alliance coalition
to compromise with the ‘johnny-come-latelys’ of the computer industry, but
in doing so they were simply reflecting the ability of the computer industry
to generate support at high levels in a White House that had already tilted in
their direction on a number of other occasions. Efforts on the part of mem-
bers of Congress, even presidential candidates like Bob Dole, to force the FCC
to auction DTV spectrum came to naught. Congress was split on this issue,
with Senators Dole and McCain countered by Senators Coats and Stevens.
Congress was also split on whether to support the TV broadcasters and man-
ufacturers or the computer industry at various points in the debate. The FCC
normally leans in the direction of TV interests because of the way in which
commissioners are recruited and selected, but in this case that did not occur
because the Chairman confronted a divided Congress and a White House
eager to placate the computer industry. The result was a compromise standard
that reduced uncertainty about the future of digital television considerably but
did not eliminate it.
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 18 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
The US was the first to opt for all-digital as opposed to a hybrid digital-
analogue standard. The US government, unlike those in Europe and Japan,
did not support standards put forward by a coalition of consumer electronics
manufacturers and broadcasters. US regulatory institutions were sensitive to a
number of issues that were ignored elsewhere, such as the cost to consumers
of purchasing new equipment and the need to promote continued innova-
tion in digital technologies. On the negative side, the final US government
decisions on DTV standards resulted in considerable confusion on the part of
manufacturers, broadcasters, and consumers. Coping with that confusion and
dealing with the inability, or reluctance, of some broadcasters and customers
to pay for new DTV equipment became the key challenge of completing the
transition to digital television in the US.
The key DTV decisions by the FCC in the 1990s guaranteed that there would be
confusion in the marketplace of DTV equipment and services. No specific format
for encoding or delivering DTV signals over the air was mandated. Broadcasters
and manufacturers were left to figure out what types of signals customers
would be willing to pay for at premium DTV prices. So, for example, some
over-the-air broadcasters decided not to use their DTV channels to broadcast in
high definition. Instead they experimented with multicasting: the use of a single
channel to broadcast a number of standard definition (480i) DTV signals. This
meant that the broadcaster was using the allocated spectrum to become a sort
of mini-cable operator. The bet was that the customer would be willing to pay
for more choice in programming (but not for higher picture quality).
Other over-the-air broadcasters were betting that customers would be will-
ing to pay for better picture quality, but they disagreed on what quality incre-
ment was required. The standards debates leading up to the FCC decisions of
the 1990s identified a range of choices for picture and signal formats. The ones
that emerged with substantial corporate backing were 480p, 720p, 1080i and
1080p. The number in the number/letter combination stands for the number
of scanning lines per image. The small letter ‘p’ stands for progressive scanning;
the small letter ‘i’ stands for interlaced scanning. Interlaced scanning involves
the sending of every other line in an image in one burst followed by the send-
ing of the rest of the lines in the next burst and so on. Interlacing was invented
in the early days of monochrome TV broadcasting to conserve spectrum. All
standard definition televisions use interlacing. Progressive scanning involves
the sending of all the lines in an image in one burst (not two). All compu-
ter monitors, unlike standard definition TVs, use progressive scanning. While
progressive scanning is less conserving of spectrum, it has the advantage of
eliminating certain visual artefacts in the final image like ‘flicker’. Progressive
scanning is better for the display of text information than interlacing.
480p provides a progressively scanned digital version of a standard defini-
tion TV image. It is the cheapest to provide but does not provide as large an
increment in picture quality as the other alternatives. 480p is the format of
choice for broadcasters who chose the multicasting option.
720p provides a higher quality image than 480p and possibly as high
image quality as 1080i because it is progressive. ABC, NBC, and their affili-
ates opted for 720p and made major investments in production facilities for
broadcasting in this format. They focused initially on converting broadcasts of
sporting events to 720p.
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Jeffrey A. Hart
1080i was the choice of CBS and its affiliates because of their strong belief that
720p did not provide a high enough quality increment over standard definition
analogue TV to make consumers willing to pay the premium for DTV signals.
Their preference for interlacing was partly the result of the relationship between
CBS and Sony, in which the latter provided 1080i equipment to the former. CBS
also had allies in the film industry, including Sony Pictures (formerly Columbia
Pictures), who swore by 1080i as a better format in which to view movies.
1080p had the least support of the main alternative formats because it was
the most expensive to produce and display. Some of the technological compo-
nents necessary to produce content in that format were still not widely avail-
able in 2005. Nevertheless, all the chips that were in ATSC-compatible HDTV
tuners (DTV tuners for short) were capable of decoding 1080p images and so
some companies were betting that the higher picture quality of 1080p would
eventually triumph over the other alternatives.
To deal with the diversity of signal formats, the FCC mandated in 2002
the progressive phasing in of TV sets with DTV tuners, requiring that new
sets with a given screen size, or larger, contain tuners. Here are the specific
phase-in requirements:
Receivers with screen sizes 36 inches and above – 50% of a responsible
party’s units must include DTV tuners effective July 1, 2004; 100% of such
units must include DTV tuners effective July 1, 2005. Receivers with screen
sizes 25 to 35 inches – 50% of a responsible party’s units must include DTV
tuners effective July 1, 2005; 100% of such units must include DTV tuners
effective July 1, 2006. Receivers with screen sizes 13 to 24 inches – 100% of
all such units must include DTV tuners effective July 1, 2007.
(FCC 2002)
By mid 2007, therefore, all new TV sets with 13-inch screens or larger would
be required to have DTV tuners.
In the meantime, consumers would continue to have to cope with com-
plexity in stores where labelling of DTV sets and equipment includes such
unfamiliar terms as HDTV-ready, HDTV-capable, HDTV-compatible, and
HDTV-upgradeable. The sets themselves came in the following technological
varieties: CRT (direct view), CRT-based projection, LCD flat panel, LCD pro-
jection, DLP projection, and LCOS projection (I will not bother to explain the
acronyms here). On the back of the receiver there were the following kinds
of ‘secure’ DTV connectors: DVI, HDMI, and Broadcast Flag. There were also
a variety of connectors for antennas, VCRs, DVDs, DVRs, set-top boxes, and
other such devices. Customers would be asked if they wanted to get their sig-
nal over the air, or via cable or satellite. If customers wanted to connect a DTV
to a Windows Media Center personal computer, they would be in yet another
vast new world of acronym-filled complexity. For the fanatics and insanely
rich, there was the world of the ‘home theatre’ to master. The rich would sim-
ply pay someone who knew enough about all this stuff to do it for them, but
then they were left with the problem of figuring out how to make it all work
the way it was supposed to.
The FCC DTV decisions of the 1990s resulted in the loaning of a second chan-
nel to over-the-air broadcasters to use for converting to digital broadcasting
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 20 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
while continuing to provide analogue services. The FCC’s idea was that once
the digital transition was complete the analogue channels would be returned
to the government to dispose of as needed. The return of spectrum would
permit the FCC to auction it off to the highest bidder, so the government
had a strong incentive to get back all those old analogue TV channels as soon
as possible. The revenues from auctions were already being included in esti-
mates of future government revenues during the Clinton administration, so
key members of the government were eager to push for the rapid completion
of the digital transition.
The problem was that the FCC and Congress had recognized that the ana-
logue signals should not be shut off until a good percentage of consumers
were receiving or at least able to receive digital broadcasts. In 1997, when
the DTV transition plan was launched, Congress passed a ‘sense of Congress’
resolution as part of an intelligence reform act that stipulated that the spec-
trum would be returned on 31 December 2006, but only if 85 per cent of the
residents of any given local community had the necessary equipment to dis-
play digital signals. The interpretation of this somewhat vague rule would be
left to the FCC.
Less than three percent of American homes had sets capable of decod-
ing DTV signals as of early 2005, although a much larger percentage, perhaps
more than 80 per cent, received TV signals in digital formats from either cable
or satellite services and the 2006 deadline was fast approaching. The sales
of such sets were growing rapidly, especially as lower cost DTVs started to
be featured in the major consumer stores. The number of cable and satellite
services offering HDTV-quality signals was also growing rapidly. In 2006, the
prices of flat panel plasma TVs were expected to continue to descend below
the current average price of around $2,000, especially as the larger LCD TVs
also were expected to decline in price from the current $2,000 average to
around $1,000.
An additional problem, highlighted by outgoing FCC Commissioner
Michael Powell was that many households possessed more than one TV, but
were not likely to be receiving digital signals on every set they own. Also,
a number of over-the-air broadcasters failed to comply with FCC orders to
begin broadcasting in DTV formats, so households with DTV sets in those
localities but without cable or satellite services would obviously not be able to
contribute to meeting the 85 per cent goal.
As a result, the FCC, in its desire to get the spectrum back sooner rather
than later, proposed a new deadline of 31 December 2008 and an easier test
of the ability of households to decode DTV signals: i.e., that the use of cable
or satellite services where the service provides a digital signal either to a set-
top box, or, even less ambitiously, to a nearby connection point, would count
toward the 85 per cent goal. If the household opted not to purchase a DTV
set, therefore, it might still enjoy TV broadcasts if it either purchased or was
given a box to convert the DTV signal to a standard definition analogue sig-
nal. All cable subscribers qualified as DTV-ready households by that standard.
Problem of rapid transition solved!
That proposal, engineered in January 2005 by Kenneth Ferree, the Chief of
the FCC’s Media Bureau, had not been approved as of February 2005 (Ferree
2004). Ferree left the FCC soon after making the proposal. The plan was
strongly opposed by NAB, whose members were not in a hurry to return their
analogue channels to the federal government. They claimed that to meet the
85 per cent goal, 73 million sets not connected to a cable or satellite service would
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 21 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
Jeffrey A. Hart
have to be fitted with a converter at an estimated cost of around $300 per unit
(at a total estimated cost of $22 billion). It should not come as a surprise that
the $300 price tag given by the NAB was contested. Motorola Corporation, for
example, estimated the boxes could be produced in high volume for between
$50 and $75 per unit. Motorola and other electronics manufacturers like Intel
were interested in seeing the analogue spectrum returned and auctioned off
for new wireless uses.
The important underlying issue, however, was that the shutting off of the
analogue signals would greatly inconvenience millions of TV watchers, who
either could not afford or were not willing to purchase the necessary convert-
ers and therefore raised the question of whether there needed to be govern-
ment subsidies to allow these individuals to continue using their analogue
equipment (Brinkley 2005).
Another difficult question was how to set the rules for the relationships
between over-the-air broadcasters and cable and satellite service providers
during and after the transition. Cable operators were bound by ‘must carry’
rules that impelled them to give their customers access to the analogue signals
of local over-the-air broadcasters via the cable service. The cable operators
did not get paid for this service, even though the local broadcasters continued
to receive advertising revenues based on the audience (cable plus non-cable)
that their signal could reach. This really irritated the cable operators so they
looked for ways to get compensated for carrying the signals of local broad-
casters on increasingly scarce cable bandwidth. No such must carry rules gov-
erned the relationship between local over-the-air broadcasters and satellite
service providers.
Cable operators – led by Ted Turner initially – challenged the ‘must carry’
rules on constitutional grounds as a violation of their right to free speech, but
ultimately lost this battle in the Supreme Court. They insisted that they could
not be forced to carry digital signals the way they had been forced to carry
analogue ones, especially multicasts, because this violated the intention of
policy makers to promote a higher quality of broadcasts not simply a prolifer-
ation of channels. They wanted over-the-air broadcasters and cable network
programmers to compete on an equal basis for cable bandwidth and obvi-
ously to pay for carriage, and they wanted local cable operators to have full
control over the programming packages offered to cable customers in their
service area. Cable companies particularly objected to efforts of broadcasters
to get compensation for providing DTV signals for carriage by cable opera-
tors (especially HDTV coverage of popular sporting events). A spokesman for
Time Warner Cable, Keith Cocozza, said ‘The issue at heart is that broadcast-
ers are trying to insist that they are compensated for something that they get
from the government for free’ (Walker 2005).
What the local broadcasters wanted was for both cable and satellite to
be bound by ‘must carry’ rules for digital signals, especially those who had
already invested in multicast technology (e.g. Belo). They also wanted the
cable operators to pay them for carrying their content on cable networks. The
DTV decisions of the 1990s gave the local broadcasters the right to use their
digital channel either for HDTV or for other purposes including multicast-
ing. Some broadcasting networks opted for multicasting, thus defining the
choice for their local affiliates. The problem was that the cable companies did
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 22 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
not want to carry the multicasts, which they saw as direct competition. They
wanted to be compensated for whatever they decided to carry. In short, disa-
greements over these matters were blocking cable carriage not just of multi-
casts but also of local- and network-produced HDTV-quality digital signals
(Cotlar 2005; Frieden 2005–2006).
Related closely to the must carry controversy was the question of what sorts of
equipment consumers had to purchase or rent from cable operators in order to
display DTV signals on their televisions. The decision of the FCC to mandate
the inclusion of DTV tuners in new televisions meant that after 2007 it would
not be necessary to include DTV tuners in the set-top boxes sold or rented to
cable subscribers. Nevertheless, the cable operators continued to insist that
they had the right to sell or rent set-top boxes because of the interactive (two-
way) services they wanted to provide – such as pay-per-view, virtual digital
video recorders, or electronic programme guides – that went beyond the one-
way service of decoding DTV signals.
In the interest of saving consumers unnecessary expense and clutter, the
FCC ordered in October 2003 that televisions that were ‘Digital Cable Ready’
should be labelled as such and that the two stakeholders (set manufacturers
and cable operators) should work together to ensure that televisions so labelled
would be compatible with cable services and equipment (FCC 2003). The
Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the National Cable Television
Association (NCTA) issued a Memorandum of Understanding in December
2002 calling for a ‘plug and play’ format for one-way signals from cable to
DTV sets. Thus, to some extent, the later FCC order was an endorsement of
the earlier CEA/NCTA agreement and a plea for further negotiations. The two
industries were urged to go beyond the one-way plug and play agreement to
negotiate a similar one for two-way interactive services.
One of the near-term consequences of the Digital Cable Ready Order of
2003 was the development of the ‘CableCard’ system. The CableCard was a
card-shaped object that plugged into a socket in a Digital Cable Ready TV
that gave the consumer access to the cable services of a specific cable pro-
vider. The primary function of the CableCard was to assure that only paying
customers got access, but a secondary and quite valuable function was to do
this in a way that did not require the purchase or rental of a set-top box with
a redundant DTV tuner.
The CableCard system was similar to one developed for the DVB standard
in Western Europe. From the consumer standpoint, not having to have multi-
ple set-top boxes when subscribing to more than one service or to buy or rent
a new box when changing services made a lot of sense. This decision, in short,
assured that there would be lower switching costs for consumers and lower
barriers to entry for potential competitors in local DTV cable service markets.
The cable operators resisted the CableCard initially because they thought
it would reduce their ability to realize the revenues associated with proprietary
features they planned to build into their next-generation set-top boxes. The
set manufacturers worried that the increased cost of including a DTV tuner in
sets would have to be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices
and that higher prices would reduce or delay DTV sales. Another disadvan-
tage mentioned by critics of the CableCard decision was that some equipment
purchased before the decision, like digital video recorders, might not work
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 23 10/23/09 9:19:57 AM
Jeffrey A. Hart
with Digital Cable Ready televisions. The FCC held firm on both the Digital
Cable Ready and ‘plug and play’ decisions, however, and both set manufac-
turers and cable operators began to plan their next moves accordingly.
Under the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005, part of the Deficit
Reduction Act of 2005, Congress authorized the end of analogue broadcasting
after 17 February 2009. Representative Joseph Barton (R-Texas), Chair of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee, favoured 31 December 2006, as
the deadline for the end of analogue broadcasts, but few other members of
Congress thought this was realistic. The date chosen for the analogue switch
off was 17 February 2009, so as to occur after the end of TV coverage of the
Super Bowl. After the analogue switch off, the FCC would reallocate channels
52 through 69 for other forms of telecommunications. These channels were
auctioned off in early 2008 for a sum of approximately $20 billion. Most of the
successful bidders were companies hoping to offer new or expanded commer-
cial wireless services. Four channels, 60, 61, 68, and 69, would be reserved for
use by first responders (e.g., policy, fire, and emergency rescue services).
Besides setting a ‘date certain’ for the end of analogue, the bill also estab-
lished a federally funded programme to provide coupons to consumers for
the purchase of converter boxes for their analogue televisions. The value of
the coupon was not to exceed $40 and each household would be limited to
two coupons. The converter boxes would allow them to convert over-the-air
digital broadcasts into analogue signals that could be displayed on those sets.
The converter-box coupon programme was to be administered by the National
Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA). Democrats called for the
funding to be at least $3 billion, but Republicans were opposed to that amount
and the two parties finally arrived a compromise level of $890 million (22.25
million coupons), plus $100 million for administration. There was an option in
the bill to allow the funding to grow to $1.34 billion (33.5 million coupons).
In April 2007, the FCC adopted labelling requirements so that sellers of
analogue TVs would be required to tell consumers that they would need to
purchase converter boxes for the TVs after the analogue switch off. In July
2007, the FCC proposed a rule to require television broadcasters to conduct
on-air consumer education efforts. Members of the National Association of
Broadcasters claimed to have spent $1.2 billion on this effort (NAB 2009).
Critics argued that too many consumers would be surprised and upset
after the switch off when their old analogue TVs displayed a blank screen.
Democratic members of Congress were particularly critical of the current
Chair of the FCC, Kevin Martin, not just for the decisions regarding the DTV
transition but also for other policies. The Government Accountability Office
(GAO) released a study that was highly critical of the converter-box coupon
programme, focusing particularly on the level of funding (Goldstein 2008).
The converter-box coupon programme actually began on 1 January 2008.
Two weeks later, the NTIA gave its approval for coupons to be used to pay
for nineteen specific converter boxes. In January 2008, Nielsen reported that
there were 13 million households that were not ready for the DTV transition
or about 10.1 per cent of all households. To be included in this count, the
household had to be dependent primarily on over-the-air broadcasts for a
television that was not capable of decoding digital signals (i.e. an analogue TV
without a converter box attached). By the end of 2008, 40 million coupons had
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 24 10/23/09 9:19:58 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
been requested but only 16 million had been redeemed. Nielsen estimated
that 7.8 million households (6.8 per cent) were still completely unready for
the transition.
Just after the election, the Obama-Biden transition team urged the passage
of the Short-term Analogue Flash and Emergency Readiness (SAFER) Act of
2008. The purpose of this legislation, which was also called the ‘DTV night-
light bill’, was to provide transition information to consumers who had not
purchased DTV receivers and who still depended on over-the-air broadcasts
via a short-term continuation of analogue broadcasts after the switch off date.
Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) introduced the bill in the Senate on 1 October
2008. The Senate passed the bill on 20 November, the House approved its
own version on 10 December, and President Bush signed it into law on 23
December (Reardon 2009a).
Responding to criticisms about the NTIA’s administration of the DTV
converter-box coupon programme, the Obama transition team began to sug-
gest that new funding for the programme could be made available shortly
after the inauguration, perhaps as part of the stimulus package that would be
needed to deal with the threat of a long and deep recession. The NTIA stopped
providing coupons on 5 January 2009, when the funding for the programme ran
out. Even though many people who had received coupons failed to redeem them
before they expired (one month after the issue date), the NTIA had been told by
Republican Congressional leaders not to issue new coupons (Eggerton 2009).
On 8 January 2009, John Podesta, Co-chair of the Obama-Biden transition
team, wrote a letter to Congress requesting a delay in the analogue switch off
until June. The letter explained that this was necessary because of problems
with the converter-box coupon programme and insufficient support for low
income, rural, and elderly Americans (Podesta 2009).
The delay was supported by the Consumers Union, the Government
Accountability Office, a number of mostly Democratic members of Congress,
and the two Democratic members of the FCC (Michael J. Copps and Jonathan
Adelstein). AT&T and Verizon supported the delay despite the fact that they got a
major portion of the reallocated spectrum because they had an interest in setting
back the date of entry into cell phone markets of competitors like Qualcomm. The
delay was opposed by Qualcomm, Kevin Martin of the FCC, several Republican
members of Congress, David Rehr of the NAB, Kyle McSlarrow of the National
Cable and Telecommunications Association, and Gary Shapiro of the Consumer
Electronics Association. The International Association of Chiefs of Police also
opposed the delay because they wanted to start using (for public safety purposes)
the spectrum that would be freed up after the analogue switch off.
On 21 January 2009, Jay Rockefeller introduced the DTV Delay Act of 2009
in the Senate. The Senate voted unanimously to approve the bill, but the House
failed to approve its version of the bill on 28 January. The problem was that the
desire of the new administration to expedite approval meant that a 2/3 majority
was required for passage and not enough Republicans in the House supported
the delay. Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) led the opposition.
A new version of the bill came up again in the Senate on 29 January
and passed easily. On 4 February, the House approved the bill. President
Obama signed it into law on 11 February, with the understanding that the
major networks and their affiliates asked to be permitted to go ahead with
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 25 10/23/09 9:19:58 AM
Jeffrey A. Hart
the transition as originally planned on 17 February. During the signing cere-
mony, Obama said ‘Millions of Americans, including those in our most vul-
nerable communities, would have been left in the dark if the conversion had
gone on as planned (Hart and Whoriskey 2009)’. On 20 February 2009, the
FCC released an order stating that stations that wished to cease analogue
transmissions before the new 12 June deadline could do so if they informed
the FCC of their decision by 17 March 2009. The FCC wanted to make sure
that each metropolitan area had at least one analogue broadcaster until 12
June. About half of the 1,787 full-power stations in the US switched over to
digital prior to 12 June (Cheney 2009).
On Friday, 12 June 2009, the analogue switch off finally occurred. It had been
over twelve years since the FCC had announced its DTV standards decisions.
Although the FCC received 317,000 calls from consumers on that day, con-
sumers had to wait an average of only five minutes to get their questions
answered. Most of the questions concerned how to operate converter boxes,
but a large proportion of them also dealt with problems with antennas. 59
million coupons for converter boxes had been distributed and 31 million had
been redeemed. The FCC had set up 600 walk-in centres for people who
wanted hands-on assistance. Various community-based organizations volun-
teered to help indigent and elderly citizens install converter boxes and anten-
nas (Sturgeon 2009). Less than 2.5% of households (roughly 3 million) were
still unready for the transition (see Table 3) according to Nielsen, down from
over 5% in February, so it is clear that the delay had eased the transition.
Date Percentage
21 December 2008 6.8
18 January 2009 5.7
1 February 2009 5.1
15 February 2009 4.4
1 March 2009 3.9
15 March 2009 3.6
29 March 2009 3.4
12 April 2009 3.2
26 April 2009 3.1
10 May 2009 2.9
25 May 2009 2.7
7 June 2009 2.5
Table 3: Percentage of households completely unready for the DTV transition.
Source: The Nielsen company.
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 26 10/23/09 9:19:58 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
Commissioner Adelstein went so far as to say that ‘The digital transition is
looking more like Y2K than the Bay of Pigs’ (Reardon 2009b).
There is certainly much to criticize about the handling of the DTV transition
in the US. The original standards decisions resulted in confusing choices for
both producers and consumers. Broadcasters were not required (as in other
countries) to use their digital channels for HDTV and many chose to use them
instead for multicasting. No clear must-carry rules were provided to cable and
satellite operators until rather late in the game. The FCC’s CableCard deci-
sions simply added expense to receivers without helping consumers because
the cable companies insisted on providing their own set-top boxes with two-
way capabilities. The FCC was slow to mandate an end to the production and
sales of analogue TVs. The FCC relied too much on industry to educate con-
sumers about the transition.
The Republican-controlled Congress did not adequately fund the converter-
box coupon programme and the NTIA was forced to end the distribution of
coupons too early. Partisan politics played a large role in Congressional over-
sight of the FCC and the NTIA. The Republicans, and especially the Republic
appointees to the FCC, tended to favour the broadcasters and the consumer
electronics manufacturers over consumer groups like the Consumers Union.
Democrats and their appointees to the FCC were more concerned about con-
sumers, minorities, the poor and the elderly, and less willing to follow the
lead of broadcasters and equipment manufacturers.
When Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2007–2008, his cam-
paign took a relatively strong position on the DTV transition consistent with
the views of influential Democrats like Ed Markey, John Dingell, and Jay
Rockefeller. After the 2008 election, the FCC, the Congress, and the White
House arrived at a set of policies that helped to make the long-awaited transi-
tion successful. Delaying the transition from February to June of 2009 helped
to avoid major disruptions to the daily lives of citizens, while additional efforts
undertaken by the FCC and the NTIA after the November elections to fix the
converter-box coupon programme and educate consumers helped to reduce
adjustment costs for the poor and the elderly.
The US DTV transition was a large and complicated affair. One of the
basic problems in digital transitions is the problem of properly timing the
switching off of analogue. Doing it successfully depends on many uncertain
and often unpredictable variables like the willingness and ability of consumers
to purchase digital receivers or converter boxes or to subscribe to cable and
satellite services. It also depends on the cost of equipment and services, which
is itself a function of many hard to predict variables. All of this occurs within
a broader social and political context where democratic partisanship and the
politics of social inequality can further complicate the transition.
It is unlikely that digital transitions in other countries will be simpler. In
wealthy democratic countries, there will generally be a combination of govern-
mental mandates and reliance on the market and consumer choices. In poorer
countries, authority may be more centralized in the government and consumer
interests may be ignored, but at the expense of forcing consumers to pay for
services that they may not be able to afford. Nevertheless, it is helpful to analyze
carefully each transition as it comes along in the search for answers about how
to do it better next time (see, for example, Galperin 2004; Block 2008).
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 27 10/24/09 10:05:40 AM
Jeffrey A. Hart
Block, Joshua T. (2008), ‘Regulating the Transition from Analogue to Digital
Television Broadcasting in North America: A Comparison of the Canadian,
US., and Mexican Experiences’, Media Law and Policy, 17 (Spring), pp. 19–35.
Brinkley, Joel (1997), Defining Vision: The Battle for the Future of Television, New
York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Brinkley, Joel (2005), ‘Defining Vision: The End is Nigh!’, Ultimate AV, February,
http://ultimateavmag.com/joelbrinkley/205jb/. Accessed 21 September
Carnevale, Mary Lu (1993), ‘FCC Panel Urges New Set of HDTV Tests’, Wall
Street Journal, February 6, p. B7.
Cheney, Suzanne (2009), ‘Digital TV Transition: Almost All Are Ready’,
MSNBC.com, 26 May, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30888579/. Accessed
21 September 2009.
Corcoran, Elizabeth (1997), A Bit of Bill in Every Box: Gates’s Vision of
Microsoft’s Future Moves from PCs to TV, Phone, Washington Post,
10 August, p. H1.
Cotlar, Andrew D. (2005), ‘The Road Not Yet Traveled: Why the FCC Should
Issue Digital Must-Carry Rules for Public Television “First”’, Federal
Communications Law Journal, 57 (1), pp. 49–80.
Eggerton, John (2009), ‘DTV Converter-Box Program Hits Ceiling’, Broadcasting
& Cable, 5 January, http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/161609-DTV_
Converter_Box_Program_Hits_Ceiling.php. Accessed 21 September 2009.
Federal Communications Commission (1996a), Fifth Further Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking, in MM Docket No. 87–268, FCC 96–207, adopted 9 May.
Federal Communications Commission (1996b), Fourth Report and Order, Before
the Federal Communications Commission, In the Matter of Advanced Television
Systems and Their Impact Upon the Existing Television Broadcast Service, in
MM Docket No. 87–268, FCC 96–493, adopted 24 December.
Federal Communications Commission (1997), Statement of Chairman Reed
Hundt on the Adoption of Television Allotment and Service Rules Reports and
Orders, 3 April.
Federal Communications Commission (2001), Report and Order and Further
Notice of Proposed Rule Making in MM Docket No. 00–39, 16 FCC 01–24.
Federal Communications Commission (2002), Second Report and Order and
Second Memorandum Opinion and Order in MM Docket No. 00–39, FCC
02–030, adopted 8 August.
Federal Communications Commission (2003), In the Matter of Implementation
of Section 304 of the Communications Act of 1996; Commercial Availability
of Navigation Devices; Compatibility between Cable Systems and Consumer
Electronics Equipment, CS Docket No. 97–80 and PP Docket No. 00–97,
released 9 October.
Ferree, Kenneth W. (2004), Advancing the DTV Transition: An Examination
of the FCC Media Bureau Proposal: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on
Telecommunications and the Internet, 108th Congress, http://bulk.resource.
org/gpo.gov/hearings/108h/95439.pdf. Accessed 21 September 2009.
Frieden, Rob (2005–2006), Analogue and Digital Must-Carry Obligations of
Cable and Satellite Television Operators in the United States, Media Law
and Policy, 15 (2), pp. 230–246.
Galperin, Hernan (2004), New Television, Old Politics: The Transition to Digital TV
in the United States and Britain, New York: Cambridge University Press.
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 28 10/23/09 9:19:58 AM
The Transition to Digital Television in the United States
Goldstein, Mark L. (2008), Digital Television Transition: Information on
the Implementation of the Converter Box Subsidy Program and Consumer
Participation in the Program, testimony before the House Subcommittee on
Telecommunications and the Internet, 16 September, Washington, D. C.:
Government Accountability Office.
Hart, Jeffrey A. (2004), Technology, Television and Competition: The Politics of
Digital TV, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hart, Kim and Whoriskey, Peter (2009), ‘Stalled Switch to Digital TV A Classic
Tale of Breakdown’, Washington Post, 14 February, A01.
National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) (2009), ‘NAB CEO David Rehr:
Feb. 17 Digital TV Transition a Success’, NAB Press Release, 5 March, http://
www.dtvanswers.com/presskit/090305.html. Accessed 21 September 2009.
Podesta, John (2009), ‘Letter to Senator Rockefeller and Representatives
Hutchison, Waxman and Barton’, 8 January, http://change.gov/page/–/
images/20090109_Podesta_DTV_letter.pdf. Accessed 21 September 2009.
Reardon, Marguerite (2009a), ‘FCC: Some DTV Transition Hiccups Still
Anticipated’, CNET.com, 3 June, http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3–
10256652–94.html. Accessed 21 September 2009.
Reardon, Marguerite (2009b), ‘The Day after the DTV Transition’, CNET News,
13 June, http://news.cnet.com/8301–1035_3-10264369-94.html. Accessed
21 September 2009.
Sturgeon, Shane (2009), ‘1 Day and Counting – Joint FCC Commerce News
Release’, HDTV Magazine, 12 June, http://www.hdtvmagazine.com/
php. Accessed 21 September 2009.
Sweet, William (1991), ‘Future of Electronics Companies at Stake in
Development of New TV Systems’, Physics Today, 44 (3): p. 57.
Van, John and Jones, Tim (1996), ‘Digital TV Promises an Unclear Revolution:
Among the Questions: Better Images, or More?’ Chicago Tribune, April 7, C1.
Walker, Andrea K. (2005), Viewers in Search of HDTV Get Caught between
Broadcasters, Cable Operators, Baltimore Sun, 28 January.
Hart, J. A. (2010), ‘The Transition to Digital Television in the United States:
The Endgame’, International Journal of Digital Television 1: 1, pp. 7–29,
doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.7/1
Jeffrey A. Hart is Professor of Political Science at Indiana University where
he teaches courses on international relations and international political econ-
omy. His research focuses mostly on the politics of international competition
in high technology industries. He is an Associate Editor of the International
Journal of Digital Television. Fuller biographical details are given at the end of
the journal.
E-mail: hartj@indiana.edu
JDTV 1.1_art_Hart_007-030.indd 29 10/23/09 9:19:58 AM
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JDTV 1 (1) pp. 31–50 Intellect Limited 2010
digital television
the end of television
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.31/1
University of Queensland, Australia
Not the Apocalypse:
Television Futures in the
Digital Age
This article begins by challenging what we describe as a developing analytical ortho-
doxy around the development of digital television, an orthodoxy which produces
a story about the end of television. We argue that the social practice of television
is far from over, and that it is changing in ways which reflect continuities with
past practices as well as the effects of emerging economic, technological and cultural
formations of production and use. The article draws upon our research into some
Asian television markets (part of a collaborative international research project on
post-broadcast television) in order to highlight the contingency of these changes and
thus the importance of a highly nuanced, locally grounded, and culturally informed
analysis of what is becoming of television in the digital age. The article also draws
attention to the current difficulties confronting such comparative analysis, in that we
lack a common, simple and comprehensive means of measuring, benchmarking and
mapping the various formations of what we still call ‘television’ around the globe.
The history of technological change warns us against attributing agency to
emergent technologies; it also provides abundant evidence of the unreliability
of the enthusiasm of the early adopters as a guide to mainstream patterns
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 31 10/24/09 10:10:47 AM
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
of take-up. Histories of the mass media, in particular, tell us that while each
emerging technology may initially shape up as if to challenge those already in
place, it is rare for them to actually displace or render the existing technologies
obsolete. Nonetheless, as each new technology emerges, they are inevitably
accompanied by an ancillary industry of analysis and prognosis predicting
the total collapse of nominated current technologies or markets as the result
of the newcomer stealing their audiences. The predictions are rarely borne
out; in many cases, both the technologies and their users end up behaving in
totally unexpected ways. Video did not ‘kill the radio star’, after all, but the
music industry is looming as an early casualty of the Internet’s emergence as
an entertainment platform; music downloads and piracy are now threatening
the viability of the local music store and the retail market for CDs.
In this article, derived from a continuing study of post-broadcast televi-
sion, we begin by challenging what we describe as a developing analytical
orthodoxy around the development of digital television. We emphasize the
need to recognize that the social practice of television is changing in highly
contingent ways in specific markets – ways that reflect continuities with past
practices as well as the effects of emerging economic and cultural formations
of production and use. Our objective, pursued by drawing in particular on
Asian examples from our collaboration on an international research project on
post-broadcast television, is to highlight the unpredictability of these changes
as well as the current difficulty in finding a simple and comprehensive means
of measuring and mapping – and therefore of properly understanding – what
is becoming of what we still call ‘television’.
It is not surprising that the rise of digital television should be accompanied
by excitable accounts of technological change – from within the academy and
the industry – which construct dramatic visions of the likely futures for tel-
evision. The most common academic account comes from those we might
call the ‘digital optimists’, who see the rise of digital television supplementing
what they predict will be a fundamental shift in the focus of television produc-
tion and consumption: that is, a shift that takes us away from the broadcast
network and the television set in the living room and towards ‘the people
formerly known as the audience’ (Rosen 2006) and the home computer. The
prognoses of the digital optimists are closely aligned with those of the entre-
preneurs and content producers within the media industries. They project a
future in which an unprecedented degree of consumer access and content
customization is set to dramatically change the nature of television content,
as well as the manner in which it is consumed or produced. Worthwhile aspi-
rations towards increased popular participation at the production end, and
some form of democratization at the consumption end, are driving these
accounts but they are, nonetheless, customarily enlisted into the service of a
more commercial objective: that of generating a viable market for those who
have invested in these new developments.
The accounts of the digital optimists are, as it were, negatively reinforced
by the views expressed by those we might describe as the ‘broadcast pes-
simists’: those who see the declining share of (in particular) the US market
now watching broadcast television as an incontrovertible sign of the immi-
nent collapse of the broadcast platform altogether. There are certainly some
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 32 10/23/09 9:36:37 AM
Not the Apocalypse: Television Futures in the Digital Age
who argue against both of these positions (Turner and Tay 2009; Miller
2009), but at present it would have to be said that there remains a ‘digital
orthodoxy’ (Turner 2009) which blends the accounts of the digital optimists
and the broadcast pessimists into a highly influential diagnosis of what
amounts to the declaration of the ‘end of television’.
We do not accept that this diagnosis is sufficient and in what follows we
outline some of the competing evidence which highlights the complexity and
diversity of the international experience of the era of digital television. As a
starting point, it is important to recognize how geographically specific the ‘end
of television’ argument is. Once you look beyond North America, Europe, and
certain Anglophone countries such as Australia and New Zealand, such an
argument loses much of its claim to relevance; in most other locations (and
remember, these include the largest television audience in the world, China),
broadcast (let alone) television is far from experiencing decline. Athique (2009)
argues that India, for instance, is only now entering its ‘age of television’, and
its markets are dominated by broadcasting.
We have noted elsewhere (Tay and Turner 2008) that a number of state reg-
ulatory and policy regimes – for instance, those in the UK and Australia – have
accepted a vision of the future of television that implicitly regards the American
experience as an evolutionary model. That is, these regimes operate on the
assumption that the stages through which the American market has evolved
will be more or less replicated, over time, throughout the globe. We argue that
there is every reason to question such an assumption; indeed, it might actually
make more sense to regard the American market as significantly anomalous,
rather than as standing in an exemplary relation to the rest of the global market.
For example, it is important to recognize that there are particular aspects of the
regulatory and market conditions in the US at present (as well as a number of
other markets regulated towards the US model) which artificially appear to rein-
force the end of television thesis: the national transition from analogue to digital
broadcasting, for instance, does lend support to this position in various ways that
mask its contingency. At the simplest level, the analogue switchover is regarded
by many in the US as the final nail in the coffin for an ailing broadcasting indus-
try. While this will not necessarily be the case, in fact (and there are convincing
opposing arguments), the convergence of technologies further enabled by the
switch to digital has the capacity to blur the specificity of television over time and
is doing so, as we write, in a number of markets. More importantly, however, a
pattern is emerging in which the traditional broadcasters have approached the
switch from analogue to digital with some trepidation – as the point at which
the clock starts to tick on their established business models. At the same time,
convergent media proprietors have embraced this development as the moment
when traditional television surrenders some of its commercial advantages.
It is also important to highlight another consideration which seems to us to
be especially relevant to academic debates within television and media studies
at this conjuncture. Most of the information we receive about the application
of new technologies, about their take-up among audiences and consumers,
and about possible developments in the future, comes to us directly from the
media industries – often through corporate press releases or other products of
a publicity and promotions process, as well as through more putatively grass-
roots platforms such as industry blogs or online newsletters. While there is
certainly academic research in these areas, and while there has also been con-
siderable academic input into the development and application of these new
media technologies, at the moment we seem especially dependent upon the
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 33 10/23/09 9:36:37 AM
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
information provided by industry sources because of the pace of technological
change and the volatility of the market response. What has resulted from this
is an excessive reliance on what can only be called industry ‘spin’ – the release
of material for public consumption that serves commercial rather than neces-
sarily informational objectives.
People working in media studies have always known that the informa-
tion released by media companies about new applications, audience figures
and the like, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. There will always be con-
cerns about the reliability of such information in terms of its factual accuracy
as well as its legitimacy as the expression of an industry view: mostly, we
have regarded industry statements as first and foremost the promulgation of
a commercial view that supports particular and often temporally contingent
configurations of interests. However, it is notable that in relation to digital
media, particularly for new and online applications, some of this fundamen-
tal scepticism seems to have been set aside – perhaps due to an especially
close alignment between the technological aspirations of early-adopting aca-
demics and the cutting edge entrepreneurs in the new media fields.
As a result, both media reporting and the academic take-up of industry
spin has tended to be largely uncritical, if not entirely complicit with it, and
thus risk reinforcing perceptions of major industrial shifts which do not exist or
have yet to take place. An example of what we mean would be a 2007 report
on IPTV take-up worldwide (Briel 2007), which headlined the figure of 13 per
cent growth in total user numbers over the year and provided a list of the top
IPTV countries. On the face of it, this is a dramatic result, but closer reading of
the figures reveals that in many cases this is achieved off such a tiny base that,
even with this level of growth, the proportion of those using IPTV in some of
the leading countries is arguably negligible (see Table 1). In China, for instance,
the figure after the 13% increase was a total of 720,000 – less than 1% of the
total population of China. Hong Kong, the second largest market in the world
for IPTV, is much more significant with 13% of the population taking up IPTV,
but for all the other top six countries the total figure for IPTV take-up remains
small when expressed as a percentage of the total population.
It might be argued, nonetheless, that more recent figures indicate that IPTV
has continued to grow at a rate that would justify the hyperbole used in this
Markets IPTV (‘000)
% of total
1. France 1,410 61,538,322 2.3%
2. Hong Kong 920 7,000,000 (est.) 13.1%
3. China 720 1,321,851,888 0.1%
4. Spain 427 44,200,000 1.0%
5. Japan 304 127,770,000 0.2%
6. Taiwan 269 22,858,872 1.2%
Source: Adapted from R. Briel (2007) with additional demographic information from
Table 1: Uptake of IPTV Telco (2007).
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 34 10/23/09 9:36:37 AM
Not the Apocalypse: Television Futures in the Digital Age
report. Certainly, the recent growth rates are even higher than those reported
by Briel, according to the 2009 figures (Broadband Forum 2009); the year’s
growth in Latin America and Eastern Europe, for instance, clocked in respec-
tively at 109.85% and 109.38%. Again, however, the raw numbers encourage
caution; in Latin America, the result of such a percentage increase is still only a
total of 23,467 subscribers. An even more sober perspective, however, is gained
when we look at Informa’s forecasts, which take us up to 2013 and predict that
by then IPTV will still only account for 4% of global TV households.
What this table suggests is that while IPTV may still continue to record
what can be presented as impressive gains in percentage terms, the realistic
expectation is that IPTV is destined to be only a niche delivery platform for TV
in the future not, as the booster rhetoric would have it, the future of TV.
It is probably worth emphasizing at this point that there is good reason to
doubt even the raw figures provided by the media industries on new media
audiences, let alone the implications that might be read from them. An exam-
ple of this comes from the US Internet industry’s confusion over the vast
disparity in the size of the audience attributed to online video site Hulu by
competing ratings companies: in March 2009, Nielsen reported a total of 8.9
million visitors to the site, while comScore came up with 42 million. These dis-
crepancies have provoked considerable controversy in the news media as well
as in the industry but so far no satisfactory explanation has emerged, with both
organizations defending their methods in the face of advertisers’ demands for
more reliable figures (Stelter 2009). This dispute takes on added significance
because the Internet industry has always claimed that online usage is more
‘measurable’ than television audiences and thus represents a more account-
able platform for advertisers. They claim (though this can be challenged) that
the hit rate provides direct evidence of consumption, for instance. The lesson
seems to be that, with discrepancies so large and over such important consid-
erations, and with the industry reports so strongly motivated by the need to
boost markets, this is not the time to abandon our scepticism about the valid-
ity and motivations of industry-sourced figures.
Source: Informa Telecoms and Media (2009).
#homes not paying to receive cable, DTH or IPTV signals
*includes digital and analogue homes
@Israel and Turkey only
Table 2: Digital TV household composition in 2013 (million).
Cable DTH IPTV DTT# Freesat# Total TV*
Asia Pacific 147 36 22 26 15 676
Europe – East 15 13 5 10 9 134
Europe – West 35 31 17 59 16 174
Latin America 16 9 2 30 0 124
Middle East@ 2 2 0 2 11 22
North America 75 38 8 11 0 133
Total 290 129 54 111 51 1,262
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 35 10/23/09 9:36:37 AM
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
There is a larger question, of course, which we will return to later on,
and which has to do with the difficulty of measuring and mapping the pro-
duction and consumption of television around the globe. Each country has
its own metrics: they are often out of phase with each other, they work with
shifting and even conflicting or contradictory terminologies, and it is very
difficult (often impossible) to make direct or benchmarked comparisons
between the same kind of data, collected over the same period, with the
same underlying assumptions. As we will point out throughout this arti-
cle, even basic industrial terms (such as the version of ‘penetration’ used in
Table 7) mean different things in different contexts and thus change pre-
cisely what it is that is being measured.
We have to work with what is available, though, and notwithstanding the
difficulties registered above, there is plenty of data available which should
give pause to any apocalyptic predictions of the end of television. Even in
the heartland of the end of television thesis, the US, the figures tell a differ-
ent story. According to the May 2009 Nielsen ‘Three Screens’ survey (2009a)
(Table 3), television viewing in the home grew by the same percentage (3.6%)
over 2007/2008 as the total figure for Internet use (within which, remember,
watching video online is a smaller subset.) Total US television viewing contin-
ued to grow in the first quarter of 2009 (1.2%), although by a smaller amount
than the use of the Internet (3.2%); television viewing figures would be further
boosted if time-shifting viewing was added to the total figures for television
Source: The Nielsen Company.
Table 3: Three Screens’ Survey 2009.
Monthly time spent in hours: Minutes per user 2+.
4Q08 3Q08 4Q07
% Diff
Yr to Yr
Diff Yr
to Yr
(4Q08 to
Watching TV in
the home* 151:03 140:48 145:49 3.6% 5:13
Watching time-
shifted TV* 7:11 6:27 5:24 33.0% 1:47
Using the
Internet** 27:04 27:18 26:08 3.6% 0:56
Watching video
on Internet** 2:53 2:31 n/a n/a n/a
Mobile sub-
scribers watch-
ing video on a
mobile phone 3:37 n/a n/a n/a
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 36 10/23/09 9:36:37 AM
Not the Apocalypse: Television Futures in the Digital Age
viewing in the home (time-shifting increased by 37.3% [!] over the first quarter
of 2009) (Nielsen 2009b). It is true that the audience share for broadcast net-
works compared to cable networks is steadily declining; nonetheless, certain
broadcast events continue to demonstrate their capacity to draw a massive
national television audience: the Obama presidential debates, for instance,
drew figures that were comparable with those achieved during the Reagan
campaign (Miller 2009) and they, in turn, constitute a historic peak. While the
US networks have their difficulties, then, it is simply not the case that people
are not watching as much television as before, or that they are demonstrating
a clear preference for watching television online via their computers.
Of course, there is no doubt that television is mutating across platforms
and the contexts through which it is consumed are multiplying. While this is
the case, it would seem that, far from approaching its demise, television is
alive and well. If we move away from the US example and look at some other
large national markets and examine the mix of platforms, systems of delivery,
and audience preferences in play we begin to get a more nuanced sense of the
sheer diversity of the ways in which the futures of broadcast, pay, and online
video play out in different nation-states and geo-linguistic regional markets.
An Australian report from 2008, for instance, found that 42% of its respond-
ents said they watched less TV as a result of being connected to the Internet,
while 54% said there was no change in their behaviour (Ewing, Thomas and
Schiessl 2008). This report, it should be noted, is based on what the respond-
ents said about their behaviours, rather than the kind of electronic monitoring
of actual behaviour that a people meter provides.
In the research project from which this article derives, we have examined
aspects of the broadcast, pay, and online video audience take-up and modes
of consumption in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The television
audience has been steadily expanding due to the uptake of cable and IPTV
subscribers across at least three of the four markets; namely China, Hong Kong
and Singapore, with Taiwan at almost its saturation point for cable television
(90 per cent). Broadcast remains a major player, however. In the Chinese geo-
linguistic markets of Hong Kong and Singapore, broadcasters have dominated
since television began and that has not changed significantly in recent years.
The local broadcast television stations, TVB (Hong Kong) and Mediacorp
(Singapore), are strong producers of local content. Hong Kong has been the
leading television serial producer for both Hong Kong and the Chinese geo-
linguistic region generally for decades (Curtin 2007). Many of TVB’s serials
have attracted popular followings in Taiwan, China, Singapore, Vietnam and
Malaysia. Broadcast television in Hong Kong is virtually universally accessi-
ble but pay TV subscribers have been increasing; in the period 2007-2008, the
proportion of the market subscribing to pay TV increased by 10% from 79.3%
to 89%. There are reports of audience migrations from TVB’s Jade (though it
is still the most popular channel), which suggests a gradual shift in the prefer-
ences of the Hong Kong audience (Broadcasting Authority HK 2007a).
In Singapore, Channel 8 (a Mandarin broadcast channel) has enjoyed a
popular following since the 1980s through its news and Singaporean-based
television series such as The Awakening, Samsui Women and Army Daze.
Channel 8’s dominance has its roots in the 80 per cent of the population
that is of Chinese ethnicity. Notwithstanding this audience advantage, the
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 37 10/23/09 9:36:37 AM
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
evidence points to a gradual shrinking of the broadcast television share in
Singapore of about two per cent per year since 2004; there has been a cor-
responding increase to cable television’s market share (MDA 2006). In Hong
Kong and Singapore, then, broadcast television is certainly challenged by the
competing platforms but it is not in dramatic decline. Indeed, the expansion
and uptake of cable and Internet television means that, overall, there are more
people watching television now (and for longer) than ever before. This trend
may well continue. In their pursuit of a greater market share, cable television
in Hong Kong has introduced price segmentation for different urban areas in
Hong Kong, in order to attract subscribers from diverse income levels.
In Taiwan, cable television has dominated the market for many years.
There are particular historical reasons for this. The introduction of television
in Taiwan had significant military and political roots: early broadcast televi-
sion was associated with partisan news and politically driven content across
the top three broadcast channels. Since 1993, with the deregulation of the
industry and the entry of new television proprietors mainly through cable TV,
Taiwanese viewers have embraced cable. This is partly due to cable’s com-
paratively de-politicized content but mainly for its mix of entertainment and
information programming – madcap variety shows, drama serials, and inde-
pendent news. The penetration level for Taiwan’s cable television market is
one of the highest in the world and its subscription rates are also among the
cheapest (with, for example, 90 channels for US$15 a month). Ratings for
broadcast television, by contrast, are sometimes so low that they do not even
register in the ratings data (OnScreenAsia 2008).
These three instances highlight the importance of contextual conditions
in understanding shifts in the patterns of television consumption, as well as
the highly responsive role now played by local consumers. Consumer stud-
ies, such as those conducted by Accenture in its second Global Broadcast
Consumer Survey (Accenture 2009), report patterns of behaviour which reflect
audiences’ readiness to pursue their preferred content across platforms. The
Accenture survey found that while 40% of consumers would prefer to watch
adverts in exchange for free content, nonetheless up to 49% are willing to
pay for digital television. As a result, the survey concluded that subscription
television was the most economically resilient section of the television indus-
try globally, recording growth rates of up to 12% even during the economic
downturn (Accenture 2009). Such a conclusion feeds into the ‘broadcast pes-
simism’ noted earlier, however it is important to acknowledge the role played
by factors specific to each market. One clear attribute of the global experience
of television in the digital era is that where broadcast television fails to pro-
vide content that satisfies audience demand (which seems to have occurred
in Taiwan), audiences will readily migrate to subscription television in order
to access the programmes they want (especially when the prices are competi-
tive). In the markets of Hong Kong and Singapore, where broadcast television
has traditionally provided a richer mix of content which seems to have more
effectively satisfied audience demand, the uptake of cable has been much
slower than elsewhere.
The content ‘drivers’ across the Chinese language markets are similar. Live
variety shows, urban drama and news consistently feature among the top ten
programmes – only toppled at times by event television such as the Beijing
Olympics opening ceremony in 2008 (OnScreenAsia 2009). The line up of the
top five programmes across a sample of two weeks of the Hong Kong tel-
evision schedule presented in Table 4 and the Taiwan schedule in Table 5
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 38 10/23/09 9:36:37 AM
Not the Apocalypse: Television Futures in the Digital Age
demonstrate this. The staple choices in both markets are Chinese urban dra-
mas revolving around family and careers, variety shows (such as the Super Trio
Supreme), and carnivalesque game shows. Although reality television has made
an impact in introducing greater diversity to all of these national markets, it
rates most highly in China where Mongolian Cow Yoghurt Super Girl (modelled
on the Pop Idol format) and Journey to Shangri-La (modelled on Survivor) courted
controversy and made national and international headlines as well as attracting
hundreds of thousands of prospective participants (BBC News 2001).
Similarly, with Singapore television (Table 6), Chinese language melodra-
mas again lead the ratings – just slightly ahead of locally produced lifestyle
entertainment. It is important to note however that, within these apparently
similar broad patterns of genre preference, at the level of the individual texts
there are significant differences which reflect the cultural specificities of each
location. In Hong Kong, for instance, the urban soap operas are often ‘rags
to riches’ (and back again) stories which feature characters enjoying enor-
mous wealth, exploiting the narrative spectacle of a wealthy lifestyle setting.
In the Singapore dramas, however, extreme wealth is rarely depicted at all,
as the texts channel their aspirational message towards a relatively homo-
geneous middle class-ness instead. A significant difference in terms of the
political economy underlying these patterns of consumption is that prime
time drama serials in Hong Kong are mainly locally produced by TVB, and
the leading drama and light entertainment programmes in Taiwan are also
produced locally, whereas, in Singapore, prime time drama is likely to come
from Singapore, Hong Kong or South Korea.
Source: CSM Media Research.
Source: http://www.marketing-interactive.com/news/8093 (b)
http://www.marketing-interactive.com/news/8182 (a)
Table 4: Top five TV programmes in Hong Kong.
(3–9 August 2008) (27 July–2 August 2008)
Programme Name
(English) Channel
% Rank
Programme Name
(English) Channel
1. Olympic Games –
opening ceremony
(event TV)
35.6 1. Moonlight Resonance
2. Moonlight
35.5 2. Super Trio Supreme
(live variety)
3. When A Dog Loves
A Cat
31.4 3. When A Dog Loves
A Cat
4. Super Trio Supreme
(live variety)
29.8 4. On The Road (III)
5. Best Selling Secrets
29.4 5 Chua’s Choice
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 39 10/29/09 9:33:49 AM
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
It is important for us to note that the preparation of the following tables
provides a good example of the difficulty of generating strong comparative
information for this kind of project. The data used below is largely drawn from
secondary marketing websites where the main objective often seems to be
a demonstration of the continuities of market share rather than to register
change. In general, audience data is not usually available directly from infor-
mation collection agencies, certainly not without payment, and is not released
with the intention of providing a comprehensive report. Furthermore, unlike
the more cohesive English language markets, the regional Asian television
industries do not benchmark their data; therefore any comparative studies
(10–16 August 2008)
Rank Programme Name (English) Channel Rating %
1. The Defining Moment
(Mandarin drama)
Channel 8 16
2. Love Blossoms
(Mandarin drama)
Channel 8 15.9
3. Food Detective
(lifestyle food show)
Channel 8 13.2
4. True Files
(crime docu-drama)
Channel 8 11.4
5. Food Hometown
(lifestyle food show)
Channel 8 11.2
Table 6: Top five TV programmes in Singapore.
Source: Taylor Nelson Sofres, http://www.marketing-interactive.com/news/8356.
(4–10 August 2008)
Rank Channel Programme Name (Pin Yin) Rating %
1. TTV Ming Zhong Zhu Ding Wo Ai Ni
2. FTV Niang Jia
3. TTV Zuan Shi Ye Zong Hui
4. SANLI Zhen Qing Man Tian Xia
5. FTV Zong Yi Da Ying Jia
Table 5: Top five TV programmes in Taiwan.
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 40 10/23/09 9:36:37 AM
Not the Apocalypse: Television Futures in the Digital Age
must pull together what will be (to a greater or lesser extent) incommensurate
information from a diverse range of sources. Tables 4, 5 and 6 set out the top
five programmes over a week of programming in Singapore and Taiwan. In
the case of Hong Kong, two weeks have been included to accommodate the
spike around the Olympic Games opening ceremony: this was to indicate its
scale as a special event, while the inclusion of the second week was used to
reflect a more comparable spread of audience choices.
Notwithstanding the once widespread expectations that the globali-
zation of television would result in increasingly homogeneous content
(Moran 1998; Waisbord 2004), as well as more recent but in many ways
analogous projections of transnational markets for satellite television in
Europe (Chalaby 2005), it is not hard to find significant and longstanding
national differences in audience programming preferences at the level of
genre, not just of the individual text – and even between closely articu-
lated English language markets such as the US, the UK and Australia. In
Australia, the most consistent long-term presences on the top ten rating
programmes have been the broadcast networks’ evening news, reality and
lifestyle formats, and local drama. In the US, however, network news does
not even make it into the top twenty programmes; instead they are com-
posed of reality TV, talent shows and Hollywood drama. In the UK, it is
primarily soap opera and reality TV, with the ten o’clock news just squeez-
ing in at number ten. Further comparisons of idiosyncratic local prefer-
ences might pick up the dominance of prime time telenovelas (and masked
wrestling!) in Mexico, and of locally produced carnivalesque game shows
in Japan. While there are certainly many common elements in program-
ming and scheduling around the world – the international formats Pop Idol
and Big Brother, for instance, the various versions and adaptations of the
Latin American telenovelas, and international sports coverage – there is lit-
tle that is homogeneous or predictable about how these trends play out in
the choices which make up the top ten rating programmes of the week in
particular markets or territories.
Such comparisons reinforce our view that, globalizing media markets not-
withstanding, the influence of local conditions has been underplayed in recent
accounts of the rise of digital and global television – perhaps because the focus
of most accounts has largely been on Anglophone transnational media com-
panies. This is particularly true of accounts of television futures coming from
the US, where television scholars (with significant exceptions, such as Marwan
Kraidy 2009) tend to see their local experience as normative. Even a rich and
valuable study such as Amanda Lotz’s The Television will be Revolutionized
(2007) is largely unreflective about the particularity of the American experi-
ence and the possibility that ‘the television’ might turn out quite differently
elsewhere. This habit of mind is one of the reasons why, for instance, western
media scholars have often misunderstood the cultural politics of the rise of
convergent media markets in China (see Tay 2009; Sun and Zhao 2009).
Notwithstanding the anglophone world’s comfortable sense of the devel-
opment of an increasingly integrated global media culture, there are plenty of
examples of relatively autonomous and highly distinctive media cultures, which,
in some cases, are massive in their scale and density. China is always mentioned
in this connection, of course, but another, less noticed, example is Mexican tel-
evision, which dominates its national market in much the same naturalized
manner that American television dominates the American market (and indeed
operates hegemonically within its geo-linguistic region in much the way that
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 41 10/23/09 9:36:37 AM
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
American television does). In comparison to its influence on many other mar-
kets much less geographically proximate, Hollywood is a surprisingly minor
presence in Mexican media culture (its influence is actually far more pro-
nounced in Australian television!), and the ancillary industries – those associ-
ated with media celebrity and publicity and so on – seem to be thoroughly
focused on Mexican product. (You could look through Mexican celebrity
magazines for some time before you would come across a major Hollywood
star; when one of us conducted an informal search through a colleague’s pile
of Mexican TV magazines, the only Hollywood celebrity found was Jennifer
Lopez!). The wide variations in the geopolitical logics of international televi-
sion are underlined when you compare this situation with that of the US’s
other neighbour, Canada, where a Canadian television culture continues to
struggle against the threat of total submersion beneath programming from
the US.
An interesting case study would be that of Hong Kong, as an example of
Michael Curtin’s comment that ‘audiences in different [Chinese] locales
express distinctively different attitudes towards fashion, music, and imagery’
(Curtin 2007:23). It is worth briefly sketching some of the features of the Hong
Kong market in order to highlight the complex patterns of similarity and dif-
ference in play. This is a market in which there are strong preferences for
local material – largely Cantonese Hong Kong-made drama serials and variety
programming. There is a history of highly successful broadcasting program-
ming, but recent indications suggest that the attractions of pay TV are mak-
ing inroads into the exclusive dominance of broadcasting. The Broadcasting
Services Survey in Hong Kong (2007b) reports that the market leader, TVB
Jade (Cantonese, local programmes, the top rating channel by a significant
margin) lost 6 per cent of its market share to TVB Pearl (English language)
and ATV Home (Cantonese) over 2007 (Broadcasting Authority Hong Kong
2007b: 5). The survey also picked up what it regarded as high levels of ‘dis-
satisfaction’ with TVB, with outright dissatisfaction registered at 6.6 per cent
(Broadcasting Authority Hong Kong 2007b: 8). While Table 7 demonstrates
a marked increase in the take-up of subscription television in Hong Kong,
particularly in comparison to other forms of non-domestic television, this
has not come at the expense of broadcast television. Nor does it constitute a
growing embrace of globalized content. English (mainly American) content
does occupy a small segment of the market in Hong Kong, as do regional
drama and variety shows from Taiwan, South Korea, China and Singapore.
However, few of these rate as highly as their Hong Kong-made counterparts,
due to the specificity of the cultural taste and the continuing demand for local
references on screen.
Enquiring into the dissatisfaction expressed about TVB Jade’s program-
ming, the survey suggests that consumers are now demanding more variety –
and are perhaps locating the potential for more variety in their awareness of
the offerings available through pay-TV. A significant number of the viewers
surveyed wanted more non-fictional or documentary programming; over one
fifth wanted more programming which dealt with health, education, arts and
culture, films, and sports. Significantly, most of these dissatisfied viewers also
subscribed to pay television where, perhaps, they found such programming
available (although the survey results do not necessarily support such a view:
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 42 10/23/09 9:36:38 AM
Not the Apocalypse: Television Futures in the Digital Age
the top rating pay channels were News channel at 18.1%, the Movie Channel
at 7.1% and the Entertainment Channel at 6.4%).
Media consumption in Hong Kong has always been relatively high. In his
recent study of the consumption of news in Hong Kong, Li Xigen refers to
about a dozen local daily newspapers, and reports that 89% of the population
consume newspapers daily, spending about an hour a day on this activity (Li
2006). This interest in news and global information is also reflected in the use
of the Internet in Hong Kong. According to the World Internet Project, 66.8%
of the population are Internet users and news is one of the leading applications,
with Internet users of news standing at 11%– more than multimedia (movies
and music), for instance, which comes in at 9% (Hong Kong Internet Survey
Project 2007). The take-up of new technologies highlights what becomes an
important issue in discussing the specifics of what happens to digital television
in particular markets. Local and regional differences in the uses and empha-
sis of the Internet and other communications applications (such as the mobile
phone) alert us to the importance of divergent cultural consumption practices
that ultimately determine which (and how) new technologies and platforms will
be used. If we were to compare how the Internet is used for social communica-
tion and networking in Hong Kong, for instance, we would find that e-mails
are marginally more popular among Internet users in Hong Kong than instant
messaging sites such as QQ (Chinese language) or MSN (English language). In
China, however, it is dramatically the reverse, with instant messaging recording
participation rates of 81.4% to e-mail use of 56.5% (December 2007) (CNNIC
Source: Broadcasting Authority Annual Report 2007.
(The term ‘penetration’ is used as in the original diagram, but it is applied in a
slightly misleading manner. We acknowledge that it is customary to use ‘pen-
etration’ to refer to the numbers subscribing to pay TV or choosing particular
technologies –VCRs, for instance – rather than those accessing broadcast TV,
which is usually assumed to be universally available. The diagram nonetheless
helps to map shifts in the market shares accessed through the various platforms, to
demonstrate that the only really significant movement is in the take-up of domes-
tic pay TV).
Table 7: Penetration of licensed television services in Hong Kong.
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 43 10/23/09 9:36:38 AM
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
2008). This, to extend the comparison further, is relatively low in international
terms when compared to the e-mail participation rates in the US at 91% and
South Korea at 82.1%. A simple point to make is that the reasons for these
significant variations across national, geographical and cultural locations are not
only technological or infrastructural, but also social and cultural.
The specificities of the Hong Kong market for television demonstrate how
the competing formats and platforms of delivery vary in relation to, and in
ways that categorically respond to, local conditions. These conditions may be
cultural, regulatory, infrastructural, or political, but they will exercise a deter-
mining influence over how television is produced, distributed, and consumed
within national markets as well as how it is traded across markets.
The question for us now, then, is not so much a matter of whether we are see-
ing the end of television as a form of content, but rather a matter of mapping
the varying formations and configurations of the presentation and distribution
of television – and asking of each, as does Joshua Green (2008), ‘how is this
still television?’ This reiterates the question Raymond Williams asked more
than thirty years ago in Television: Technology and Cultural Form (1974): what
are the alternative uses and social functions of these new forms? There is still
almost as much to be done now as when Williams first asked that question
to establish just what it is that remains fundamental to television. The spe-
cific question for television studies in the digital era is whether the advent of
digital technology has categorically changed the social practice of watching
It would have to be acknowledged that the evidence so far points in sev-
eral different directions. For instance, when we think about the aesthetic and
spectacular dimension of television as a regime of visual culture, there are two
contradictory movements observable in most developed markets. On the one
hand, there is the move to the home theatre with high definition digital tel-
evision on large flat screens and surround sound, in which the quality of the
audience’s audio-visual experience is of paramount importance. The shift to
this model of home entertainment is a recent development made possible by
technological advancements in the integration of television and hi-fi systems
as well as in digital and high definition television; the idea of the home theatre
explicitly aims at replicating the aesthetically ‘superior’ cinematic experience.
On the other hand, and apparently working in entirely the opposite direction,
there are the increasing numbers who choose to access video through the
Internet. In this case, they are consuming material where the technical and
aesthetic quality of the experience – the image has poor resolution, it is inter-
rupted by delays in downloading, and uses low-fi sound – is often at quite
primitive levels. The compensation for this seems to lie in the consumer’s
commitment to the benefits of customization; the accessing of large menus of
otherwise inaccessible material takes precedence over the audio-visual qual-
ity of the texts themselves. Arching over all of this, of course, is a regime of
visual culture that remains, on balance, anchored within the larger context of
the home and thus infers many of the issues of domesticity that have always
framed the practices of television consumption.
Similarly, among the key attributes of broadcast television has been
the sense of ‘co-presence’ (Ellis 2002) – the perception that we are
watching as part of a larger, customarily national, audience and that this
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 44 10/23/09 9:36:38 AM
Not the Apocalypse: Television Futures in the Digital Age
constitutes a significant component in the character of our engagement
with what we watch on television. Clearly, this is important when we are
watching a national celebration, a high profile sporting event, or a news
event of national significance; sharing our response to such moments
becomes part of our sociality at the workplace, in the neighbourhood,
within our communities. It might seem that the teenager constructing
their menu of television clips from YouTube is not consuming televi-
sion in this way; it may seem, indeed, that this is a highly individualized,
expressly customized mode of consumption and thus does not carry with
it the sense of co-presence for so long attributed to the consumption of
television. We are not sure that this is necessarily true; rather, it might be
the case that the nature of this co-presence has in many ways changed
and expanded. Rather than just the co-present nation, for instance, what
we might have is a co-present globalized taste culture or subculture to
which the individual confirms their membership through their consump-
tion of particular clips, or participation through engagement of one kind
or another (comments, subscription, and so on) with particular YouTube
‘stars’ such as Numa Numa Guy (Gary Brolsma).
Importantly, it seems as if it might be the international character of
this taste culture which is among its attractions – picking up on the pref-
erences of a more or less globalized (or at least transnational western)
audience all watching Jon Stewart or Tina Fey or the latest video from
the international music industry. Not all of these clips are entertainment
driven, however. For example, Barack Obama’s presidential inaugura-
tion speech attracted four million downloads between January and May
2009, thus demonstrating the diverse consumption and almost universal
archival potential on YouTube. However, what is significant is that this
display of national politics shares the same public archival space as other
very different clips such as the infamous Bus Uncle from Hong Kong
(random surveillance on public transport), and I am Maru cat from Japan
(domesticity and private life).
There certainly seems to be a prima facie case to argue that the consump-
tion of these clips on YouTube, and elsewhere, is among the activities that
provide the basic material from which the taste culture’s sociality might be
constructed. The imbrication of this culture within the growth of social net-
working technologies (and of course much of what is shared through these
networks is video) would support such a view. However, we still do not under-
stand very much about the specifics of these formations of co-presence; such
as what forms of sociality are being promoted, and how can we classify these
as subcultures (if indeed we can call them that at all given the constrained
character of the cultural connections the members can actually share). If we
are to extend the frame of television to these new media technologies, much
more work still has to be carried out. That said, and not to seem to exaggerate
the novelty of the situation we are describing, it is also notable that so much of
what is consumed through the video aggregator sites, and certainly so much
of what makes up the list of its most viewed selections, actually comes from
mainstream broadcast and subscription television. According to Burgess and
Green (2009: 46), material from broadcast and mass media sources make up
66% of the ‘most viewed category’ and 47% of the videos which users have
added to their personal profiles.
While the implications of this argument, then, would indicate that there
are strong commonalities in the experiences of television just described,
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 45 10/23/09 9:36:38 AM
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
it is also worth addressing what seems to be an almost taken-for-granted
assumption in much of television studies that, for instance, watching a foot-
ball match on broadcast television and downloading a Saturday Night Live
sketch from YouTube are mutually exclusive activities. That is, much of the
argument about the end of television seems to assume that the one individual
is unlikely to engage in both of these activities – hence the narrative which
sees the rise of one form of consumption as necessarily predicating the demise
of the other. Clearly, as the evidence of a steadily increasing, albeit mutating,
consumption of television might suggest, this is not necessarily true. What
seems worth emphasizing is that these are quite different, but in some ways,
analogous or even complementary activities, which link the consumption of
television into a wider range of social and cultural relations than was previ-
ously the case. That the digital capacities for copying, sharing, and so on have
been added to the traditional elements of the television experience might be
regarded as having extended the purchase of television into the personal and
the private in ways that were hitherto difficult to achieve via the television set
in the living room.
Further, the diversity of content, television channels and platforms now
available to us do not so easily allow viewers to take a passive role in their
television watching; viewers are in a sense forced to become more ‘proactive’
in their televisual choices and tastes. If you have 200 channels and nothing
catches your fancy, there is still the DVD box set, the Internet, the pay-per-
view – a variety of choices of entertainment. As the digital optimists like
to remind us, the choice of how you wish to be entertained and informed
is, increasingly in many markets, yours to make. Thus, coupled with the
expansion of choice is the greater sense of decision-making and respon-
sibility that now goes with watching television with your family, spouse,
friends or just alone. As a number of commentators have argued, this can
be hard work. Jostein Gripsrud has noted that the European broadcasters
initially feared broadcast television would be made obsolete by the intro-
duction of ‘MeTV’ where viewers can personally programme their sched-
ules from a large number of suppliers (Gripsrud 2004: 214). However, this
assumes that increasingly time-poor urban viewers would always choose
the labour of negotiating the ever-increasing number of suppliers, time
schedules and new content in order simply to select a programme to watch.
Choice fatigue, as Ellis calls it, turns choice into ‘an imposition rather than
a freedom’, and ‘broadcast television answers to this feeling’ (Ellis 2002:
171). It is possible that choice fatigue may come to play an increasing role
in a context where we know already that consumers only use between eight
and fifteen television channels on a regular basis – no matter how many
they might actually possess the technology to access (Buonanno 2008: 69).
That said, as the consumers of digital television increasingly embrace the
opportunities for customization and individualization and so on, it would seem
reasonable to assume that some of the preceding versions of co-presence –
the national, the local, the broader and less personal social framings – are
likely to become less important to the experience of television than they have
been in the past. This will vary, though, according to the social, political and
regulatory context – and not just merely in relation to the actions of consum-
ers or the enabling capacities of the technology. There are plenty of locations
where broadcasting has declined in importance but where the embedding of
the national has remained a major discursive component of the television pro-
gramming produced (see, for instance, Volcic 2009).
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 46 10/23/09 9:36:38 AM
Not the Apocalypse: Television Futures in the Digital Age
This article sets out to make a contribution to developing the comparative
dimensions of television studies’ accounts of the global rise and take-up of dig-
ital television. It is undoubtedly the case that the particular capacities of digital
television and the character of the platforms upon which it has been mounted
so far will change the social practice of television in many locations and con-
texts. The rejection of ‘appointment TV’ organized through a fixed programming
schedule, the increasingly varied possibilities for the way television might now
take its place in our routines of everyday life, and the potential for user-gener-
ated content to reconfigure aspects of the familiar relations between media pro-
duction and consumption, are just a few among many. However, we should not
lose sight of the continuities with aspects of the broadcast regime nor assume
that we are awaiting the same process of evolutionary change in every market as
result of a shift in technological capabilities. Nor, and most importantly, should
we overlook the notable and highly contingent national, regional, political and
cultural differences which need to be factored into any genuinely international
and comparative account of the possible futures of digital television.
There are significant practical difficulties, however, which limit our capaci-
ties to find appropriate ways of developing these comparisons – even if we
can quickly agree on what we might include as ‘television’ in the current con-
text. As things stand, television, broadly defined, is measured in many differ-
ent ways in its various locations: sometimes by ratings agencies, sometimes
by state regulators, sometimes by marketing arms of television companies
themselves and so on. The actual form that such information takes is subject
to political as well as commercial and cultural influence, and the purpose for
which it is designed and collected is almost always to do with reasons that
are internal to the nation-state or the local market. As a result, comparative
work on digital television will have to become more collaborative, involving
culturally grounded local knowledge and expertise rather than merely access
to data, especially if we are to make the important distinctions and develop
the nuances which make this work useful.
The research project from which this article derives is a funded study of post-
broadcast television which examines trends and experiences in the usual
anglophone countries (UK, US, Australia, Canada) as well as in the geo-
linguistic markets of Asia and Latin America. The project is led by Graeme
Turner and has two research fellows, Jinna Tay and Anna Pertierra, working
in the foreign language markets. It has been running since 2007 and is funded
until the end of 2011. So far, it has produced one edited volume that attempts
to give some sense of the issues and the diversity of experiences upon which
it has focused (Turner and Tay 2009).
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& Entertainment Industry Group, The Accenture Global Broadcast Consumer
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Survey.pdf%20. Accessed 25 May 2009.
Athique, A. M. (2009), ‘From Monopoly to Polyphony: India in the era
of Television’, in G. Turner & J. Tay (eds), Television Studies After TV:
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Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
Understanding Television in the Post Broadcast Era, London and New York:
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BBC News (2001), Chinese reality TV attracts thousands, BBC News, 22 June
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Briel, R. (2007), IPTV Services grow 13% worldwide, Broadband TV News,
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Report 2007–2008: The Hong Kong Broadcasting Scene, Online: http://
www.hkba.hk/annual2008/eng/HKBscene-4.html. Accessed 20 May 2009.
Broadcasting Authority of Hong Kong (2007b), Broadcasting Services Survey:
Executive Summary, Consumer Search, Online: http://www.hkba.hk/en/
doc/BSS2007ExeSum_en.pdf. Accessed 18 May 2009.
Buonanno, M. (2008), The Age of Television: Experiences and Theories (Jennifer
Radice trans.), Bristol: Intellect.
Burgess, J. and Green, J. (2009), YouTube: Online Video and Participatory
Culture, Cambridge: Polity.
Chalaby, J. K. (2005) (ed.), Transnational Television Worldwide: Towards a New
Media Order, London: I.B.Taurus.
Curtin, M. (2007), Playing to the World’s Biggest Audience: The Globalization of
Chinese Film and TV, Berkeley CA: University of California Press.
China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) (2008), Internet Survey,
July, http://www.cnnic.net.cn/uploadfiles/doc/2008/7/23/170424.doc.
Accessed 20 April 2009.
Ellis, John (2002), Seeing Things: Television in the Age of Uncertainty, London
and New York: I.B.Taurus.
Ewing, Scott, Thomas, Julian, and Schiessel, Julianne (2008), The Internet
in Australia, CCI Digital Futures Report, ARC Centre for Excellence for
Creative Industries and Innovation: Swinburne University of Technology.
Green, J. (2008), ‘Why do they call it TV when it’s not on the box? “New”
television services and “old” television’, Media International Australia,
No. 126, pp. 95–106.
Gripsrud, J. (2004), ‘Broadcast Television: the Chances of its Survival in a
Digital Age’, in Spigel and Olsson (eds), Television After TV: Essays on a
Medium in Transition, Durham and London: Duke University Press.
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2007 Annual Survey Report, Web Mining Lab, Department of Media &
Communication: City University of Hong Kong, http://newmedia.cityu.
edu.hk/hkip. Accessed 10 May 2009.
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archive/2009_02_global_digital_tv_2009.pdf. Accessed 22 July 2009.
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New York: Cambridge University Press.
Lau, A. (2008a), TV Top 20: All Eyes on Beijing Olympic Games, MARKETING-
interactive.com, 18 August, http://www.marketing-interactive.com/news/
8182. Accessed 22 May 2009.
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interactive.com, 8 August, http://www.marketing-interactive.com/news/8093.
Accessed 22 May 2009.
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Li, X. (2006), Internet Newspapers: the making of a mainstream medium, London:
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University Press.
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Fourth Quarter 2006, http://mda.gov.sg/wms.www/resources.aspz?sid=779.
Accessed 21 May 2009.
Miller, T. (2009), ‘Approach with Caution and Proceed with Care: campaigning
for the US presidency “after” TV’, in G. Turner & J. Tay (eds), Television
Studies after TV: Understanding Television in the Post Broadcast Era, London
and New York: Routledge, pp. 75–82.
Moran, A. (1998), Copycat TV: Globalization, Television Formats and Cultural
Identity, Luton: University of Luton Press.
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Quarter, 2008, http://www.nielsen-online.com/
downloads/3_Screens_4Q08_final.pdf. Accessed 12 May 2009.
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November 2008.
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May, p. B5.
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the politics of compassion and education’ in G. Turner and J. Tay (eds),
Television Studies after TV: Understanding Television in the Post Broadcast
Era, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 96–104.
Tay, J., and Turner, G. (2008), ‘What is television? Comparing media systems in
the post-broadcast era’, Media International Australia, No. 126, pp. 71–82.
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reregulation and market forces in the post-broadcast era’, in G. Turner
and J. Tay (eds), Television Studies after TV: Understanding Television in the
Post Broadcast Era, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 105–114.
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Television in the Post Broadcast Era, London and New York: Routledge.
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lism’, in G. Turner & J. Tay (eds), Television Studies after TV: Understanding
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pp. 115–124.
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JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 49 10/23/09 9:36:39 AM
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner
Tay, J. and Turner, G. (2010), ‘Not the Apocalypse: Television Futures in
the Digital Age’, International Journal of Digital Television 1: 1, pp. 31–50,
doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.31/1
Jinna Tay is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Critical and
Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia, working on
Graeme Turner’s international project, Television in the Post-Broadcast Era.
She is the Co-editor (with Graeme Turner) of Television Studies After TV:
Understanding Television in the post-broadcast era (Routledge, 2009), and has
published on fashion journalism, Asian television, and creative industries.
E-mail: J.Tay@uq.edu.au
Graeme Turner is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Federation Fellow,
Professor of Cultural Studies, Director of the Centre for Critical and Cultural
Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia, and convenor of the ARC
Cultural Research Network. He has published widely on media and cultural
studies topics. His most recent books include (with Jinna Tay) Television
Studies after TV: Understanding Television in the Post-Broadcast era (Routledge,
2009), and Ordinary People and the Media: The Demotic Turn (Sage, 2010).
E-mail: Graeme.turner@uq.edu.au
JDTV_1.1_art_Turner_031-050.indd 50 10/23/09 9:36:39 AM
JDTV 1 (1) pp. 51–68 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.51/1
Swinburne University, Australia
New Zealand Broadcasting School
Would the Real Freeview
Please Stand Up?
‘Freeview’ is the survival strategy for free-to-view TV in the digital age in the
United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. It is mix of marketing, services
and technology, and of defensive and offensive elements. The mix is different in
different places:
In the UK, where the concept was launched in 2002, digital terrestrial television •
(DTT) became Freeview, now the most popular form of digital TV. Freeview
represented a fresh strategy to relaunch DTT after the failure of the first model.
In New Zealand, where DTT started in 2008, DTT • is Freeview, but Freeview
was a satellite service first, appealing mainly to those with poor analogue recep-
tion. The concept was imported from the UK as the proven way to make DTT
work, and deployed from the outset by broadcasters with government backing.
In Australia, as this article was finalized in August 2009, Freeview is still mainly •
a marketing campaign rather than a TV service. Broadcasters have not deployed it
enthusiastically to launch the medium, but reluctantly, many years on, as part of
the government-mandated push to digital switchover.
This article explores the origins and development of these three Freeviews. It provides
an unusual case study of a related, though different, set of products marketed under
digital television
free-to-view television
public service
satellite television
high definition
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 51 10/23/09 3:52:24 PM
Jock Given | Paul Norris
the same name in different countries. It also speculates about their future as televi-
sion morphs into new shapes, especially encouraged by the growth of high definition,
hard-drive-recording and broadband-connected receivers. Identifying both similari-
ties and differences across the three Freeviews, the authors conclude that although
‘Freeview’ is helping to make it possible to switch off analogue services and free
up spectrum for other purposes in all three countries, the national differences defy
reduction to a single definition. Freeview, like television itself, is different in these
different places and is changing over time.
‘Freeview’ is the survival strategy for free-to-view television in the digital age
in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. It is mix of marketing, services and
technology, and of defensive and offensive elements. The mix is different in
different places. This article explores the origins and differences among these
Freeviews. It provides an unusual case study of related, though different, prod-
ucts marketed under the same name in different countries. The article con-
cludes by speculating about the futures of the three Freeviews, as television
morphs into new shapes, especially encouraged by the growth of high defini-
tion, hard-drive-recording-and-playback and broadband-connected receivers.
In the UK, where the concept was launched in 2002, digital terrestrial televi-
sion (DTT) became Freeview. This was the name chosen to relaunch the DTT
platform after the collapse of the ITV Digital service. New partners adopted
a new strategy and gave it a new name. After initial scepticism, DTT had
eventually been embraced in the 1990s by terrestrial broadcasters hoping to
reassert themselves after failing to secure multi-channel futures in the 1980s
through BBC Satellite and British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB). As Murdoch’s
satellite pay TV service, BSkyB, grew in popularity and power and planned
its own digital service, DTT seemed to satisfy an urgent competitive need for
the established broadcasters, the BBC, and the commercial broadcasters ITV
and Channel 4. It could also serve a policy need for governments wanting public
service broadcasting and broadcasters to endure.
Launched in 1998, DTT emphasized subscription services because that
was where UK television seemed to be heading. By 2000, the subscription-
dominated future anticipated by the 1986 Peacock Committee was arriving
quickly. Digital TV delivered by satellite, cable or over-the-air ‘had become
virtually synonymous with pay TV’ (Starks 2007: 41–63). The 2002 commercial
failure of ITV Digital (formerly ONdigital) on the DTT platform provided the
opportunity for the BBC to reposition DTT as a free service. With transmission
provider Crown Castle (now Arqiva), it won access to the transmission facili-
ties relinquished by ITV Digital. These partners, together with BSkyB, formed
a joint venture to create the Freeview brand and market services. A much
simpler marketing message was developed: thirty TV channels plus radio
stations from known broadcasters; received through simple, fit-it-yourself
set-top boxes and existing rooftop aerials; free once consumers bought a box
for less than £100, with no on-going subscriptions to pay (Starks 2007: 83).
Significantly, this reorientation came from a consortium that now included
the country’s dominant pay TV operator. BSkyB had always wanted a stake
in DTT, but was forced out of ONdigital by the regulator. It became a pure
competitor to the consortium that went on to launch DTT, unsuccessfully, as
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 52 10/23/09 3:52:25 PM
Would the Real Freeview Please Stand Up?
a pay platform. With DTT now steering away from pay TV, BSkyB’s involve-
ment as a content provider but not a controller of transmission facilities was
less troubling for the competition regulator (Starks 2007: 80).
Freeview was immediately popular, eventually becoming the dominant
digital TV platform. Within a year, it was being called ‘this year’s most unlikely
must-have for Christmas’. The formula was finally breaking the resistance of:
“digital refuseniks” … bypassing the fears of the technologically timid
and the prejudices of anti-satellite snobs – the middle-class ‘Hyacinth
Buckets’ who still associate the dish with council houses or regard it as
an eyesore to be fought vigorously by the local planning committee.
(Smith 2003)
Offering a cheap alternative to the more established cable or satellite services,
Freeview, according to former managing director of BBC Television, Will Wyatt,
was ‘a non-threatening, attractive way to show that digital doesn’t bite. The
curse has now come off digital’ (Smith 2003). By the second quarter of 2009,
18.2 million homes (70%) were using DTT/Freeview. For 9.7 million (37.6%), it
was the only kind of television. By comparison, 8.9 million homes (34.8%) were
taking pay satellite and 3.1 million (12.2%) digital cable (Ofcom 2009).
In New Zealand, where DTT started in 2008, DTT is Freeview, but Freeview is
more than DTT. The service was first delivered a year earlier by satellite, appealing
mainly to those with poor analogue reception. By 2006, when the New Zealand
Government committed to it, Freeview had proved itself as a way of making DTT
work in the UK. It was imported, adapted and deployed from the outset by New
Zealand broadcasters with government backing. At the time, the only digital TV
services available were the satellite service from the Murdoch-controlled monop-
oly pay TV provider, Sky TV, and a very limited cable service from TelstraClear.
Sky had been offering digital pay channels from 1998 and was in more than 40
per cent of households. TelstraClear sold Sky content delivered over its cable net-
work to some 70,000 subscribers in two cities only, Wellington and Christchurch.
If free-to-air broadcasters were to move to digital transmission, one option would
have been to use Sky’s digital platform. This would have been much cheaper than
building their own. But the Labour-led government, in power from 1999 to 2008,
did not want to commit to one privately-owned platform, notably one owned by
Murdoch interests. It also wanted to ensure digital TV would not come to mean
pay TV and to secure the future of public broadcasting in the digital era. As the
then minister put it in announcing the policy in June 2006: ‘The Labour-led
government wants to ensure all New Zealanders are able to enjoy the benefits
of digital television, and that public broadcasting remains a strong part of the
free-to-air mix’ (Maharey 2006a).
One explanation for the delay in moving to a Freeview solution was that
the government wanted industry to come up with its own plan for the transi-
tion to digital. While the private broadcaster (then CanWest, owner of TV3
and C4) could see little return in moving quickly on this, the state-owned
broadcaster TVNZ had made several earlier attempts to ‘go digital’. It believed
that to survive in the digital age it needed a platform that would effectively
compete with Sky. In 1999 it rushed a proposal before the incoming Labour-
led government that involved a joint venture with the British cable company
NTL. But the government was not prepared to make a hasty decision and
rejected the proposal, ostensibly on cost grounds – it would have required an
investment of NZ$217m and not returned a profit for eight years. TVNZ’s next
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 53 10/23/09 3:52:25 PM
Jock Given | Paul Norris
attempt was to partner with the telecommunications company TelstraSaturn,
now TelstraClear – a wholly owned subsidiary of the biggest Australian telco,
Telstra. It was an ambitious and complex arrangement that appeared to allow
TVNZ to profit from pay channels run by TelstraSaturn. This scheme col-
lapsed in August 2001 when one of TelstraSaturn’s then parent companies in
Australia, Austar, withdrew its support.
By 2006 it was apparent that the hands-off approach by government
was unlikely to achieve a timely result. A cost benefit study commissioned
from global consulting firm Spectrum Strategy Consultants concluded
there would be a net benefit to New Zealand of $230m provided switch-
over occurred by 2015, but that the returns would diminish if analogue
switch off was delayed (Spectrum Strategy Consultants 2006). In June
2006, the government settled on a plan for the digital transition of the
free-to-air broadcasters and committed money to it. A consortium of these
broadcasters, known as Freeview, would lead the transition on both satel-
lite and terrestrial platforms and promote consumer take-up. Each broad-
caster had to establish two new digital channels within two years of the
launch of the terrestrial platform. Spectrum would be allocated for the ter-
restrial platform, free to broadcasters in the period before switchover. The
government would contribute NZ$25m towards Freeview’s establishment
costs and $79 million for two new TVNZ channels. By June 2009, two years
after the satellite service launch, Freeview Satellite take-up was estimated
at 10.6% of households and DTT at 5.6%.
In Australia, eight years after the first DTT services went to air in January
2001, Freeview is still mainly a marketing campaign. The country took some
elements of the early UK experience and distanced itself from others. Like
their UK counterparts, Australian TV broadcasters wanted quick decisions
about DTT in the mid-1990s. Like their US counterparts, however, the com-
mercial broadcasters that still dominate television viewing – 60% of all TV
viewing and nearly 80% of free-to-air viewing in mid-2009 (‘The Numbers’
2009) – were more concerned about laying claim to spectrum and resisting
new entrants than offering more channels. Having stalled the introduction
of pay TV until 1995, commercial broadcasters saw DTT as a tool to maintain
the dominance terrestrial TV retained in Australia but was losing elsewhere.
Broadcasters emphasized the quality improvements of high definition, argu-
ing for digital TV to be treated as just another step in the technical evolution
of TV, like the shift from black-and-white to colour. This quality upgrade was
a necessary response to digital cable and satellite TV and the expected migra-
tion from VHS to DVD.
‘Free’ was a critical part of the pitch but ‘Freeview’ came much later.
Using DTT for free-to-air services helped to make the political case for
spectrum to be allocated without extra charge (broadcasters already pay
revenue-based licence fees ranging up to 9 per cent of the annual gross
earnings of the biggest stations) and for government to subsidize half the
cost of the digital transmission infrastructure in non-metropolitan areas. It
was consistent with the terrestrial industry’s successful campaign for a long
‘anti-siphoning list’ of major sporting events that had to be offered first to
free-to-air broadcasters before they could be acquired exclusively by pay
TV. It also fitted neatly with the strategy of DTT-as-evolution rather than
revolution. The technology of DTT would enable those getting access to it to
provide any sort of digital service, not just television, and to introduce new
forms of encryption. But it was television programmes that broadcasters
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 54 10/23/09 3:52:25 PM
Would the Real Freeview Please Stand Up?
wanted to continue supplying, still funded by advertising and government,
ensuring services remained free-to-view.
The 1998 legislation that set out the broad policy for DTT prohibited sub-
scription services. This was seen as prescient when ITV Digital collapsed in the
UK. The industry body representing commercial TV broadcasters changed its
name to Free TV Australia in 2004 and the head of the biggest pay operator,
Foxtel, refers to his medium as ‘subscription TV’ rather than ‘pay TV’, remind-
ing observers that viewers pay for ‘free TV’ too, though indirectly. Free-to-air
broadcasters formed a Freeview consortium in July 2008 and launched the con-
cept a few months later. Australia’s Freeview says it ‘represents Australians’ right
to watch quality television, for free’ (Freeview 2009). A roadblock advertisement
screened across all networks in November was parodied in a clip distributed on
YouTube highlighting the paucity of Freeview’s new content:
Get ready for more of the same with Freeview … You can watch the same
thing on up to four different channels … You can watch sports you’ve never
heard of, news you can’t understand … There’s even an electronic program
guide to help you look up which show Channel Nine will run 20 minutes
late tonight … Freeview. I bet you can’t wait … to upgrade to broadband.
(‘Freeview: More of the Same Sh#t’)
The mainstream press was less savage but hardly more supportive, calling it
‘lipstick on a TV pig’ (Browne 2009) and ‘little more than a marketing cam-
paign to steer us towards buying Freeview-approved TV receivers and set-top
boxes’ (Blundell 2009). ‘The reason the Freeview campaign doesn’t tell you
much is simple: there’s not much to tell’ (Turner 2009).
The logo for New Zealand’s ‘Freeview’ service.
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 55 10/23/09 3:52:25 PM
Jock Given | Paul Norris
UK NZ Australia
DTT Policy
Date initial policy
1996 2006 1998
Date DTT services
November 1998 May 2007: DTH
April 2008: DTT
1 Jan 2001, progressively to
2004 in regional areas
Initial switchover
2006–2010 Anticipated 6–10 years
after commencement
8 years after commence-
Current switchover
completed in some
areas, commencing
in Whitehaven
Firm switchover date
will be announced
when digital penetra-
tion reaches 75% of
households, or 2012,
whichever is sooner.
Target date to be
set once penetration
reaches 60% of homes
2010–13: starting in coun-
try Victoria/NSW (Mildura/
Sunraysia) first half
2010, ending major cities
December 2013
Multichannel TV
take up at DTT
(% of hhs)
26.4 (June 1998) 45 20
Three Freeviews
Date Freeview
commenced [ter-
30 Oct 2002 May 2007: DTH
April 2008: DTT
Announced formation
July 2008; appointed CEO,
launch and roadblock ad.
November; further road-
block ad. 24 April 2009
Type of entity,
Managed by DTT
Services Ltd, a company
owned and run by its
shareholders – initially
BBC, BSkyB and Crown
Castle (now Arqiva),
ITV and C4 admitted
Non-profit consortium
of FTA broadcast-
ers TVNZ (operators
of TVOne and TV2),
MediaWorks NZ
(operators of TV3 and
C4), Maori TV and
Radio NZ
Owned by national public
service (ABC, SBS), com-
mercial networks (Seven,
Nine, TEN) and regional
commercial networks
(Southern Cross, Prime,
Services and func-
tions offered at
30 TV channels plus
audio channels
Most existing FTA
services, several new
11–13 TV channels plus
3–4 audio channels
Most existing FTA
services, 2 new services
5 TV channels each
simulcast in SD and HD
plus ABC and SBS audio
Most existing FTA services,
no new services
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Would the Real Freeview Please Stand Up?
UK NZ Australia
Services and
functions offered
now (generally
48 TV channels
24 audio channels
Freeview+ branded
products – hard drive
and DVD recorders,
players and integrated
digital TVs
Freeview also available
as part of pay pack-
ages from BT, Setanta,
TopUp TV: eg. Top Up
TV Freeview+ STBs
give access to Freeview
channels + pay pack-
ages and include hard
drive recording
Broadcasters can choose
whether to broadcast
on Freeview satellite or
Freeview DTT HD, so
platforms have slightly
different offerings.
DTH (May 2009) 13 TV
and 4 radio
TVOne, TV2, TV3, •
C4, Maori TV,
TV3 Plus 1.
TVNZ Sport Extra, •
Stratos, Parliament
TV, Cue, Te Reo.
Radio: Radio NZ •
National, Radio NZ
Concert, George
Base FM.
DTT (May 2009) has
11–12 TV and 3 radio
All five FTA networks •
offer separate SD and
HD channels but little
difference in program-
ABC2 since March •
2005. ABC3 Kids fund-
ing committed in May
budget, launch later
Commercial network •
Ten’s OneHD [sport]
since March 2009
SBS2 since June 2009 •
• 9 networks GO! since
August 2009
• 7 network multichannel
likely late 2009
ABC and SBS national •
and local stations includ-
ing extra digital stations
launched on digital radio
July 2009
Current DTT take
up [% of house-
Q2 2009
• DTT/Freeview:
• Digital pay TV:
All digital TV: 89.8% •
June 2009 except Sky
Freeview DTH: •
Freeview DTT: 5.6% •
Sky digital pay TV •
45% [Dec 08]
All digital TV 61.2% •
Q2 2009
• DTT 53% of all house-
holds, ranging from
22% in remote areas
to 75% in Mildura/
• Further 13% get at least
some FTA channels via
pay TV
Technology DVB-T
DVB-T2/MPEG4 serv-
ices commencing in
some areas in late-2009
and early 2010
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 57 10/23/09 3:52:27 PM
Jock Given | Paul Norris
Television in Britain, New Zealand and Australia was different well before these
three Freeviews. World War II was still three years away when London first got
television; the world had been at peace for more than a decade when Australia
and New Zealand got permanent services (Day 2000: 11–30). Private, commer-
cial TV came to Britain and Australia in the mid-1950s, but Australia got much
more of it. Two commercial stations were available immediately in the big cities
and a third came in the mid-1960s. The BBC’s second commercial competitor,
Channel 4, came a quarter of a century after the first, and the third, Channel
5, launched only in 1997. New Zealand’s public service broadcaster accepted
advertising virtually from the outset; the ABC’s and BBC’s domestic terrestrial
services still do not. But the public monopoly did not face private competition
in New Zealand until 1989. Colour TV came to the UK in 1967, several years
before New Zealand (1974) and Australia (1975). Pay TV launched in the UK
and New Zealand in the late 1980s, several years before Australia.
European Union law and policy have influenced policy about television
in the UK. With DTT, this has included coordination of spectrum allocations,
switchover timetables, plans for the use of vacated ‘digital dividend’ spectrum
and limits on the use of public subsidies. In New Zealand and Australia, by
contrast, DTT policy has developed quite independently, despite the increas-
ing integration of communications and media markets in the two countries,
supported by the very liberal Closer Economic Relations bilateral free trade
agreement. Separated by over 2000km of the Tasman Sea, the spectrum coor-
dination issues are tiny by comparison with Europe’s.
The different origins and timing of DTT in the three countries influenced the
policy goals that were emphasized, the interests served and the resistance
faced. Everywhere, the free-to-air industry wanted a digital platform to help
it to compete with pay TV. Significantly, Rupert Murdoch controlled or held a
major stake in the main pay TV player in all three countries.
Recognizing the popularity of free-to-air TV, governments were pre-
pared to help, by allocating spectrum (everywhere), foregoing fees (UK and
Australia), and providing funding for new channels (UK and NZ, and even-
tually Australia). In the UK, DTT was initially seen as a platform for free-to-
air broadcasters to confront subscription rivals head-on by getting into pay
services themselves. This was resisted in Australia and never seriously enter-
tained in New Zealand once the failure of ITV Digital and the success of UK
Freeview suggested multichannel free-to-air was the way to make DTT work.
The about-face in the UK was more than saving face. The BBC’s director-
general Greg Dyke at the time later admitted the corporation’s support for the
Freeview idea was a defensive one, designed to keep it out of pay TV.
Freeview makes it very hard for any government to try and make the
BBC a pay-television service. The more Freeview boxes out there, the
harder it will be to switch the BBC to a subscription service since most of
the boxes can’t be adapted for pay-TV.
(Gibson 2004)
Putting DTT and subsequently Freeview in the hands of incumbent free-to-air
broadcasters meant different things in the three territories, because of the
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 58 10/23/09 3:52:27 PM
Would the Real Freeview Please Stand Up?
different structures of the TV business. In the UK and NZ, it meant state-
constituted broadcasters became the main players. The scale and power of the
BBC and TVNZ has ensured better coordination of the activities required to
pitch digital TV to consumers than in Australia, where the commercial networks
take the lion’s share of overall viewing but no single network dominates. The
fragmentation of interests in Australia delayed even the development of a con-
solidated electronic programme guide for DTT in all areas. Further, the own-
ers of the Australian commercial networks each held other interests that meant
they viewed the possibilities of the digital terrestrial platform differently. The
Packer group that controlled the Nine Network, until selling out to the overseas
private equity group CVC Asia in 2007–2008, also held a 25 per cent stake in the
main pay TV operator, Foxtel, and a half-share in the highly profitable company
that supplied sports channels to it, Premier Media Group. It had a multichannel
strategy without DTT, unlike the Seven Network, that took over its number one
rating in 2007, but has struggled to get into pay TV. As this article was going
to press, the Seven Network acquired nearly 20% of, and agreed to nominate
two directors to, the Packer company that still holds the interests in Foxtel and
Premier Media Group.
Resistance to DTT came from similar directions, though not identical places.
Former Thames TV, BSkyB and Channel 5 executive David Elstein argued in
2002 DTT ‘would not exist at all but for political intervention’. It was ‘a political
project designed to protect public service broadcasting’, motivated by ‘fear – of
Murdoch, of choice and of loss of control’ – and by government greed about
the potential revenue from auctioning vacated spectrum. Writing at the time of
ITV Digital’s collapse, Elstein was sceptical of the possibility and even the desir-
ability of shutting down analogue TV, and scathing about the amount of public
money poured into digital. This money came through the increase in the licence
fee to help fund the BBC’s central role and new channels, and through revenue
foregone by giving free access to additional spectrum for all the terrestrial broad-
casters and reducing the fees for continuing access to their analogue spectrum.
The failure of ITV Digital, Elstein thought, offered ministers ‘a golden chance
to detach themselves from the tar baby. History – and the British public – will
judge them harshly for failing to take it’ (Elstein 2002).
The nascent pay TV and competitive telecommunications operators in
Australia arrived late to the DTT debate, finding most of the big decisions already
effectively taken. Reviewing the entire broadcasting sector in 2000, the govern-
ment’s micro-economic advisory body, the Productivity Commission, saw digital
TV as an historic opportunity to reshape it, but was highly critical of the scheme
adopted two years earlier. It thought the digital conversion plan was ‘at serious
risk of failure’, and, in any case, continued the long history of ‘quid pro quos’ in
broadcasting regulation. Broadcasters were privileged in the allocation of spec-
trum and by legislative protection from further competition. In exchange, they
accepted continued regulation of matters like ownership (subsequently liberal-
ized) and local programming, and new obligations to transmit minimum amounts
of high definition content. The Commission wanted a more open and competitive
but less regulated broadcasting industry. ‘Rapid and certain conversion to digital
television is the key to unlocking the spectrum’ for new players and new services.
It recommended setting a firm and final date of 1 January 2009 for national ana-
logue switch off; providing for early digital conversion and release of spectrum;
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 59 10/23/09 3:52:27 PM
Jock Given | Paul Norris
and removing content restrictions and requirements on digital services. The first
two recommendations were not accepted. The special content restrictions were
only modified several years later, allowing the commercial networks to introduce
multichannels as well as high definition simulcasts of their existing channels
(Productivity Commission 2000).
By delaying policy about DTT, New Zealand was able to conduct the most
searching analysis of its benefits and costs. It was the only one of the three
countries that tried to assess the net benefits of the transition by comparing
it with what might have occurred anyway. The UK conducted a cost benefit
analysis but well after DTT had started. It did not compare digital switchover
with the pre-1998 analogue-only status quo, but with the then current situ-
ation, simulcasting analogue and digital signals forever. The UK study con-
cluded ‘switching off, rather than maintaining dual transmission systems, is in
the economic interest of the UK’. The New Zealand study found introducing
digital transmission without a commitment to shutting down analogue would
generate a net cost to the nation, using its baseline assumptions for take-up of
digital free-to-air and pay TV. Net benefits could be confidently expected to
accrue only if all viewers were forced to migrate (DTI/DCMS 2005; Spectrum
Strategy Consultants 2006; Starks 2007: 93–95; Given 2007: 280–286). The pre-
dictable resistance to publicly-supported DTT from pay TV interests in New
Zealand was bolstered by this independent analysis. It meant the government
needed other reasons to support DTT other than its measurable net benefits.
It found this reason in the survival of free-to-air, public service television.
The public sector has played a big role in DTT in all three countries, but only
in New Zealand was ‘Freeview’ expressed to be part of the initial policy (New
Zealand Government 2006). Three of the four goals for DTT there related to the
idea encapsulated by the brand and charters of the organizations charged with
bringing it to New Zealand. These were, first, ensuring all New Zealanders had
free access to digital TV services (universal access); second, ensuring the future
viability of government-owned broadcasting entities as vehicles for achieving
policy objectives (ownership); and third, ensuring the continued presence of
public service broadcasting and local content on free-to-air television (national
identity). The government’s decision to largely fund two new TVNZ channels,
on the basis that they were not to take advertisements (Maharey 2006b), was a
radical move in a commercial-saturated media environment. The government
agreed to pay the state-owned but not (from corporatization in the late 1980s
until 2003) state-subsidized TVNZ $79m over six years, but only after a wrangle
between the Treasury and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage (responsible for
broadcasting) was settled by the intervention of the Prime Minister herself.
The resuscitation of DTT in the UK after the collapse of ITV Digital was
critically assisted by the public sector. According to Michael Starks, ‘While
there had been no political rescue, DTT in the UK survived … only by becom-
ing significantly more dependent on public funding’. He says it was New
Labour’s ‘generous licence fee settlement in 2000 which had made possible
the BBC’s development of its full range of digital services’. Without the BBC’s
licence fee funding ‘the crisis would not have been short-lived’. The BBC and
a transmission company that was once its transmission department were
awarded digital multiplexes and the BBC’s licence-fee-funded television trails
‘were what made Freeview a household name’ (Starks 2007: 86).
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Would the Real Freeview Please Stand Up?
Public broadcasters have not had as dominant a role in DTT in Australia
because of the strength of commercial free-to-air broadcasters. The ABC and
SBS are partners, not leaders, in DTT and switchover. Successive governments
treated them like the commercials for the purposes of spectrum allocation –
each got an additional frequency in all areas for the duration of the simulcast
period without extra charge. The costs of the public broadcasters’ new transmis-
sion infrastructure were met by the government, although it also contributed
half the cost of the infrastructure required by commercial broadcasters outside
the metropolitan areas via rebates on their annual licence fees. No extra money
was provided for channels or content specifically created for digital services until
the Labor Government, elected in late-2007, agreed to support a specialist chil-
dren’s channel, ABC3, in the 2009/2010 budget. The public broadcasters were not
prevented from launching multichannels in the way that the commercial broad-
casters were, but the previous government and the Labor opposition combined
to impose tight limits on the forms they could take.
In choosing to take a big a role in DTT, governments have been unusually
closely involved in decisions about the content offered to audiences. Detailed
plans were submitted for new channel proposals in all three countries: the BBC’s
extra licence-fee-funded channels; TVNZ’s two new channels (6 targets pre-
schoolers during the day, families in the early evening and adults after 8.30pm;
7 is a factual channel with current affairs, documentary and short news bulletins
on the hour); and the ABC’s upcoming children’s channel. Puzzlingly, in both
New Zealand and Australia, some analogue free-to- air services have remained
unavailable on the DTT platform, despite broad acceptance of the view that
extra content was essential to encourage take-up and the extra difficulty this
creates as analogue switch off approaches.
Prime, the free-to-air channel owned by Sky NZ since 2006, is not available
on Freeview. Sky has always maintained that the costs of carriage would not
be covered by any additional advertising revenue. The National Government’s
Minister of Broadcasting has made it clear he is unhappy with Prime’s absence
from the Freeview platform and Sky has undertaken to keep the situation under
review. In Australia, the analogue community channels available in some cen-
tres are not carried on any of the digital multiplexes. This is a big issue for these
stations because viewers taking up DTT lose the ability to watch them. The
National Indigenous Television Service, a publicly funded enterprise launched
in 2007, is currently only available on DTT in Sydney. By contrast, Maori TV is
available on Freeview DTT and DTH throughout New Zealand and the three-
hour-per-day Maori language channel Te Reo is available on Freeview DTH.
TVNZ reversed its initial decision to withhold the new channels 6 and 7 from
the Sky pay satellite platform, which started carrying them in July 2009.
Governments are contributing to the costs and work of digital switchover
in different ways. An independent industry body, Digital UK, is overseeing the
process, but one of its members, the BBC, has been given a major role in mak-
ing it happen. A portion of the licence fee has been earmarked for the role of
supporting elderly and disabled viewers needing assistance to make the switch.
In Australia, the previous government copied this model but funded it directly
(there has been no licence fee since 1974). The incoming Labor Government
abolished the organization but established something virtually identical within
government and retained its CEO. New Zealand has not yet made decisions
about the processes and funding of switchover, although digital take-up is now
past the 60 per cent of households level at which the government foreshadowed
it would set a switchover date.
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Jock Given | Paul Norris
It was Labour Governments that gave significant funding boosts – the
above inflation licence fee increase to the BBC and support for new channels
in NZ and Australia – but Conservative administrations that determined the
first policies about DTT in both the UK and Australia, establishing generous
terms for public service broadcasters’ access to spectrum in the UK and fund-
ing their digital infrastructure in Australia.
Since they adopted DTT at different times, different possibilities were available
in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. None had much cable TV, and relied
heavily on terrestrial transmission, making the switchover task a big one. All
chose a version of the European DVB-T transmission standard. Starting lat-
est, New Zealand could be said to have achieved a late mover advantage. It
was able to choose the MPEG4 standard for terrestrial transmission and, with
the benefit of its better compression, offer high definition channels from the
outset. TVOne, TV2 and TV3 were made available in HD, although it was
stressed that few programmes would be in HD in the early stages. This bold
move prompted considerable debate behind closed doors. The HD terrestrial
box is more expensive than the satellite one – NZ$300 as opposed to around
NZ$200. But within a few months of DTT’s launch, integrated television sets
were available with the Freeview HD tuner built in. By early 2009 sales of
these integrated sets had overtaken sales of DTT decoders.
Australia too made HD available from the outset. But using the MPEG2
standard and compelled by government to transmit both HD and SD simul-
casts, there was little scope for additional content, even if the legislation had
allowed it. Starting earliest and also using MPEG2, no provision was initially
made for HD in the UK. HD was first deployed in this market by pay satellite
and cable operators. The first BBC HD channel was offered on these platforms
before terrestrial. Offering HD now is more complicated and expensive for
DTT broadcasters, who are reorganizing multiplex capacity, and for their viewers,
who need new receivers (Ofcom 2008; Holmwood 2009). Clearly, the high
take-up of Freeview in the UK has occurred without the added incentive of
HD. In Australia, however, viewers cite better picture quality as one of the
most important reasons for taking up DTT, as discussed further below. The
impact of HD on digital free-to-air take-up in New Zealand is not yet clear,
although take-up of DTT (the HD service) is now growing faster than DTH.
New Zealand also confronted the choices between satellite and terrestrial
earliest. A satellite-only platform was an option, ruled out because of the risk
of satellite failure and extra cost of a dish for non-Sky consumers. The coun-
try’s terrain, however, makes it hard to reach the entire population on a ter-
restrial platform, and a significant role for satellite was always envisaged. The
current Freeview terrestrial service reaches 75% of the population. The gov-
ernment policy accepted this meant the other 25% would need to rely on the
Freeview satellite service launched about a year earlier. Freeview would like to
extend this to 85%, but this would require further investment.
The UK answered the choice between satellite and terrestrial differently.
The regulator, OFCOM, chose to match analogue terrestrial coverage as closely
as possible with digital, requiring digital transmission from all 1100 sites cur-
rently used to get television to 98.5% of UK households (Starks 2007: 96–7).
Launching digital services from all those sites, however, would inevitably be
slow. In the meantime, BSkyB offered a multichannel satellite service available
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 62 10/24/09 10:52:34 AM
Would the Real Freeview Please Stand Up?
free-to-view after a one-off payment for a professionally installed set-top box.
In 2008, the BBC and ITV launched their own ‘freesat’ service, offering less
channels than BSkyB’s but stressing the HD content it gave access to, before
the launch of HD DTT services. BSkyB emphasizes the ease of upgrading from
its free satellite service to pay packages and has pitched its offer aggressively
in early switchover areas.
In Australia, the spread of population across a much bigger area seems
to make satellite even more appropriate, but the solution is complicated by
the large number of local TV services targeting particular markets (nation-
ally networked programming dominates the schedules except in the early
evening hours) and the number of time zones (three in winter, five in sum-
mer). Governments have invested heavily in terrestrial infrastructure even in
remote communities, raising the stakes as digital switchover demands either
the upgrading of these facilities or the acquisition of more expensive satellite
receivers by viewers.
TV’s reinvention is being helped by DTT but not simply in the ways imagined
by those who developed the technology. The initial priorities of the develop-
ers of the DVB standard adopted in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and
Australia were ‘classical or typical of broadcasting’. These included better and
more robust picture and sound quality, capacity for more channels, mobile
reception on pocket receivers, and integration with other digital media. Before
services commenced, these developmental priorities shifted. Improved defini-
tion and mobile reception became less important to Europeans; the capacity for
multichannel TV as well as radio services and digital media integration became
more important. Conditional access emerged as a priority (Reimers 2001: 9–11).
In launching and adapting DTT services, priorities shifted again, especially
about high definition TV. Throughout these processes, the three countries set
their own priorities. These, in turn, are being modified over time.
In the places where the new platform has proved most popular, the mul-
tichannel experience enabled by DTT appears to have been a significant influ-
ence. This is most obvious in the United Kingdom, where the new channels
eventually offered on Freeview were genuinely original content and not just
repeats or time-shifted channels (Iosifidis 2005). The significance of addi-
tional, highly-valued content is also demonstrated in the small markets in
Australia where digital-only channels delivered the third commercial network
that had long been available in the rest of the country. Image and sound qual-
ity, so important in the early thinking about the development of digital TV,
has played a very different role in DTT in the three markets. The lack of HD in
the United Kingdom, both when DTT launched and relaunched as Freeview,
has not prevented DTT becoming the dominant digital platform. BSkyB’s suc-
cess with satellite-delivered subscription HD channels since 2006, however,
inspired the Freeview partners to make some of their own available – first via
satellite and cable and, with a target of late 2009, on DTT as well (Plumb 2009;
Ofcom 2008).
In Australia, where commercial multichannel services were banned ini-
tially but at least some HD content was required, ‘better picture quality/better
clarity’ is the single biggest reason for a positive attitude towards digital TV
(cited by 19% of nearly 10,000 respondents in the first quarter of 2009), well
ahead of ‘more channels/programs/choice’ (13%). In addition, many cited
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Jock Given | Paul Norris
‘better reception’ (7%) and ‘better quality sound’ (3%), although the high
numbers saying either ‘indifferent/not interested’ (19%) or ‘TV not important
to me’ (8%) suggest many are buying into digital TV merely because they
know that eventually they will have to (Digital Switchover Taskforce 2009). As
Chris Tryhorn wrote of the British market:
What does Freeview’s story so far say about the development of mul-
tichannel TV? … It may be that plenty of people never really wanted
the new era of choice and are happy with a cheap one-off payment that
gives them pretty much what they had before, maybe with slighter bet-
ter picture quality. The digital revolution has been proclaimed from on
high as a Good Thing, but many viewers may have thought they had
plenty enough to watch already and now feel rather bewildered by the
dizzying range of channels vying for their attention.
(Tryhorn 2006)
In New Zealand, the early launch of a satellite Freeview service deployed dig-
ital TV as a solution to terrestrial reception problems. It is still too early to be
confident about what may drive digital take-up in a country with relatively
strong pay TV take-up (like the UK, unlike Australia) but limited government
capacity to fund new content because of the small population (unlike the UK,
more like Australia). Being a late mover with digital TV, as with analogue
black-and-white and colour, has ensured the first services are of better techni-
cal quality and use spectrum more efficiently.
Despite its capacity to deliver subscription services, DTT has not generally
been deployed for this purpose, though the UK did introduce a Top-Up option.
On the contrary, ‘Free’ has become the centrepiece of the consumer propo-
sition, encapsulated in the Freeview brand. This is a striking contrast to the
expectations that developed as the first DTT services were being planned. The
United Kingdom and New Zealand appeared to be moving towards the Peacock
Committee’s all-pay TV future; Australian commercial broadcasters were look-
ing for ways both to resist it and to be part of whatever form it took. By convinc-
ing governments to make them central parts of a universally-accessible digital
future, public service broadcasters in the United Kingdom and New Zealand
secured their own futures, at least for the time being. Turning away from sub-
scription services was a crucial part of the political deal. Governments made
up the budgetary difference. For Australia’s commercial broadcasters, ‘Free’ is a
less lucrative strategy. The advertisers that pay for most of the Free in Australia’s
Freeview may be even harder to win over than governments.
The ‘view’ in Freeview might not seem to have altered fundamentally.
More channels and better, wider pictures can seem like marginal changes to
the medium of television. The more revolutionary transformations promised
by DTT, especially about interactivity, so far have not been big factors. BBC
Red Button offers some options, but interactivity has come to television mainly
through other means. Audience participation has been enabled more success-
fully via SMS, where interaction triggers revenue. On-demand TV viewing
has been better served by broadband streaming and downloads. The BBC
has pursued this opportunity with the iPlayer, the ABC with iView and ABC
Shop Downloads, TVNZ with TVNZ ondemand. The commercial networks in
Australia and TVNZ ondemand are all offering ad-inserted downloads, like
Hulu in the United States. This is definitely not ‘The Internet On Television’.
Fanciful early claims that DTT could be the vehicle for making the Internet
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 64 10/23/09 3:52:28 PM
Would the Real Freeview Please Stand Up?
universally available via people’s TV sets with telephone line back-channels
have not eventuated.
Three elements are currently converging, however, to provide another
opportunity for TV broadcasters – an amalgam of HD, hard drive recording
and broadband Internet connection for finding, receiving, organizing and
viewing TV – and video-on-demand. This opportunity is proceeding in differ-
ent ways in the three territories, but similar factors are at work everywhere –
lower prices and better quality flat screen HD receivers and more HD content,
cheaper and bigger hard drive recorders, and wider take-up of faster broad-
band services. In the UK, a proposal for a joint venture, video-on-demand
service, ‘Project Kangaroo’, was rejected by the Competition Commission
in February 2009 (Competition Commission 2009). Established by the BBC
through BBC Worldwide, Channel 4 and ITV, the assets of this venture were
later bought by Arqiva (Sweney 2009). The BBC Trust is now considering a
related joint venture proposal from the BBC Executive, ‘Project Canvas’. It aims
to offer to consumers ‘subscription-free access to on-demand television serv-
ices and other internet-based content, through a new broadband connected
digital device’. The BBC Executive wants to promote ‘a standards based open
environment for internet-connected digital television devices’ (BBC Trust
2009). In the meantime, at least one broadband-enabled digital set-top box
has already been launched, accredited by Freeview, and capable of receiving
pay-per-view access to films and premium content from Paramount Pictures,
National Geographic and the Cartoon Network. Set-top boxes incorporat-
ing the BBC’s iPlayer and capable of receiving the four planned Freeview HD
channels (one each from the BBC, ITV and Channels 4 and 5) are promised
(Laughlin 2009a and 2009b).
In Australia and New Zealand, a similar product is being marketed under
the TiVo brand; the exclusive licensee of TiVo digital video recorders in
Australia and New Zealand, Hybrid Television Services, is jointly owned by
Australia’s Seven Network (two-thirds) and TVNZ (one third). A broadband-
connected device was launched in Australia in July 2008 and will be launched
in New Zealand late in 2009. At least one Internet service provider in Australia
is also offering a TiVo device combining access to digital TV with broadband
content and services, a tailored electronic programme guide and movies-
on-demand (Internode 2009). In New Zealand, TVNZ’s role as both the
major player in Freeview and the local TiVo licensee gives this broadcaster
an unusually big stake in the choice of equipment made by consumers. In
Australia, the fragmented free-to-air TV sector seems likely to repeat the
struggle for a shared strategy that has dogged DTT throughout its life. But in
both places, the hard drive recorder (once feared by commercial broadcast-
ers for its ad-skipping ability) is being repositioned as another saviour for
a challenged sector – a friendly, free archive of content whose advertising
messages can never be skipped.
Broadcasters’ ambitions for television are reflected in some of the adapta-
tions of the Freeview brand for which trademark protection has been sought –
Freeview Playback and Freeview Built-In (UK); My Freeview HD, My
Freeview satellite (NZ). But others around the edges of their business have
ambitions too, like the operators of the unrelated retailer ‘FreeviewShop’ in
New Zealand.
The real Freeview cannot stand up alone because Freeview, like television
itself, is different in the markets where it is being deployed and is changing over
time. By helping to universalize the multichannel TV experience, resisting the
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 65 10/23/09 3:52:28 PM
Jock Given | Paul Norris
shift towards subscription media, and now beginning to encourage download-
ing of television content and accumulating personal digital archives, the three
Freeviews are influencing similar trends in the United Kingdom, New Zealand
and Australia. By providing a brand encompassing the services that are con-
vincing many consumers to purchase receivers to watch free-to-view digital TV,
the Freeviews are helping to make it possible to switch off analogue services in
three countries and to free up spectrum for other purposes. But, as always, these
different places are moving in different ways and at different speeds.
BBC Trust (2009), ‘Trust assessment of “Canvas” proposals – statement’, nd,
Accessed 24 July 2009.
Blundell, G. (2009), ‘Is this the future of television?’, Weekend Australian,
30 May, p. 24.
Browne, R. (2009), ‘Freeview “digital mutton dressed as lamb”: experts’, Sun
Herald, 11 January, p. 35.
Competition Commission (2009), ‘BBC Worldwide Limited, Channel Four
Television Corporation and ITV plc: A Report on the Anticipated Joint
Venture … relating to the Video on Demand Sector’, London: Competition
Commission, 4 February.
Day, P. (2000), Voice and Vision: A History of Broadcasting in New Zealand, vol 2,
Auckland: Auckland University Press in association with the Broadcasting
History Trust.
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department for Culture Media
and Sport (DCMS) (2005), ‘Cost Benefits Analysis (CBA) of Digital
Switchover’, 10 February, http://www.digitaltelevision.gov.uk/pdf_
documents/publications/CBA_Feb_2005.pdf. Accessed 16 July 2009.
Digital Background Information (2006), ‘Roll-out of Free-to-air digital TV in
2007’, Document from Minister of Broadcasting, 15 June.
Digital Switchover Taskforce (2009), Digital Tracker Report on Quarter 2 2009,
Canberra: Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital
Elstein, D. (2002), ‘The politics of digital TV in the UK’, Open Democracy,
17 July, http://www.opendemocracy.net/media-digitaltv/article_21.jsp.
Accessed 15 July 2009.
‘Freeview: More of the Same Sh#t’, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
Q9JGdE-p4dQ. Accessed 9 June 2009.
Freeview [Australia] (2009), ‘Freeview welcomes SBS Two’, News Release, 1 June.
Freeview [New Zealand] (2008), ‘Freeview eclipses 100,000 milestone’, Media
Release, 14 April.
Gibson, O. (2004), ‘Dyke “promoted Freeview to save licence fee”’, The
Guardian, 17 September.
Given, J. (2007), ‘Switching off analogue TV’, in Kenyon, A. (ed), TV Futures:
Digital Television Policy in Australia, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
Given, J. (2003), Turning off the Television: Broadcasting’s Uncertain Future,
Sydney: UNSW Press.
Holmwood, L. (2009), ‘Up to 18m homes will have to retune Freeview in push
for HD World Cup’, The Guardian, 20 May.
Internode (2009), ‘Internode and TiVo’, http://www.internode.on.net/tivo/.
Accessed 24 July 2009.
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Would the Real Freeview Please Stand Up?
Iosifidis, P. (2005), ‘Digital Switchover and the role of the New BBC Services
in Digital Television Take-Up’, Convergence, 11: 3, pp. 57–74.
Laughlin, A. (2009a), ‘iPlayer on Freeview “as soon as possible”’, Digital Spy,
20 July, http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/digitaltv/a166241/iplayer-on-free-
view-as-soon-as-possible.html. Accessed 24 July 2009.
Laughlin, A. (2009b), ‘IP Vision launches Fetch TV Freeview+ box’, Digital Spy,
17 July, http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/digitaltv/a165634/ip-vision-launches-
fetch-tv-freeview-box.html. Accessed 24 July 2009.
Maharey, S. (New Zealand Minister of Broadcasting) (2006a), ‘Free-to-air
digital TV to begin roll-out next year’, Media Release, 15 June.
Maharey, S. (2006b), ‘Government backs TVNZ to move into digital era’,
Media Release, 14 November.
New Zealand Government (2006), ‘Digital Television Strategy’ (December),
Accessed 16 July 2009.
Ofcom (2008), Digital Television: Enabling New Services – Facilitating Efficiency
on DTT, London: Ofcom, 3 April.
Ofcom (2009), The Communications Market: Digital Progress Report Digital
TV, Q2 2009, London: Ofcom.
Plumb, G. (Head of Distribution Technology, BBC Operations Group) (2009),
‘What’s happening with Freeview HD?’, BBC Internet Blog, 24 June 2009,
freeview.htm. Accessed 24 July 2009.
Productivity Commission (2000), Broadcasting, Report No 11, Canberra: AusInfo.
Reimers, U. (2001) Digital Video Broadcasting: The International Standard for
Digital Television, Berlin: Springer/Bertelsmann.
Smith, D. (2003), ‘How to see a Freeview of the future’, The Observer, 7 December.
Spectrum Strategy Consultants (2006), Cost Benefit Analysis of the Launch of Digital
Free-to-air Television in New Zealand, Sydney: Spectrum Strategy Consultants.
Starks, M. (2007), Switching to Digital Television: UK Public Policy and the
Market, Bristol: Intellect.
Sweney, M. (2009), ‘Arqiva understood to have paid about £8 million for
Project Kangaroo assets’, The Guardian, 24 July.
‘The Numbers’ (2009), The Australian – Media, 8 June, p. 34.
Tryhorn, C. (2006), ‘Is Freeview digital TV’s great white hope?’, The Guardian,
OrganGrinder Blog, 1 March.
Turner, A. (2009), ‘Picture not clear on Freeview’, The Age, 9 April.
TVNZ (2008), Annual Report for July 2007 to June 2008, Auckland: TVNZ.
Given, J. and Norris, P. ‘Would the real Freeview please stand up?’, International
Journal of Digital Television 1: 1, pp. 51–68, doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.51/1
Jock Given is Professor of Media and Communications at Swinburne
University’s Institute for Social Research and Associate Editor of the
International Journal of Digital Television. His book, Turning off the Television:
Broadcasting’s Uncertain Future, was published by UNSW Press in 2003. Full
biographical details are given at the end of the journal.
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 67 10/23/09 3:52:28 PM
Jock Given | Paul Norris
E-mail: jgiven@swin.edu.au
Paul Norris is Head of the New Zealand Broadcasting School at Christchurch
Polytechnic Institute of Technology. He was previously a journalist and pro-
ducer at the BBC and Director of News and Current Affairs at TVNZ. He is
the co-author of a number of reports on the digital future, the most recent
being The Digital Future and Public Broadcasting, published by NZ On Air in
November 2008.
E-mail: norrisp@cpit.ac.nz.
JDTV 1.1_art_Given_051-68.indd 68 10/23/09 3:52:28 PM
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.69/1
JDTV 1 (1) pp. 69–83 Intellect Limited 2010
UK-based Consultant
White Spaces – the New
This article is an introduction to a major spectrum opportunity that is now catch-
ing the eye of regulators, worldwide, as they seek capacity for more ubiquitous and
affordable broadband Internet access.
At a time when the demand for spectrum has never been greater, white spaces in
television broadcast spectrum are a prime, largely unused, resource. Wireless tech-
nologies have advanced rapidly over the last decade, to the point where the technical
capabilities to harness white spaces now exist. The missing piece of the jigsaw has
been a regulatory framework that would allow the new applications to share the
UHF bands with the broadcast television and supporting services. However, spec-
trum regulators are now laying the foundations for this, with the United States
(FCC) and the United Kingdom (Ofcom) leading the way.
The most pressing potential application of white spaces is the extension of broad-
band Internet access. Broadcasters may benefit from this, as the popularity of inter-
active services grows.
The flight to digital has been a time of disruption and change in broadcasting.
It presents both opportunities and challenges for broadcasters as they seek
to retain audiences and renew business models. Meanwhile other spectrum
users and economists have been eyeing the spectrum that can be released
white spaces
digital dividend
broadband Internet
JDTV 1.1_art_Stirling_069-084.indd 69 10/23/09 3:53:34 PM
Andrew Stirling
from broadcasting through the increased efficiency of digital transmission: the
so-called digital dividend.
As wireless applications and services abound and flourish, demand for
spectrum is increasing year on year. The success of wireless Internet access
and mobile broadband, in particular, has been a major driver.
Advances in wireless technology and the growth in economic benefits
from wireless services and applications are such that any spare capacity is now
sought after, especially in spectrum below 3 GHz. Spectrum in the broadcast
television bands (470–863 MHz) is of particular interest because of the favour-
able coverage costs it brings compared to the higher frequencies currently
used to provide wireless Internet access.
However, not all the ‘gold’ is to be found in spectrum that can be released
from broadcasting, where much of the regulatory focus has been. There
remains considerable spare capacity locked up in the part of the UHF which
will be retained for broadcasting – referred to as the interleaved spectrum.
This spare capacity is known as white spaces.
White spaces are the gaps left between transmitters operating on the same
channel. Their purpose is to prevent interference that would occur in any
overlap and they are integral to broadcast service planning – an art that has
advanced over many decades. White spaces are fragmented, by definition,
and are typically more abundant in rural areas – which are often a lower prior-
ity for broadcast coverage.
Spectrum is allocated internationally for broadcasters and administered
within regions. National and regional broadcast television networks rely on
careful planning of the available spectrum, with coordination between neigh-
bouring countries adding diplomatic complexity to the technical difficulties.
To ensure that interference is avoided for typically at least 99 per cent of the
time, restrictions are placed on the power that can be radiated from each tel-
evision transmitter site. These restrictions are based on the spectrum engi-
neers’ understanding of propagation characteristics, including allowance for
weather, terrain variation etc. The planning criteria have evolved over dec-
ades, with practical experience of broadcasting and an improving understand-
ing of propagation.
The safety margin between broadcast services defines the white spaces.
Over time, broadcasters realized that they could use low power transmis-
sion for programme making without causing interference. Thus equipment
such as wireless microphones and in-ear monitors found a convenient
home in the UHF band, in the gaps left by broadcasters. Over time, use
of such equipment has broadened to include theatres and a wide range of
other public venues. Nonetheless, white space use remains confined to a niche
of professional/semi professional users, typically in a few well-defined
White space has provided a convenient shelter for programme making and
special events (PMSE) applications for many years. The most common appli-
cation is the wireless microphone, which is much used in television and
theatres. Because these are low power applications, it is possible for them to
co-exist with broadcast services.
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White Spaces – the New Wi-Fi?
PMSE has been recognized by the ITU as an application enjoying secondary
rights to spectrum, meaning that they have no rights to interference protection
from broadcast applications, which are primary.
PMSE’s access to spectrum is managed in a variety of ways. Much use is
unlicensed, either using license-by-rule channels or illegally using channels
where a licence is required (Broadcast Engineering 2008). The UK model,
administered on Ofcom’s behalf by JFMG, is interesting because PMSE users
can book the capacity online, coordinated through a database. Database
coordination of white space, as we shall see, is a concept which is set to be
at the heart of the future exploitation of white spaces.
PMSE use of white spaces has continued to grow, with widespread adop-
tion of wireless products that bring convenience to a wide variety of studio
and theatrical productions as well as to live events. This success has driven
demand for white space capacity, beyond the anticipated post-switchover
limit in some areas (Ofcom 2006: 10). Examples of locations and events,
where post-switchover shortages could occur, include the film and TV studios
at Shepperton and the British Grand Prix.
At the premium end of the market, the emergence of ‘high definition’
microphones could increase the spectrum requirements in return for greater
fidelity (Ofcom 2009: 3). At the other end of the quality range, low-cost wire-
less microphones equipped with spectrum scanners are reported to be coming
on the market, broadening the use of white spaces, even if illegally.
However, whilst PMSE use of white spaces has been growing, it is
typically confined to certain locations such as production studios, thea-
tres and other public auditoriums and it does not use the spectrum for
24 hours a day.
Away from the venues where PMSE is in use, there is little, if any, use
of white spaces. The next section considers how much white space might
realistically be available.
We have already discussed how white spaces are a function of the way TV
networks are planned. At any given transmitter site, there will be a number of
channels which are not in use for television services. Broadcast network plan-
ning priorities are linked to population density, so rural areas typically have
more white space available than urban areas, with larger contiguous blocks of
unused channels available.
The amount of white space capacity varies with the broadcast network
configuration, but remains significant across the world. For example:
Post-switchover, the UK will have six digital terrestrial TV (DTT) multi- •
plexes operating nationwide. Since UK broadcast capacity in UHF will
have shrunk to around thirty channels by then, this leaves around 24
channels which are not required at any given transmitter site. (Each chan-
nel is 8 MHz wide)
Across Europe, planners have allowed for around seven to eight DTT mul- •
tiplexes per country
In Beijing and Shanghai, we understand that there are up to ten channels •
in use
A study in the US showed that consumers have, on average, between fifteen •
and twenty free channels available to them (Mishra and Sahai 2005: 1)
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Andrew Stirling
Studies conducted by Ofcom in the UK (Ofcom 2009: 4) suggest that over 90
per cent of the population could have access to at least 100 MHz, aggregated
across the interleaved spectrum. They also estimate that around 50 per cent of
the population could have access to 150 MHz or greater and some rural com-
munities could enjoy over 200 MHz of this spare capacity.
Some have predicted that white spaces will gradually disappear through
introduction of new services by broadcasters and others. This seems unlikely
because terrestrial broadcasting is planned around relatively inflexible ‘high
power – high tower’ distribution networks. Whilst roll-out and operating
costs may be lower with such sparse networks, they impose a cost in terms of
spectrum efficiency, in the form of:
1. Geographic gaps that need to be left ‘fallow’, so that transmitters using
the same frequency do not overlap and interfere with each other
2. Channels adjacent to the transmissions that are typically left free to ease
receiver requirements
3. Lack of flexibility to reconfigure broadcast networks
The lack of flexibility arises from the high cost of infrastructure, scarcity of suit-
able sites and not least from the network planning process. The fact that high
power transmissions inevitably spill over international borders means that broad-
cast network planning requires extensive coordination with administrations in
Source: Ofcom.
Figure 1: White spaces capacity at locations across the UK.
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White Spaces – the New Wi-Fi?
neighbouring countries. In Region 1 (Europe, Africa, the Middle East), the first
such exercise, for analogue television in the UHF bands, was in Stockholm in
1960. The plan and rules were updated in 1997 to allow digital services to com-
mence, alongside analogue services. In 2006, the plan was replaced with an
all-digital broadcast plan covering the 120 countries in Region 1. This was a
mammoth exercise, requiring years of preparation and costing tens of millions
of Euros. This latest plan enables administrations to make changes to their own
implementation, such as introducing new services, provided they stay within
the ‘interference allowance’ that has been agreed. In principle, broadcasters
could change to lower power, more dense, transmitter networks. This would
improve indoor coverage for portables as well as reducing the impact on service
planning in neighbouring countries. However, the costs of such networks could
be an order of magnitude higher to roll-out and operate and therefore do not fit
well with current broadcast business models.
Some argue that the move to single frequency terrestrial networks (SFNs)
eliminates geographic white spaces, because no gaps need be left between
transmitter coverage areas. (The transmitters within an SFN reinforce rather
than interfere with each other, using a special feature of the digital terres-
trial modulation technology.) This is correct within the area covered by the
transmitters operating in such a network, however the SFNs themselves have
boundaries. Although, in principle, it might be possible to build SFNs cov-
ering very large regions, the differing content requirements of regions and
countries mean that such networks need to be partitioned and suitable gaps
left between those using the same frequency. Another limitation on the intro-
duction of SFNs is the spacing of transmitters – existing sites may not be suf-
ficiently closely spaced.
The growing use of wireless Internet access (particularly mobile broadband)
is forcing operators to look for more capacity. Rising expectations on connec-
tion speed will put still further pressure on capacity. Some of this demand can
be met through re-use of existing spectrum, by deploying new technologies
such as LTE, but some will need to come from ‘new’ spectrum. New spectrum
becomes available through either clearing the bands of existing applications or
enabling new ways of sharing – as is the case with white spaces.
Regulators are seeking to ensure that this new spectrum is put to the best
use by making choices over how it is allocated. The conventional means of
achieving this is through licensing, by which normally exclusive rights are
awarded to the ‘most deserving’ applicant for the spectrum. The criteria for
determining the winning applicant vary from a potentially complex cocktail
of requirements, in the case of the beauty parade allocation method, through
to simply the largest bid, in the case of the auction method. The advantage of
exclusivity is significant for service providers and their backers: sufficient to
underpin hundreds of millions of Euros of roll-out investment in some cases.
The disadvantage of exclusivity is that the value to consumers and the econ-
omy is limited by the investment capacity or interest of the licensee. Further,
the available spectrum may have had to be partitioned to allow a number
of potential licensees to act as competitors. This was the case in awarding
spectrum for third generation mobile services, with five licences offered in the
UK. Finally, regulators generally find it easier dealing with the types of big
players that typically emerge from a licensing approach. For the reasons given
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Andrew Stirling
above, licensing on an exclusive basis remains the prime means of controlling
access to spectrum across the world. Whilst the means of allocating licenses
has gradually shifted from a government-led approach towards more market-
driven approaches – epitomized by spectrum auctions – exclusivity of access
remains the norm across much of the most valuable spectrum. This includes
the vast majority of spectrum below 3 GHz.
However, licensing has its limits. Acquiring a licence to use spectrum can
be a costly and lengthy process. Even measures allowing spectrum licences
to be traded have had limited effect thus far on the ‘liquidity’ of spectrum.
Licensing also becomes cumbersome when dealing with heavily fragmented
spectrum such as white space, because the transaction costs start to approach
or even exceed the value that could be extracted.
This is a key reason why white space has remained relatively under-used.
Major operators are generally more interested in acquiring pan-national spec-
trum blocks, to enhance their market scale, than foraging for spare fragments
such as can be found amongst the undergrowth of terrestrial broadcasting.
License-by-rule (also known as licence-exemption) complements conventional
licensing by lowering the spectrum access barrier that faces new wireless technol-
ogies. When regulators implement license-by-rule in a band, they open a means
of accessing the spectrum without having to apply for a licence. This means that
anyone can use the band in question, provided that they adhere to the rules laid
down by the regulator for this purpose; in most cases these rules are satisfied by
the equipment manufacturers, so that end-users are absolved of any require-
ment to acquire skills or exercise care in their application of the devices.
License-by-rule users are allowed to operate on the basis that they do not
cause harmful interference to licensed spectrum users and they have no rights
to protection against interference caused to them by other legal users of the
spectrum – whether licensed or licensed-by-rule.
The rules are defined by the regulator to enable the band to be shared
effectively, between those using it on a license-by-rule basis and those using
it under the terms of a licence. Users of adjacent bands also need to be pro-
tected from harmful interference. The main constraint with license-by-rule
devices is on the transmission power that they may use, since this is a major
factor in determining the potential to cause interference. Lower transmission
power restricts the range of applications that are possible, but generally enables
a greater number of users in a given area.
For example, Wi-Fi access points are limited to a transmission power of
100 mW, which limits their range to tens of metres. This means that other
access points within this range will probably need to operate on other chan-
nels, in order to avoid interference.
By encapsulating the interference protection in device rules, regulators are
thus able to eliminate the need for licensing in the given band and enable
users to share the spectrum.
A major benefit of the license-by-rule approach is that it is scalable and
works well, regardless of how fragmented the spectrum is geographically.
Above a certain level of fragmentation, the transaction costs involved in con-
ventional licensing outweigh the perceived value. In contrast, license-by-rule
works equally well in fragmented spectrum such as white spaces in UHF, as it
does in 2.4 GHz, which is available worldwide.
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White Spaces – the New Wi-Fi?
Another benefit of license-by-rule is that it avoids the partitioning that
often applies when spectrum is licensed conventionally, as noted earlier in the
third generation mobile networks example.
Finally, license-by-rule effectively devolves power to end-users and
their local communities, who can make their own decisions, for exam-
ple, on whether and when to invest in improving their Internet connection.
Commercial licence-holding operators tend to focus their infrastructure roll-
out on more densely populated areas, where payback will occur more quickly.
This means that rural communities are usually the last to enjoy the benefits of
wireless/mobile broadband.
Spectrum sharing is now a familiar fact of life, with millions of Wi-Fi and
Bluetooth devices in everyday use across the world, all using the 2.4 GHz
band. Whilst some experts cite interference in the 2.4 GHz band (Mass
2009: 82) as an issue, Wi-Fi hotspots and home use continue to grow.
Some features of the 2.4 GHz band are less than ideal:
The 2.4 GHz band was considered ‘junk’ spectrum, when released by •
regulators on a licence-exempt basis. Electromagnetic pollution from
microwave ovens played a major role in this. Lack of license-by-rule
capacity in other bands forced a number of different technologies to
In a way, the band is like a ‘wireless dark ages’ core sample in which vari- •
ous stages of wireless evolution can be observed. Species arriving later,
such as Bluetooth and newer versions of Wi-Fi technology (e.g. 802.11n)
have developed better coping strategies for this interference-prone region
of spectrum and use the bandwidth available more efficiently.
Given the substantial industry investment that will be needed to implement
cost-effective white space technology, we can expect at least some coopera-
tion between groups developing standards; each group drawing on the valu-
able experience from 2.4 GHz in both reducing interference and mitigating
its effects.
In the absence of regulatory coordination between license-by-rule users,
there is an opportunity for technology to achieve some of the benefits of coor-
dination, applying on a much more local level than regulators could have
attempted. Some of the coordination features may be integrated into stand-
ards whilst other features may be dynamic, adapting to the conditions that the
devices find when they are operating.
The main techniques that white space device manufacturers can use to avoid
interference with each other’s products and maximize efficiency of use are:
Listen before talk • – devices check whether a signal is present on a
channel before transmitting
Coordination between devices • to determine which channels are
vacant – e.g. by sharing lists gathered from a central database or by shar-
ing the results of local spectrum sensing
Minimization of the transmission power • used – communicating
devices coordinate to reduce the transmission power to the minimum
level needed for reliable communication, in each case
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Andrew Stirling
The last technique, minimization of power, relies on the transmitting device
being aware of the reception margin at the receiver. The transmission power
can then be reduced, until the remaining margin is just sufficient to ensure
sufficiently reliable communication. This is helpful for energy consumption as
well as more efficient use of spectrum.
If interference does occur between devices, there are techniques for miti-
gating its impact on applications:
Robust modulation techniques, which allow desired signals to be recov- •
ered more reliably by receivers
Error protection, which enables receivers to detect when errors have •
occurred and recover from them
Frequency diversity, enabling receivers to avoid channels which are badly •
affected by interference
The favourable propagation characteristics of UHF mean that white spaces
are suitable for a wide range of wireless applications (Tonge and De Vries
2007: 100). These include:
Internet access using cellular, hotspot or mesh configurations, for exam- •
ple, to serve communities and campuses
In-home content distribution •
Remote patient monitoring and elderly care •
Games •
Tracking of people, animals and assets •
Industrial automation and control •
Agricultural and other land use, where, for example, the use of remote •
wireless sensors might increase management efficiency
Home automation and control •
Security for buildings and communities •
Public safety •
Essentially, white spaces are a good medium for applications that require reli-
able home-wide or even neighbourhood-wide coverage. From a public policy
perspective, the most important of these is Internet access, especially given
its economic significance and the fact that many areas still lack an adequate
White space complements an existing range of network interfaces that can be
included in devices; these are likely to take a variety of forms, some familiar:
Access points — perhaps combining Wi-Fi and White Space interfaces •
Mobile communications device, adding white spaces to the formidable list •
that many such devices already have (2G, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth etc.)
Home media devices, such as a TV, set-top box or server •
The key point to note is that communication in white spaces complements
networks that use other parts of the spectrum. Thus it is likely that existing
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White Spaces – the New Wi-Fi?
types of device acquire white space interfaces alongside other more estab-
lished interfaces.
The Internet is the key projected application for white spaces. Across the world
there is a growing demand for ubiquitous and affordable Internet access.
Governments recognize the economic and social value that this can bring and
are increasingly willing to provide public support for providing access.
Broadcasters too are finding that audiences value interactive services
more than ever and are facing demands from Internet Service Providers
(ISPs) to support the cost of interactive network capacity, alongside their
broadcast networks. Could white spaces in the broadcast band provide part
of the answer?
Whilst the ideal Internet access medium is optical fibre, the economics of
fibre roll-out are such that it will be a long time before fibre reaches all homes
and offices – if indeed it ever does. There are many parts of the developed
and developing world where wireless Internet access will remain the strongest
platform for the foreseeable future.
However, although cheaper than fixed wire/fibre-based alternatives, wire-
less access is still costly to provide – particularly in the bands that are typically
made available for its deployment, such as 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz and 5 GHz. In
contrast, the more favourable coverage costs of the UHF bands enable previ-
ously unviable locations to be brought within reach.
A growing element of the demand for Internet access will be met through
licensed spectrum, including released sections of the UHF, as third or fourth-
generation mobile networks are rolled out. However, network operators face
enormous costs and are likely to prioritize roll-out in areas of higher popu-
lation density and revenue potential. Where there is a commercial case for
deploying new technology in licensed UHF in rural areas, the emphasis may
be on reducing operating costs rather than enhancing performance.
Complementing commercial networks which use licensed spectrum, white
spaces could enable local communities to improve their own Internet access,
especially when combined with networks in other licence-exempt bands. A
license-by-rule regime in white spaces would allow them to construct a wire-
less access network independently of licensed operators, who generally have
little time for such ventures. Community networks would still require high
quality backhaul, perhaps via fibre to a convenient local hub, but could other-
wise be self-sufficient.
Over time, as the community networks demonstrate viability, they may
well be acquired by larger operators. Thus white space capacity may help
incubate additions to the major national or regional networks, as well as facil-
itating local initiative.
Finally, because of the superior propagation through walls at UHF fre-
quencies, it may be possible to use white space networks to provide access
inside houses, eliminating the need for an external access point and internal
distribution network (at least for some buildings). This would save hundreds
of Euros per building for the installation and eliminate on-going management
costs for end-users.
Google coined the term ‘Wi-Fi on steroids’ at one point in talking about
the potential of white spaces. With up to around 200 MHz of capacity in some
locations, this might not be an exaggeration.
JDTV 1.1_art_Stirling_069-084.indd 77 10/23/09 3:53:35 PM
Andrew Stirling
White space networks do not need to stop at delivering content and services
to the home: UHF’s favourable propagation characteristics enable them to be
useful for in-home distribution too.
Growing consumer expectations on convenience of access to content and
services within the home is raising industry interest in developing new high
capacity in-home networks. Wireless technologies are increasingly used to
improve ease of setting up systems and reduce both the inconvenience and
negative visual impact of cabling.
Consumers want to be in control and able to access their digital content
wherever they are in their home. Even outside the home, consumers value
access to familiar content and services – as products such as those from Sling
Media have demonstrated.
As the cost of adding wireless network interfaces falls, more consumer prod-
ucts are acquiring such interfaces: particularly devices that handle digital content.
Two technical challenges must be faced as home networking embraces
in-home content distribution:
Video connections require considerable capacity, especially when high •
definition content is to be conveyed
Access to the network should be available reliably throughout the home •
and simple to use
White spaces are well placed to meet these requirements and can be used
together with other license-by-rule bands. With anticipated capacity typically
ranging from 90 to 200 MHz, it should be possible for white spaces to support
multiple video connections with reliable coverage throughout the home.
Although many homes have a fixed rooftop aerial serving their main televi-
sion, it is far less likely to be connected to secondary receivers. Typically, these
sets are used with portable antennas, with users often tolerating lower picture
quality than could be obtained with a fixed antenna. After switchover to dig-
ital TV, however, a number of these homes may find that portable reception
is no longer usable.
In addition to serving home networking in general, white spaces could
serve to distribute content to a range of different types of receiver in the home.
Freedom from the usual broadcast coverage constraints could help enable a
much wider range of devices providing access to digital television and radio
services within the home, perhaps embedded in other objects, such as furni-
ture. It would also make hand-held receivers practical, since they would no
longer require large antennas.
UHF propagation characteristics allow a relatively good range at compara-
tively low power. For example, using a transmission power of 100mW and
a simplistic propagation model, a signal in UHF could be received at 100m,
whereas at 2.4 GHz the range would be limited to 50m, and at 5 GHz it would
be limited to 30m. This means that it is less expensive and more energy-
efficient to provide base-level community or campus-wide network coverage
JDTV 1.1_art_Stirling_069-084.indd 78 10/23/09 3:53:35 PM
White Spaces – the New Wi-Fi?
using white spaces in UHF, than at higher frequencies. Higher frequency
bands could then be used to enhance capacity in selected locations within the
broad coverage area.
Such networks could be based on a hot spot model, where there is a cen-
tral access point for each area of coverage, or a cellular or mesh configuration
that provides contiguous network coverage across a wide area.
Broadcasters have had most of the UHF bands virtually to themselves for sev-
eral decades, so it comes as a shock that new consumer applications are seek-
ing to share the spectrum. Some of these will use spectrum released by the
broadcasters as they switch over to digital transmission.
Unlike this release of spectrum, often driven by economic arguments,
the opening up of white spaces requires no sacrifice on the part of broad-
casters. As primary users of the band, broadcasters enjoy protection from
interference, thus new white space applications may not interfere with and
have no rights to be protected against interference from broadcast signals.
(PMSE users also enjoy protection from white space devices.) Thus, pro-
vided the regulators have defined the rules correctly, white space use does
not pose a threat to broadcasters.
On the other hand, broadcasters are increasing reliant on interactive
networks to deliver their full array of services. In particular, audience use of
on-demand facilities has grown enormously. For example, the BBC streams
around 100 terabytes per day for its iPlayer service (Rose 2008: 6). This success
with the audience has translated into growing demand for consumer broad-
band access and is a significant contributor to ISP traffic. However, Internet
access providers feel that they should be better compensated to invest in
meeting the performance needed by these new services. Broadcasters are not
convinced by these arguments and feel that more ubiquitous and affordable
consumer Internet access would be a good thing from their viewpoint. In
some markets, broadcasters have either acquired or taken stakes in network
providers to improve their bargaining position. Free from the complexities
of licensed spectrum access, white spaces could facilitate alternative Internet
access networks and help achieve more universal coverage of broadcasters’
interactive services.
White spaces are an administrative arrangement, preserved to protect
broadcast television services from interfering with each other. The key
to their exploitation is to develop a new regulatory framework that con-
tinues the protection but allows flexibility for new applications to emerge
and flourish.
Given the economic, social and cultural significance of the broadcast
services in UHF, regulators need to ensure that new applications of white
space do not cause harmful interference to them. Traditionally, such
control has been achieved through licensing, within a select specialist
community of broadcasters and supporting applications. However, it
is now possible to open up white spaces to benefit consumers directly,
JDTV 1.1_art_Stirling_069-084.indd 79 10/23/09 3:53:36 PM
Andrew Stirling
whilst still protecting the existing services through a simple set of device
Transmission is only allowed in channels which are free in the location of •
the white space device
Moderating the transmission power used by the white space device, to •
protect reception of any services in adjacent channels.
Two techniques are emerging as strong contenders, internationally, for evalu-
ating which channels are free:
Geo-location, using white space directories or databases compiled cen- •
trally from knowledge of television network plans and PMSE deployment
Spectrum sensing, by which a device detects which channels are free at •
its location.
Geo-location enables devices to obtain a list of free channels in their locale,
from a database; regulators favour this technique because the database should
give improved predictability of device behaviour and can be revised after
devices are in the market.
Sensing, on the other hand, is potentially a simpler more autonomous
approach, which could broaden the application of white spaces because it
does not depend on devices being able to access an external database.
White space devices are sometimes referred to as cognitive radios, because
their communication behaviour adapts to their context. However they are bet-
ter described as ‘adaptive radios’, being designed to meet near-term consumer
needs using largely existing technology. (Cognitive radio is a live research
topic, originally targeted at battle use by the military, when there is no time or
possibly desire to consult the local regulator and any coordination of spectrum
use has to be dynamic. It embraces typically sophisticated communication
techniques, for application in the future.)
The United States has led the way in opening up white spaces. The Federal
Communication’s decision, in November 2008, to allow white space devices
access is a landmark in the evolution of wireless technology.
In the early years of this decade, white spaces started to attract attention
from a rather different sector of industry, in the United States. A number of
major players in the PC and Internet industry came together to support the
opening up of white spaces for new consumer applications. They included
Dell, HP, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips – later becoming known as
the White Space Coalition. Their main aim was promotion of ubiquitous and
affordable broadband Internet access.
The first move occurred in around 2002, when these major technology
vendors suggested that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
should open up the white spaces in UHF. The FCC duly started a process of
inquiry into the feasibility of allowing license-by-rule access, without compro-
mising terrestrial TV reception.
This was a radical proposal, which produced an immediate, strong, reac-
tion from US broadcasters, who were appalled at the prospect of sharing their
bands. A key concern for the broadcasters was potential interference to television
reception, given that ordinary consumers might adopt the proposed white space
JDTV 1.1_art_Stirling_069-084.indd 80 10/23/09 3:53:36 PM
White Spaces – the New Wi-Fi?
devices widely. One report, commissioned by the broadcasters, concluded that
hosting unlicensed devices in the TV band would not be practical, except in the
most rural areas (Lipoff 2002: 19).
This did not, in fact, deter either the regulator or the proponents of
white space devices. Instead, the industry sought to show that the proposed
devices could avoid causing interference using ultra-sensitive detection of
spectrum occupancy. Put another way, if a channel was already in use by
either a TV station (or wireless microphone), the white space device would
look elsewhere.
The FCC proceedings continued over a number of years, managed by the
FCC’s Office of Technology (OET), which insisted on seeing the efficacy of the
interference protection demonstrated. Members of the White Space Coalition
duly prepared demonstrator devices, which they submitted for the FCC to
test. The demonstrators were designed to be able to sense TV signals that
were 1000 times weaker than the minimum required for reception.
The first tests, in 2006, were lab-based and were followed by tests in ‘real’
locations, in 2008. Although some of the test devices proved frail and detection
reliability varied, they broadly demonstrated the claimed sensitivity. However,
the FCC wanted to play safe and so concluded that white space devices would
be allowed to operate on a license-by-rule basis provided that spectrum sens-
ing was backed up by geo-location. The FCC also decided that spectrum-
sensing only devices would be allowed, subject to a transmission power limit
of 50mW and further FCC testing. This leaves the door open for manufactur-
ers to bring forward further sensing-only devices at a later stage. The FCC
decision, enshrined within a ‘Rule and Order’ issued in November 2008 (FCC
2008: 5), defines two classes of devices:
1. A fixed category, which seems designed for wireless broadband infrastruc-
ture applications, allows up to 4W transmission power and an antenna
height of 30m. However, the device must be registered with the FCC
2. The second class of device is more consumer-oriented. Termed ‘personal
and portable’, this type of device is limited to a transmission power of
100 mW.
There are not many issues over which Microsoft and Google may be seen
in cooperation: white spaces are an important exception. These two giants
teamed up with Dell, HP, Motorola and Philips, among others, to promote
the potential of white space. Another important cluster was the Public Interest
Spectrum Coalition, with members such as New America Foundation and
Media Access Project representing the consumer interest. Collectively, these
organizations sought to demonstrate that white spaces could be exploited
without harming existing spectrum users. The FCC’s positive (though cau-
tious) decision in November last year is a testament to their success. There is
now a practical way forward for opening white spaces.
The UK was ahead of other European countries in thinking about how to
exploit UHF spectrum, after the switchover to digital television, which is due
to be completed by 2012. Starting in late 2005, Ofcom’s Digital Dividend
JDTV 1.1_art_Stirling_069-084.indd 81 10/23/09 3:53:36 PM
Andrew Stirling
Review looked at how best to proceed with allocating the 112 MHz it was
expecting could be released to new applications. The review also noted the
potential capacity in white space, but was mainly interested in white space
packages that were substantial enough to be auctioned off.
However, at the end of 2007, Ofcom committed to allowing white space
devices on a license-by-rule basis, subject to being satisfied that licensed serv-
ices and applications would be adequately protected against interference. It
therefore formed a cognitive access working-group that guided development
of the regulatory framework, culminating in the release of proposals earlier
this year (Ofcom 2009: 2). Ofcom’s proposals allow geo-location and spec-
trum sensing as alternative approaches, but are cautious on the parameters to
be satisfied by sensing-only devices.
Spectrum management is still a national responsibility, though EU members
put considerable efforts into coordination and harmonization. The European
Commission has been considering the potential of white spaces, request-
ing opinions from leading experts in the CEPT (the association of European
spectrum regulators) and in its own Radio Spectrum Policy Group. CEPT has
recently started its own programme of work, laying the technical foundations
for white space devices to be allowed access to spectrum.
Driven by their countries’ thirst for wireless Internet access, regulators in the
Asia-Pacific region are also starting to take an interest in white spaces. They
are looking closely at moves in the US and Europe and are expected to create
their own regulatory framework in due course.
With greater regulatory certainty emerging, industry has started to engage in
developing products that can tap this new capacity. The first important stage
is the creation of standards that will enable compliance with the regula-
tion and the economies of scale that will be needed to make the technology
affordable. One group of companies, called CogNeA (Cognitive Networking
Alliance), has already started the process of getting its proposals standard-
ized, through the European body ECMA (formerly the European Computer
Manufacturers Association).
A separate industry group has been working on realizing a database-
service architecture to support the geo-location approach approved by the
regulator. This is essential to the exploitation of white spaces.
In this short introduction to white spaces, I have attempted to provide an
overview of the opportunities and issues surrounding the opening up of white
spaces. The stage is set for growing interest in this topic over the coming few
years, across the globe.
The white spaces in UHF represent a major opportunity to help extend
the benefits of broadband Internet access to all. Regulators and industry
need to seize it.
JDTV 1.1_art_Stirling_069-084.indd 82 10/23/09 3:53:36 PM
White Spaces – the New Wi-Fi?
Broadcast Engineering (2008), FCC continues tests of white space spectrum, 0623,
23 June. Penton Media Inc., Kansas, USA.
Cambridge Strategic Management Group (2008), ‘Potential for more efficient
user of spectrum by wireless microphones’, p. 3, 4
November, CSMG,
London. (A report prepared for Ofcom)
FCC (2008), Second Report and Order and Memorandum opinion and Order
(FCC 08-260), 1: 85, p. 35.
Lipoff, S. (2002), ‘Exploring the Feasibility of Sharing TV Band Spectrum with
Unlicensed RF Devices’, FCC ET-Docket 02-380, 6: 3, p. 19.
Mass (2009), ‘Estimating the Utilisation of Key Licence-Exempt Spectrum
Bands’, 10: 1, p. 82. Final report, Issue 3, April, Published by Mass Consultants
Limited, Cambridge, UK.
Mishra, S. and Sahai, A. (2005), ‘How much white space is there?’ Technical
Report No. UCB/EECS-2009-3, pp. 1–13, University of California at
Berkeley, Electronic Engineering and Computer Science.
Ofcom (2006), ‘Access to interleaved spectrum for programme-making and
special events after digital switchover’, 5: 2, p. 10.
Ofcom (2009), ‘Digital dividend: cognitive access’, 2: 2 p. 2–4, 1 July.
Paramvir Bahl et al, (2009), ‘White Space Networking with Wi-Fi like
Connectivity’, SIGCOMM’09, p. 1, 17
August, Barcelona, Spain.
Rose, A. (2008), ‘Evolution of the BBC iPlayer’, EBU Technical Review, 2008: 4,
pp. 1–14.
Tonge, G. and De Vries, P. (2007), ‘The Role of Licence-Exemption in Spectrum
Reform’, International journal of digital economics, 67: 3, pp. 85–106.
Stirling, A. (2010), ‘White spaces – the new Wi-Fi?’, International Journal of
Digital Television 1: 1, pp. 69–83, doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.69/1
Andrew Stirling is an independent regulatory consultant, with a special
interest in spectrum and broadcast platform regulation. He currently rep-
resents Microsoft in spectrum policy and in particular on white spaces.
Other clients include BT and the BBC. After studying Physics at Imperial
College, Andrew started his career at the BBC’s Research and Development
Centre. He went on to a joint venture between Philips and Panasonic in
AV network technology and from there into Arthur D. Little, an interna-
tional management consulting company. At the ITC/Ofcom he worked on
switchover policy development and associated spectrum issues in prepara-
tion for its Digital Dividend Review.
E-mail: Andrew@larkhillconsultco.uk
JDTV 1.1_art_Stirling_069-084.indd 83 10/23/09 3:53:36 PM
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JDTV 1.1_art_Stirling_069-084.indd 84 10/28/09 12:04:07 PM
JDTV 1 (1) pp. 85–87 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.85/7
digital switchover
digital terrestrial
television (DTT)
Japan Council for Better Radio and Television
Preparations for Digital
Switchover in Japan: An
Now that Germany and the USA have switched over to digital terrestrial television
(DTT), Japan is one of the countries with a large number of television households
that are preparing for digital switchover in two to three years. It is planning to
switchover on 24 July 2011, in less than two years. The Japanese Ministry of Internal
Affairs and Communications (MIC) has accelerated preparations since 2008. This is
a brief report on the present situation concerning digital switchover in Japan.
Japan has a population of 128 million and 50 million households. Japan began
DTT broadcasts in December 2003 and is planning to switchover to digital
television on 24 July 2011. This date is seven years and eight months after the
launch of DTT broadcasts and less than two years from now. The switchover
will be carried out all at once throughout the country.
JDTV 1.1_comm_Kumabe_085-088.indd 85 10/24/09 2:41:16 PM
Norio Kumabe
DTT coverage reached 97% of Japan in June 2009. But the percentage of
households that had DTT receivers by March 2009 was estimated at 60.7%
according to the survey sponsored by MIC, which meant the remaining 40% of
Japanese television households were still watching analogue television only.
In addition, DTT broadcasts are not retransmitted at all via satellite
television. Cable television companies are retransmitting DTT programmes,
but only 40% of the television households subscribe to cable television. This
means that more households may face the risk of losing television signals
than in the USA or Germany, where 80–90% of households could watch DTT
via cable or satellite even before switchover.
MIC has accelerated preparations for the switchover, together with broadcast-
ers, electronic manufacturers and other stakeholders, by setting up 51 televi-
sion audience support centres throughout the country. The centres are now
holding many grass-roots meetings to explain what should be done at each
home in order not to lose television signals at switchover.
The government has increased subsidies to promote the penetration of
digital television receivers. Actually, it decided to grant converter boxes free of
charge to 2.6 million low-income households. It also introduced an ecological
point system; this grants payback shopping coupons to those who buy des-
ignated energy saving electronic devices including digital television sets. This
system is one of many measures taken to boost the Japanese economy, which
has been seriously affected by the current worldwide recession.
There are about 50,000 communal aerial systems in Japan, these were built to
improve poor reception of analogue television in areas affected by radio inter-
ference caused by tall buildings in cities. Only 11.4% of such communal aerial
systems have already readjusted to DTT and the rest, nearly 90%, still need to
be adapted for DTT reception. MIC’s support centres will take the initiative in
consultation about each system and in some cases they will subsidize a part of
the construction cost of new aerials and boosters. The same kind of subsidies
will be granted to communal aerial systems in remote mountain areas too.
Among the 2 million multiple dwelling units in Japan, 72% have already
adjusted to DTT reception, but owners and residents of the remaining 28% of
multiple dwelling units need to be prepared in less than two years.
MIC, broadcasters and other stakeholders decided to switchover at Suzu city
in Ishikawa Prefecture, in north-central Japan, on 24 July, 2010 (ahead of
other areas). This will provide a rehearsal for the total switchover in July 2011.
Suzu city is a small city with a population of around 18,000 and 6500 house-
holds. As the first step, the broadcasters in the area carried out a test to stop
analogue programmes for one hour on 24 July 2009, exactly two years before
the national switchover firm date.
As explained above, DTT broadcasts can be received in most areas of Japan.
However, it was estimated that only 60% of households had DTT sets or
JDTV 1.1_comm_Kumabe_085-088.indd 86 10/24/09 2:41:16 PM
Preparations for Digital Switchover in Japan: An Update
converters in March 2009. After the government introduced economic meas-
ures to promote sale of DTT sets, there has been some increase in sales and
the price of a converter box has become under 5,000 yen or around 45 US
dollars. However, its take-up should be monitored.
Moreover those areas in big cities where many homes have been receiv-
ing analogue television through communal aerial systems (in order to avoid
the effects of tall buildings) have difficult problems. In some cases, the main
source of the radio interference caused by tall buildings cannot be identified
so easily, because more tall buildings have been built after the original com-
munal aerial systems were established. There needs to be much investiga-
tion and consultation surrounding the main sources and the affected people,
which takes time. There are more such tall building effects in Japan than in
the USA and UK etc., because Japan has had more redevelopment works –
not only in big cities but also in some middle cities. In the USA poor direct
reception of terrestrial television in big cities especially led to a high take-up
rate for subscription cable television. But in Japan it is estimated that almost
20 per cent of homes still rely on individual aerials.
Most homes in the Tokyo Metropolitan area have been using UHF rooftop
or set-top aerials to receive analogue terrestrial television and they must now
introduce new UHF aerials to receive DTT.
Lastly Japan has not yet established secure ways to offer assistance to
those homes of aged or handicapped people who need help to hook up con-
verters properly or to retune DTT equipment.
Less than two years is not a long time to do many things. Whether Japan
can achieve the national switchover on time depends on more and more com-
munication efforts and careful attention to those who need help during this
period. Much of the future of television depends on the outcome of the cur-
rent switchover process at this time of digital convergence.
Kumabe, N. (2010), ‘Preparations for digital switchover in Japan: an
update’, International Journal of Digital Television 1: 1, pp. 85–87,
doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.85/7
Norio Kumabe is Senior Managing Director of the Japan Council for Better
Radio and Television, having previously been a Visiting Professor of Global
Information and Telecommunication Studies at Waseda University.
E-mail: Kumabe@gol.com
JDTV 1.1_comm_Kumabe_085-088.indd 87 10/24/09 2:41:16 PM
Digital Television
Switchover in China:
Editor’s Note
In this issue we are publishing three papers surveying digital television
switchover in China. It is a subject of obvious importance – as China is both
the biggest TV market in the world and the major manufacturer of the world’s
TV sets. However, the topic has had little academic or journalistic coverage
internationally. Sources of information and analysis publicly available outside
China, other than official documents and speeches, are limited.
The positive response of two Chinese academics from Beijing’s
Communication University of China to our ‘Call for Papers’ was therefore
especially welcome. Zhou Yan has contributed a paper on government pol-
icy, particularly on the complementary roles envisaged for the different dig-
ital platforms, while Wang Wei describes digital cable services, especially the
advanced services now offered in China’s wealthiest cities.
Having myself recently studied the subject as a Visiting Fellow at the
University of Westminster’s China Media Centre – meeting broadcasters, manu-
facturers and state officials within China – I have written an introductory article
setting China’s digital switchover in an international context. While each author
is responsible only for their own work, we hope that this three article com-
mentary provides new information and insights for an international readership,
bringing China’s developments into the emerging global picture of digital TV.
As a guide, the equivalents to Chinese currency (Renminbi) at the time
these articles were drafted were:
1 RMB = 0.09 £sterling
0.10 Euros
0.15 $US
0.18 $AUS
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.88/7
JDTV 1.1_comm_Kumabe_085-088.indd 88 10/30/09 8:09:37 AM
JDTV 1 (1) pp. 89–93 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.89/7
Editor, International Journal of Digital Television
China’s Digital
International Context
This short article introduces the subject of digital switchover in China to readers
from other countries, providing some context and highlighting some of the distinctive
characteristics of the Chinese transition, to complement the two following articles,
submitted as a pair, by academics from the Communication University of China.
China will not be among the first group of countries to complete digital tel-
evision switchover but it will certainly be the biggest. As such, it faces some
formidable challenges. Many of these are similar to the issues facing oth-
ers: selecting technical standards; developing new digital content to attract
consumers; regulating relationships between platforms; ensuring collabora-
tion between industry players; and providing a mix of commercial and public
investment. Designing the interplay between public policy and the market is
central to digital switchover in every country.
However, in three respects, China’s situation and experience is very
The structure of its broadcasting sector •
digital television
digital switchover
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Starks_089-094.indd 89 10/24/09 1:53:37 PM
Michael Starks
The approach to digital terrestrial television •
The role of state funding •
A brief account of each may help position China’s digital switchover within
the framework of international comparative study.
China has over 2500 television channels, serving around 380 million TV
households. Central China Television (CCTV) is the dominant force at
national level with a dozen channels. Then every province and autonomous
region mounts its own broadcasts, including one satellite channel available
for distribution across the whole country. In addition, cities have their own
local TV channels and county stations act as relays. However, these broad-
casting organisations are all state-owned and, like programme production
companies, come under the supervision of the State Administration of Radio,
Film and Television (SARFT).
In China’s distinctive hybrid economy, the market – primarily through
advertising – provides nearly all their funding. Zhao Yuezhi and Guo Zhenzhi
observed that
The Chinese television industry is characterised by a unique form of
state monopoly capitalism: commercialised operations organised into a
hierarchical structure of administrative monopoly.
(Wasko 2005)
Satellite technology is extensively used for distributing services to cable
head-ends and terrestrial transmitters, but direct-to-home satellite recep-
tion (DTH) in the past has been restricted. When DTH services began to be
beamed into China from abroad, China’s response in 1993 was to introduce
regulations banning the ownership of DTH reception satellite dishes with-
out a special licence. Licences were, in practice, largely restricted to hotels
and foreign compounds, though, in rural areas without an alternative way
of receiving Chinese domestic services, the regulation was not seriously
Cable reception of satellite services, however, provides a filter between
the broadcaster and the viewer through which control over foreign trans-
missions can be exercised. Cable TV has blossomed in China and is
now the norm in most Chinese cities, accounting for around 140 million
Western commentators on China’s state-managed broadcasting often
focus on information restriction. However, China has a desire to increase,
while also to control, the dissemination of information – in the interests of
creating and guiding a ‘harmonious society’. The Communist Party leader-
ship appreciates that a policy of withholding information from China’s huge
population of increasingly well-educated citizens could never work, yet it has
set its face against the conflict and discord which it associates with an open
market in information and opinion. So the aim is to manage the public com-
munication process – and Chinese officials and academics talk about a policy
of ‘informationization’. The desire to provide every household with a man-
aged modern information platform is one of the drivers behind China’s policy
of digital switchover.
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Starks_089-094.indd 90 10/24/09 1:53:38 PM
China’s Digital Switchover: International Context
China has long been the world’s largest manufacturer of TV sets; since it
joined the World Trade Organization, its very competitively priced consumer
electronic goods have played a major role in its export boom. The global
switch to digital transmission is now transforming this business. The world
market for digital receivers (TV sets and set-top boxes) is growing rapidly in
the advanced economies of the world, where analogue TV sets are becom-
ing obsolete. Digital switchover represents a beckoning export opportunity,
especially as countries that are making digital switchover mandatory are keen
to keep down the compulsory cost to their consumers and look to China as a
prime source of low-cost mass production.
The spread of cable and satellite technology notwithstanding, inte-
grated digital TV sets are normally based around a digital terrestrial tuner.
China started digital terrestrial television trials back in the 1990s and took
a decision then to develop a specifically Chinese set of digital terrestrial
technical standards. The motive for doing so was primarily commercial (as
in the USA, Europe and Japan which all have separate standards). As well
as deterring rivals from seeking to enter China’s enormous TV receiver
market, having distinctive Chinese standards reduces the need to buy
intellectual property from foreign companies. As in other sectors, China’s
aim is to develop its own competencies in high-tech industries.
The Chinese standard for digital terrestrial television is known as DMB-T
(Digital Media Broadcasting Terrestrial), but in practice it incorporates two
different, currently incompatible, systems developed respectively by Qinghua
University in Beijing and Jiaotong University in Shanghai. The technical differ-
ence between them is not trivial and issues surrounding this academic – and
political – competition slowed commercial development. Receiver manufac-
turers have now produced set-top boxes that can handle both variants, allow-
ing broadcasters to choose.
Formulating and funding a policy for the digitization of China’s thousands
of analogue terrestrial transmitters has taken several years. Digital terrestrial tel-
evision was piloted during the 2008 Olympics, with high definition (HDTV) as
an ingredient, but no digital terrestrial receivers were yet on sale in the shops.
The position is very different in Hong Kong. There, for historical reasons,
terrestrial television is more important than in the major cities on the main-
land, accounting for the majority of the 2.3 million households. Digital ter-
restrial transmissions began at the end of 2007, with the two main terrestrial
broadcasters simulcasting their analogue services and adding new digital-only
channels, including HDTV. Coverage of 75% was swiftly achieved. The serv-
ices were free-to-view: consumers simply had to purchase unsubsidised set-
top boxes. Driven by the Olympics, take-up rose from 9% to 20% over the
summer of 2008.
The pattern in Hong Kong therefore is similar to European models of dig-
ital switchover, with the introduction of digital terrestrial and the simulcasting
of analogue services central to a digital switchover transition period. However,
any prospect of switching off analogue terrestrial transmissions throughout
mainland China – given the size and character of the terrain and the limited
consumer spending power of rural households – is distant. Moreover, broad-
casting spectrum is not financially valued and priced, and the quest to save
analogue terrestrial spectrum, so central to the switchover strategies of other
countries, is less of a driving force.
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Starks_089-094.indd 91 10/24/09 1:53:38 PM
Michael Starks
China’s main progress towards digital switchover has so far been in con-
verting its extensive cable systems.
As just noted, the limited spending power of rural families – constituting the
majority of China’s TV households – is a major constraint on any policy to use
private consumer spending as a major driver of digital switchover. For rural
households dependent on free-to-view analogue television, as for the areas
to which television is being delivered for the first time through a combina-
tion of Direct Satellite and local relay technology, the state needs to take on a
significant role in funding.
Even within the urban cable areas, the limits of the consumer market have
become apparent. Cable households proved reluctant to purchase new digital
set-top boxes, partly because the number of services they receive in analogue
is already high and partly because of the relative weakness of additional new
digital content. The scope for selling high-cost premium subscription services
is also limited, primarily because much of the content potentially most attrac-
tive for a premium tier, sport and movies, remains part of the basic service.
The government has no desire to remove popular sport from Chinese house-
holds and the film industry has no system of rights management that would
allow feature films to be aired sequentially on premium and basic channels.
While there are now plenty of pay-TV channels, take-up is low.
A series of pilots in different cities and provinces tested different service
offers and different business models. Some of the most sophisticated inter-
active services were launched in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province but were
judged too expensive to be copied by cities in less wealthy areas. The govern-
ment analyzed the lessons from the pilots and stimulated some organizational
reform to consolidate capital resources, then formulated a national timetable.
The major cities, including all the provincial capitals and all the cities in
the east, were given a switchover deadline of 2005. Counties in the east, and
the cities and most of the counties in the central region, as well as some cities
in the west, were expected to switch by 2008. The target for the remaining
counties in the central region and most of the counties in the west was 2010,
with 2015 as the date for completion in the remaining counties in the west.
Slippage soon began and the 2005 target was missed (Screen Digest 2007).
The government response was to begin making digital switchover compulsory,
starting in small cities. Instead of being sold a new service package, consum-
ers were informed that their systems would be modernized, normally with a
modest increase in the charge. The basic idea was to install one new digital set-
top box per household for free and to control subscription increases strictly, to
guard against any significant consumer revolt. Cable companies were offered
the regulatory carrot of a subsidy or soft loan and urged to invest, knowing that
the alternative could be an end to their quasi-monopoly status.
The resultant ‘full transition’ business model is therefore one in which
state policy, state financial support and commercial income are closely inter-
twined. In Beijing, the government provides a direct subsidy of 100 RMB to
the Gehua cable company for every digital set-top box it provides to its cus-
tomers, but requires the company to hold the basic digital subscription to the
same 18 RMB per month that it charged for analogue. Gehua’s sources of new
revenue are therefore limited to pay-TV subscriptions and income from a vari-
ety of sponsorship, product placement and merchandizing deals. Elsewhere
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Starks_089-094.indd 92 10/24/09 1:53:38 PM
China’s Digital Switchover: International Context
cable operators receive new revenue from the basic subscription increase but,
as in Beijing, need to supplement the basic revenue by selling subscription
services, a range of add-on services, new forms of advertising, sponsorship
and other commercial deals.
China’s commitment is to complete the digitization of its cable systems by
2015. The following two articles from the Communication University of China
chart the country’s progress to date and identify the outstanding issues it has
to address.
Screen Digest (2007), ‘Digital TV Migration in China’, July.
Zhao, Yuezhi and Guo, Zhenzhi, Television in China: history, political economy
and ideology in Wasko, Janet, (2005), A Companion to Television, Malden:
Starks, M. (2010), ‘China’s digital switchover: international context’, International
Journal of Digital Television 1: 1, pp. 89–93, doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.89/7
Michael Starks, Editor of the International Journal of Digital Television (for bio-
graphical please details see end of journal).
E-mail: m.starks@ntlworld.com
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Starks_089-094.indd 93 10/24/09 1:53:38 PM
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JDTV 1 (1) pp. 95–104 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.95/7
China Digital TV
China DTV positioning
China DTV current
Communication University of China
The Positioning and
Current Situation of
China’s Digital TV
Digital television research and development started in China in the 1980s.
Implementation has been underway over the last decade and the digitalization of the
three platforms (cable, terrestrial and satellite) is in progress. Focusing on the strategic
positioning of these three digital TV platforms, this article outlines the current situa-
tion, including take-up, coverage, service pattern, government support, and the main
techniques – and then expounds the two problems confronting digital TV in China.
Digital television research started in China in the middle of the 1980s. In line
with a policy decision under the Media Digitalization strategy, it came into
market operation in 2001. Through the last eight years digital TV has devel-
oped in China, as the digitalization of the three platforms (cable, terrestrial
and satellite) has progressed.
As transmission platforms, cable, terrestrial and satellite all possess their own
advantages. China is a huge country with diversified features and there are
great disparities in natural, regional and economic characteristics. Therefore,
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 95 10/23/09 10:41:48 AM
Zhou Yan
it is impossible to use one platform to solve the problem of TV and radio
broadcasting digitalization (Zhou Yan, Wang Wei and Liu Shan 2009). It is an
inevitable trend that a multi-platform solution should be found.
At present, China has a large population of 1.33 billion, of whom 163 mil-
lion are digital TV users. In the current situation, cable mainly offers a serv-
ice to city households, and families with relatively high economic levels were
early subscribers to digital cable television. By the first quarter of 2009, the
number of digital cable TV households in China exceeded 45 million.
In addition to the city users of cable TV, there are more than 200 million
households who are not served by cable and live in rural and often remote dis-
tricts. They use terrestrial and satellite reception to receive TV signals. After the
process of digitalization, they will have access to digital terrestrial and digital sat-
ellite TV. Digital terrestrial TV and digital satellite TV are best positioned to serve
rural areas. Terrestrial reception is the basic way to watch TV and a fundamental
service to guarantee coverage in both cities and rural areas. It will offer great sup-
port during the lengthy period of a coexistence of analogue and digital signals,
but the variety of service it provides is much smaller than that of digital cable TV.
In the light of the characteristics and services of these three digital plat-
forms, the highest administration of broadcasting in China – the State
Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) – has made a compre-
hensive plan. Digital cable TV provides a subscription-based public service.
For relatively low charges, it offers programmes and information regarding
public service; it also supplies numerous value-added services for users who
have high spending power according to individual demand. However, to
guarantee the broad coverage of great masses, the state government will give
financial support to terrestrial and satellite digital TV and it is compulsory for
operators to offer free public services.
Area Classification Business Take-up Position
City Digital
Hundreds of TV and
radio services, plus
Regional Information
Service, plus
Interactive Business
By the first quarter of 2009,
there were 45.28 million
users (24 million served by
a two-way network and 2.5
million with the two-way
based public
About ten TV and
radio channels, plus
Regional Information
Now given 2.5 billion RMB
state financial support for
development, to cover
capital cities, other cities
designated in the State Plan
and municipalities.
and basic
Satellite (DBS)
49 TV channels plus
43 radio services,
plus video-on-
demand and a ‘Push’
service of public
In the first quarter of
2009, given 1.3 billion RMB
state financial support to
provide 3.66 million recep-
tion units (with further
initiatives to follow)
and basic
Summary table: Positioning and current situation of Chinese digital TV.
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 96 10/23/09 10:41:48 AM
The Positioning and Current Situation of China’s Digital TV
Taking into account the wide diversity of consumers’ financial positions,
the state of economic development, and geographical environment, as well as
policy decisions, cable, terrestrial and satellite digital television providers have
positioned themselves and generated different business models (Zhou Yan,
Wang Wei, Liu Shan 2009). Having complementary advantages, the three
digital TV platforms will cooperate with each other to achieve TV broadcasting
As the earliest form of digital television operated in China, digital cable TV
now has the largest number of users and the greatest variety of services.
2.1 Positioning: Subscription-based public service
Digital cable TV has been developed mainly in cities and regional mar-
kets with a higher level of consumer spending, where there is a good
economic foundation and where some cable operators were already devel-
oping business practices linked to digital techniques. So the digitalization
of TV began with cable, positioned as offering a subscription-based public
service. For the basic analogue cable service, the charge per household has
been 12 RMB per month. Now, for digital cable, families in cities may pay
8–10 more RMB for the enhanced basic service, although some cities have not
increased this fee. In the market in certain cities, consumers could have access
to more advanced two-way services, paying additional charges for packages
of higher-subscription services or for video-on-demand (VOD) and a range of
other interactive services.
2.2 Funding the set-top box (STB): full transition
In practical terms in the implementation of digital cable TV, the toughest dif-
ficulty is how to increase take-up rapidly. Facing this bottleneck, the former
market-oriented business model (which involved selling the set-top box to
users) has given way to a government-oriented ‘full transition’ model. Under
this approach, with the support of government, cable TV operators can get
low-interest or interest-free loans from the bank which they use for the cen-
tralized purchasing of digital set-top boxes (whether for basic one-way serv-
ice or the more advanced two-way interactivity) and they then supply the
set-top boxes to users for free. The cable operators derive income from the
increased consumer charge for the basic service and from additional subscrip-
tion and interactive services, which they can use to repay the loans. Under
this model, digital switchover is taking place rapidly. By the first quarter of
2009, more than 200 cities had embarked on ‘full transition’ and 100 cities
had finished the transition. The ‘full transition’ model has given digitalization
a vigorous push.
2.3 Take-up: boom of the one-way service, start of the
two-way network
By the first quarter of 2009, Chinese digital TV cable homes had grown to
45.28 million. More than 24 million households have access to a two-way
network and 2.5 million are actual users of two-way services. Take-up of
digital cable TV is booming now.
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 97 10/23/09 10:41:48 AM
Zhou Yan
2.4 Multiple channels, information, VOD and other
interactive services
The basic service of digital cable TV comprises 60–70 standard definition channels
with government and other public information services. These channels have a
social and public value that enables operators to get a modest increase in the
basic television viewing charge from users. Following a hearing about price levels,
the original television viewing charge of 12 RMB per month has now increased in
many cases to 22 RMB per month in cities providing a digital service.
Form of service Specific service
Broadcast channels Broadcast TV and radio channels
Specialized subscription channels
High definition channels
Features relating to individual
EPG; VOD; PUSH; time-shift
Information Service Public information services:
Property for sale or rent •
Travel and transportation •
Weather •
Restaurants, hotels and •
Recruitment •
Medical Treatment •
Education •
The increase of digital cable TV users from 2002 to January 2009.
(State Administration of Radio, Film and Television data)
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 98 10/23/09 10:41:48 AM
The Positioning and Current Situation of China’s Digital TV
Government Affairs:
current policy •
proposals •
administrative guides •
Interactive value-added services Online payment; interactive games;
transactions; karaoke; picture and
ringtone downloads; TV SMS; TV
greeting cards etc.
Communication services Broadband network; telephone;
private networks for rent, etc.
Pattern of service of digital cable TV in China.
2.5 Consumer satisfaction and usage
After years of development, digital cable TV has become more and more
familiar to consumers. In order to know what influence digital TV has had
on users’ viewing habits and satisfaction, the Media Research Institute of the
Advertising College in the Communication University of China has cooper-
ated with CSM Media Research since 2003 and carried out research concern-
ing digital cable TV users in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008.
From data in the Development Report on China’s Digital TV, 2007, we can
see that most users have a high degree of satisfaction with digital TV (56%
of users express satisfaction with digital TV, compared with only 35.5% for
(Data from Development Report on Digital TV in China 2007)
Viewers’ ways of navigating programmes before and after using digital TV.
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 99 10/23/09 1:32:29 PM
Zhou Yan
Most used
services Percentage
Most important
service Percentage
Most attractive
service Percentage
27.4% Public information 19.9% VOD 7.6%
22.4% VOD 15.4% Payment of tele-
and electricity
15.0% Advanced
15.3% Distance learning 4.2%
VOD 14.7% Programme
15.0% Transaction 4.0%
8.7% Payment of tele-
and electricity
11.8% Public
(Data from Development Report on Digital TV in China, 2007)
Demand and consumption of value-added services of digital TV (the top five).
analogue). Moreover, viewing habits have changed due to digital TV. First,
there has been an increase. The data for 2007 shows that digital TV users’
average viewing time is 10% greater than that of non-digital TV users. The
wide-ranging and useful content is attractive. Second, viewing behaviour has
become more proactive, as viewers make use of the programme booking,
channel list editing, and ‘search’ functions that analogue viewers lack.
Moreover, viewers are more and more inclined to use the value-added
services of digital TV. Although watching TV is and will continue to be the
basic function for digital TV, the public information services, VOD, distance
learning and transactions are highly recognized by users. Digital cable TV in
China has come of age.
Terrestrial transmission and reception are widely used at present. Given the
scale of its coverage across very diverse areas, the process of digitalization
here will take relatively longer. China has spent nearly ten years developing
digital terrestrial TV, which is to be positioned as a free public service sup-
ported by state finance.
3.1 Position: Free public service
There are more than 200 million families in China that cannot receive cable
TV, especially in rural areas and remote regions. These areas have to use ter-
restrial or satellite reception to receive television and they too need to be able
to enjoy the benefits of digital television.
The scale of the challenge is great. China now has more than 2500 TV
broadcasting stations, 18,000 television transmitters and relays, and 500 mil-
lion TV sets. China accounts for one-third of the world’s total television users.
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 100 10/23/09 1:32:30 PM
The Positioning and Current Situation of China’s Digital TV
In view of all of these factors, it will take a long time to undertake the transition
from analogue to digital TV in China. Thus, a long period of coexistence of
analogue and digital signals is definitely necessary (Zhou Yan: 2009a). In order
to ensure that people can receive the basic television and radio services free,
terrestrial broadcasting organisations cannot encrypt or charge for their broad-
casts. Digital terrestrial television will be provided as a free public service.
3.2 Public Financial Support
Recently, the central government and local financial sources have invested
3.4 billion RMB in the Digital Terrestrial Coverage project. In addition, the
state government has invested 2.5 billion RMB in the development of digital
terrestrial TV (Wang Xiaojie: 2009). This support should ensure the fast and
sustained development of digital terrestrial television, enabling people in rural
areas to watch digital TV and adding features to the public service.
3.3 Spread of coverage and co-existence of
analogue and digital signals
China began to broadcast digital terrestrial TV in 2008, especially during the
Olympic Games. Eight Olympic cities have broadcast digital terrestrial TV.
Beijing has broadcast two high definition channels and one standard definition
channel and other cities have broadcast one high definition channel and one
standard definition channel.
In 2008, with the state financial support of 2.5 billion RMB, the develop-
ment plan of terrestrial digital TV is to cover 100 cities including capital cities
and municipalities specifically designated in the State Plan, and furthermore
to launch two new digital terrestrial TV channels. One is to broadcast high-
definition programs while the other one broadcasts standard definition pro-
grams that are simulcasts of the analogue services provided by central and
local TV stations.
Satellite TV can cover much wider areas, including remote districts and moun-
tainous areas that cannot be covered by cable and terrestrial transmissions.
With the goal of bringing broadcasting to remote and mountainous areas, in
1998 the state government has initiated the Cable TV to Every Village project,
with 3 billion RMB investment, to bring broadcasting services to these areas.
The initial role of digital satellite is to support this project.
4.1 Position: Free and Public Service
In 2008 the Chinasat-9 satellite was successfully launched and put into service.
It is the first Direct Broadcast Satellite for TV broadcasting in China. Because
it uses independent technical standards, ensuring that viewers can only watch
programmes from this culminant satellite, it is the best choice to help users
receive their TV programmes at the lowest cost.
The digitalization of satellite project covers the establishment, production,
launch and operation of a direct broadcast satellite, through which people in
areas where cable and terrestrial reception is impossible can receive public
broadcasting services. The central finance underpins the construction and
operational costs of the platform and enables the public service channels to
be broadcast without any subscription. In addition state funding provides a
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 101 10/23/09 10:41:50 AM
Zhou Yan
subsidy to users who buy and install satellite television receiving equipment in
poor and western areas. (Zhou Yan: 2009b)
4.2 Setting up national companies
The DBS operation comprises two crucial segments, one is the space opera-
tion and the other one is the earth segment. The earth segment is responsible
for satellite reception, receiver promotion, content and services, which is rela-
tively complicated. Because broadcasting organizations play a part in the earth
segment and there is no single operator, it would be possible to set up several
national operational companies or to allocate earth segment responsibilities
to different broadcasting and TV institutions. However, for the space seg-
ment, a national operational company named China Direct Broadcast Satellite
Corporation (CHINA DBSAT) has already been set up. Founded in December
2006, this company is a state-owned satellite company whose investors are
the China Satellite Communication Corporation and the Xin Nuo Satellite
Communication Limited Company. In 2007, these two biggest shareholders
of CHINA DBSAT have put all the resources for civil broadcasting and tele-
communication by DBS into CHINA DBSAT, making it the only state-owned
satellite operator in China.
4.3 First reception equipment financial bid
In 2009, with the support of central finance, China DBS acquired receivers
through which users could receive DBS. After inviting public bidding and cen-
tralized purchasing, CHINA DBSAT secured 3.66 million sets of DBS reception
equipment comprising a 40-centimetre dish, a set-top box, radio-frequency
head-end, and 20-metre long cables. Including an installation charge and
two-year upkeep charges, the cost of each set of this equipment ranges from
320 RMB to 370 RMB. In all the company has paid 1.3 billion RMB (Zhang
Haitao 2009). Employees in CHINA DBSAT predict that in the second half of
2009, the company will invite public bids for 6 million DBS sets of reception
equipment and that, by the end of 2009, DBS users will exceed 10 million.
4.4 Multiple channels and a Push service
Since the successful launch of DBS, the DBS operator has started to build
up an image of a public service platform which is free-to-view and offers
48 standard definition channels, 48 stereophonic digital radio channels and
data broadcasting services. At present, Chinasat-9 is only using four of the 22
transponders. As an exclusive satellite for TV and radio, Chinasat-9’s other
eighteen transponders will be put into use and then it could provide 150–200
standard definition and high definition channels. However, in the future,
whether satellite digital TV could offer subscription services and become a
business operation still needs to be decided.
A public information ‘Push’ channel forms part of the basic service of
digital satellite TV, in order to deliver information to people in rural areas
(‘informationization’). At an earlier time, other government departments pro-
moted the Internet as the solution to the problem of ‘informationization’ of
rural families, but Internet penetration is obviously lower than TV penetra-
tion. Thus, with the Push technology, the satellite operator could push all
sorts of applied information and entertainment content to rural users and,
using VOD, people there could order and receive programmes. At present,
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 102 10/23/09 10:41:50 AM
The Positioning and Current Situation of China’s Digital TV
trials are taking place in Liaoning province and, if successful, implementation
in the national market will follow.
Digital TV in China has already attained some achievement. However, due to
the influence of history, the development environment and competition, it is
confronted with many problems. In order to develop smoothly, China’s digital
TV has to tackle many difficulties, including competitive relationships and coop-
eration between content providers and transmission and distribution networks.
5.1 Competitive Relationships
Digital TV in China now faces two issues of competition – internal and exter-
nal. Internally, there is competition between the cable, satellite and terrestrial
platforms, while, externally, there is direct competition between the TV and
film industry and the telecommunication industry.
Regarding internal competition, although the state government has segre-
gated the strategic positioning of the three digital TV platforms, all three digital
TV platforms could potentially exist within cities from a technical standpoint.
Under the present circumstances, cable, terrestrial and satellite operators
are prepared to consider how to win the competition in future, and they are
developing their own competitive application services as fast as possible. And
some operators, whose businesses are determined by their economic benefits,
have ignored the policy and plan. For example, in 2009, operators in some
areas of Heilongjiang province carried out terrestrial digital TV operations
on a commercial basis, not as a free public service, in rural market without
authorization. So it can be seen that there will be some problems of internal
competition in the digital broadcasting industry if the management is poor.
Turning to external competition, the telecommunications industry has already
become a direct competitor with the digital broadcasting industry. In the past only
broadcasters could offer TV and radio services but now new technology has bro-
ken the broadcasters’ control. Through Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) and mobile
TV, the telecommunications industry could become a powerful competitor.
5.2 Cooperation between content providers and
The relationship between content providers and transmission and distribution
networks is a serious problem in China.
Content providers and transmission and distribution networks are sepa-
rate. The 82
official document has put forward a policy about the separation
between network and TV stations. TV stations are in charge of content, while
different network companies are responsible for transmission and distribution.
With digitalization, the service development needs a close relationship
between TV stations and network companies. However, due to the separation
between them, TV stations feel that digitalization is creating more and more
channels, weakening audience ratings and reducing their advertising income. For
example, in the cities which have introduced on-demand services, users are more
willing to watch movies, TV series and other contents when they wish. So their
time for watching traditional TV channels has decreased significantly. Although
the only viewing rate data system can not reflect these changes, advertisers and
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 103 10/23/09 10:41:50 AM
Zhou Yan
advertising agencies know that the ratings need to be adjusted in cities with
many new digital services and they take this factor into account in their business
dealings. Therefore, the advertising income of traditional TV channels is affected,
and they are not willing to promote digital TV’s development actively.
To strengthen their position, most TV stations have started subscription chan-
nels, but many of them do not operate well and are unable to make ends meet.
These facts further smother the TV stations’ passion for digitalization. However,
digitalization cannot advance without the support of content. Insufficient content
impedes the progress of digitalization. Based on the above perspectives, we can
see that content providers are in conflict with the platforms.
In fact, content providers and networks are interdependent in serving
the consumer. Thus the two should cooperate with each other, since neither
can build a healthy industry by itself (just like P&G and Wal Mart rely on
each other). How to coordinate the relationship between content providers
and networks requires hard thinking. At present, the State Administration of
Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has focused great attention on this prob-
lem and some local broadcasting organizations have promoted better coor-
dination through equity holdings in network companies. Therefore, we hope
content providers and networks will have a harmonious future.
Wang Xiaojie (2009), Media chief editor symposium, the State Administration
of Radio, Film and Television, 8 April.
Zhou Yan (2009a), ‘The positioning and development project of terrestrial
digital TV’, Journal of Media, 6: 3, pp. 30–32.
Zhou Yan (2009b), ‘When DBS meets Cable TV to Every Village’, Journal of
Media, 6: 4, pp. 34–36.
Zhou Yan, Wang Wei and Liu Shan (2009), ‘Digitalization of TV and
Broadcasting: comprehensive upgrade and innovative development, an
interview of Wang Xiaojie, director general of technology department of
the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television’, Journal of Media,
6: 1, pp. 22–25.
Zhang Haitao (2009), ‘CCBN theme lecture’, CCBN2009: Beijing exhibition
hall, 20 March.
Zhou Yan (2010), ‘The Positioning and Current Situation of China’s
Digital TV’, International Journal of Digital Television 1: 1, pp. 95–104,
doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.95/7
Dr Zhou Yan is an Associate Professor of the Communication University of
China and Chief Editor of Media Magazine, which covers research into man-
agement reform and industrialization of traditional media. Her publications
include: Great Changes in China’s Media Market; New Theory of Radio and TV
Industrial Operation; A Study on Formation of the Industrial Policy of Digital TV
in China; 20 years operation of China’s Satellite TV industry; China Digital New
Media Development Strategy Research.
E-mail: zhou.yan@163.com
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Yan_095-104.indd 104 10/23/09 10:41:50 AM
JDTV 1 (1) pp. 105–111 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.105/7
China digital cable TV
Digital TV (DTV)
DTV profit model
China DTV trend
Communication University of China
A Description of China’s
Digital Cable TV Services
Over one third of China’s cable households have now been converted to digital TV.
Most are served by a one-way network but a growing number have two-way inter-
active systems and China’s goal is ‘two-way interactivity and a full service’. This
article will introduce some widely operated and typical services of China’s advanced
digital cable systems and their business models. There are five service types: dig-
ital TV broadcasting; personalized viewing services; information service; interactive
value-added service and telecommunications service. Their business models can be
divided into subscription fees and advertising rates. Then the author will discuss
development trends.
At present, China has cable, terrestrial and satellite digital television, now
that digital terrestrial TV has been trialled in over 100 cities and Chinasat-9
satellite has successfully launched the ‘Cable TV to Every Village’ project.
However, digital cable TV is the most mature platform: terrestrial and satellite
TV are still in their infancy, and are positioned for free public service but not
for commercial operations. So digital cable TV is selected for discussion in this
paper, and its business model and development trends will be analysed.
The reason why the development of digital cable television is the most
mature is because China has adopted a ‘cable first’ strategy. Since the cable
is in more than 200 cities, residents’ standard of living and spending there
are higher, and they have more spiritual and cultural needs; their needs for
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Wei_105-112.indd 105 10/23/09 3:57:17 PM
Wang Wei
digital TV are more urgent. Digital cable TV officially launched commercial
operations in 2003 and by the second quarter of 2009 the number of cable TV
subscribers exceeded 50 million.
While watching television programmes remains the basic service of digital TV,
digital cable has brought new ways of viewing, such as on-demand and cus-
tomizing schedules, and explored a variety of value-added services, such as
information services, online payments, and interactive games. Cable opera-
tors have been implementing two-way networks that are essential for fully
interactive services and will support the launch of further new services in the
1.1 Digital television broadcasting
From the user’s point of view, in terms of content and form, the digital televi-
sion channels are consistent with the original analogue channels, except that
sound and picture quality are improved and the number of channels increased.
An analogue municipal cable network could generally transmit only about
thirty sets of TV channels (50–60 in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai) but
with digitization the number of channels increases to about 100.
Specialized subscription channels were officially launched in 2003 and 155
pay-TV channels had been approved for launch by the end of 2008.
Digital radio services are also carried – both digital versions of existing
services and new specialized pay services such as the ‘Jazz Music Radio’ and
‘Opera Radio’ operated by Beijing All Media and Culture Group.
High definition digital television (HDTV) is seen as an inevitable devel-
opment. At China’s National Day ceremony in 1999 HDTV was successfully
tested. In 2005 China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast the first HDTV
pay-channel, and the Shanghai Media Group and China Film Corporation
followed suit. HDTV was originally positioned as a premium service, but
since 2008 this has started to change. In order to promote the development
of the HDTV industry, CCTV launched a free high definition channel which
could be broadcast terrestrially as well as by cable. HDTV in China is still in
its infancy.
1.2 Personalized viewing services
In addition, China’s digital cable TV can also provide several forms of personal-
ized viewing, such as video-on-demand (VOD), push VOD (PUSH), electronic
programme guides (EPG) and catch-up time-shift services.
VOD has become the most common two-way network business operated
by China’s digital operators. At least 60 or 70 operators have made it into
a business. The WASU digital television company in Hangzhou in Zhejiang
province is the best example. Television drama is the most popular category
and research data from April 2009 showed that the viewing rate of each cat-
egory of television drama on-demand in WASU was more than 10 per cent
(Media Magazine 2009).
In 2008 the cable television network in Liaoning Province was the first to
experiment with push VOD technology in the implementation of the Cultural
Information Resources Sharing Project. Set-top boxes with 160G hard disks were
installed in rural households to record downloaded material. The cable television
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Wei_105-112.indd 106 10/23/09 3:57:17 PM
A Description of China’s Digital Cable TV Services
network operator can push a variety of video e-books to their set-top boxes dur-
ing off-peak hours, so that the farmers can watch when they wish and learn
agricultural knowledge. From the users’ point of view, this feels like interactive
television, while for the network operator it is an efficient use of bandwidth and
avoids the need for the high-cost investment of a two-way cable system.
‘The EPG is the gate keeper in a new era. It determines what the user can
see, and what can be more easily seen’ (Huang Shengmin 2002). From the
subscribers’ point of view, the EPG can provide a range of features, such as
a ‘programme parade’ for the week, content retrieval, programme booking,
channel list editing, and programme recommendation. Through these diverse
functions, the EPG can help users to get a customized and personalized view-
ing environment. It is also very common for network operators to use the EPG
interface for advertising.
With a ‘catch-up’ time shift service, cable users can watch the content
broadcast in the past and use the remote control for fast forward, rewind,
pause and other functions by time shift service. A number of operators have
provided this service, including Zibo Skynet Video Company, WASU and
Shanghai Oriental Cable Network.
1.3 Public Information Service
Qingdao Cable was the first operator to provide a public information service
on China’s digital cable TV. In 2003, in order to promote the digital TV and
to let the user experience the differences between digital and analogue televi-
sion, Qingdao Cable launched a data and graphics service providing informa-
tion closely related to daily life – on topics like catering, real estate, tourism,
job vacancies, health care, automobile, useful phone numbers, bookings and
so on. Generally speaking, a local network can provide more than ten main
‘daily life’ categories and nearly 100 subcategories of such daily life informa-
tion. In addition, through the provision of government information, Qingdao
Cable provides a platform for the local government to communicate with peo-
ple. So the public information service was commended when it was launched
and now it is one of the basic services of cable digital TV.
The public information service has developed from a one-way to a two-
way process, from browsing to interactivity. In Shenzhen for example, the user
can learn about his labour insurance payments by entering his identity card
number, using the remote control. In Qingdao, the viewer can reserve airline
tickets online through this service. Moreover, the catering searching service
has changed into a ‘call meal online’ service, and shopping information has
changed into shopping online. In Hangzhou, users can make reservations,
book transport, and purchase tickets for sports events and other perform-
ances. Once the cable system has been changed from one-way to two-way,
the public information service changes from ‘read only’ into ‘can be used’,
so that the dream of digital TV becoming the family multimedia information
platform becomes a reality.
1.4 Interactive value-added services
After the two-way reconstruction of cable network, digital TV operators in each
area began to explore a variety of interactive value-added services actively.
In 2006, digital cable TV network operators in China started to launch
online payment businesses. WASU was the first cable digital TV operator to
launch this service in December 2006, under the name of ‘Family Financial
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Wei_105-112.indd 107 10/23/09 3:57:17 PM
Wang Wei
Management’. Then in March 2007, Qingdao formally launched ‘Home Pay’
system. And in October 2007, Shenzhen launched ‘Tianwei Union Pay’ service.
Now more and more operators provide this service; so the users can do shop-
ping, pay bills, get bank account information, and so on, through digital TV.
China’s cable operators also make use of digital television to provide
online interactive game services. WASU has nearly 30 million registered users
and nearly 2 million paid subscribers. Other interactive services include kara-
oke and sending greetings cards.
1.5 Telecommunications service
Cable television has always had the capability to provide broadband access,
phone calls and other telecommunication services. However, in the past, gov-
ernment policy in China did not allow cable and telecommunications opera-
tors to engage in each other’s business.
Continuing the Separation of Businesses between the Telecommunication
Department and the Radio and Television Department:
It is provided that the telecommunication department is prohibited
from engaging in the radio and television business and the radio and
television department is prohibited from engaging in the communica-
tion business, and this provision shall be firmly enforced and executed.
(General Office of the State Council 1999)
However, in January 2008, convergence was recognized as an inevitable trend
and ‘Policies of Encouraging the Development of Digital Television Industry’
were drawn up by the National Development and Reform Commission and
Other Departments.
Promote ‘convergence of three networks’
Relevant departments shall strengthen overall planning and manage-
ment on such Internet information resources as the broadband commu-
nication network, digital television network and next generation Internet
so as to promote sharing of Internet and information resources.
(General Office of the State Council 2008)
Currently, many cable networks have launched broadband access services.
WASU in Hangzhou and Shanghai Oriental Cable Network each have
more than 20 million users and Shenzhen Topway has reached nearly
300,000. Telecommunications services on cable will grow in number and
Subscription fees and advertising revenue are the main sources of income of
digital television.
2.1 Subscription fees
The basic subscription fee covers around 100 television channels, plus radio
and information services. Analogue cable’s basic subscription charge of
around 10–12 RMB per month can increase, with digitalization, to about
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Wei_105-112.indd 108 10/23/09 3:57:17 PM
A Description of China’s Digital Cable TV Services
20 RMB, providing a stable source of income to operators. In a fixed price
market (as the base number of subscribers is stable) it is easy for network
operators to reach saturation if they only rely on the basic subscription. So
they need to start more services to get more profit.
For VOD operators charge basic VOD subscriptions, additional video
packages and pay-per-view. In the case of WASU, for example, the basic
VOD subscription is 35 RMB per month: a boutique video package, covering
the latest online films and TV programmes, costs an extra 18 RMB per month.
Pay-per-view charges are normally 2–5 RMB for a film or 0.5 RMB for a TV
series. From these VOD charges, WASU can get annual revenue of nearly one
million RMB.
Subscription TV channels can be charged either singly or as a package.
WASU provides five different channel packages for fees ranging from 12 to 30
RMB per month.
2.2 New advertising revenue
Based on digital technology, operators have developed a series of new adverts
on cable digital TV to bring in extra income: adverts on the EPG; adverts
within the public information service; adverts at the start of a VOD service;
and adverts embedded in value-added services such as games. In general,
new forms of digital cable advertising are only just starting to develop and
have a long way to go before reaching maturity.
China’s digital cable TV has developed from scratch, with its own characteris-
tics. The goal is two-way interactivity and a full service and, in achieving this,
marketing will be an important factor.
3.1 Two-way interaction and full service are the
inevitable trend
At present the one-way network is still the main system in China’s digital
cable TV industry, with one-way services still the mainstream. The sophis-
ticated features of the systems in Hangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen are
the exception rather than the norm in China. However, in 2006 the State
Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) announced that ‘two-
way interactivity and full-service’ is the direction of development (Wang
Taihua 2006). In December 2008, the ‘Independent innovation co-operation
protocol of national high-performance broadband network and the next
generation broadcasting network’ was signed by SARFT and the Ministry
of Science and Technology. Under this protocol the next generation broad-
casting network should be able to provide HDTV, digital audio programmes,
high-speed data access and three-network convergence services; this will cre-
ate an integrated information platform for science and technology, education,
culture, health, business and other industries.
3.2 Promoting the business by enhancing service
Historically, digital cable TV operators in China have been technical service
suppliers, since, in the long era of analogue television, their networks were
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Wei_105-112.indd 109 10/23/09 3:57:17 PM
Wang Wei
used essentially for signal transmission. There was no concept of customer
service. But now operators realize they have to provide thoughtful and metic-
ulous service to users, both to promote the use of new services and to com-
pete with new competitors, such as IPTV, Mobile TV, etc. Cable operators
have to change their attitude to marketing:
Changes brought by digitalization are not only in technology, but serv-
ice concept, method, content and system, which are more important. So
it requires us to accelerate the establishment of consumer service system
adapted to the development of digitalization.
(Zhang Haitao 2009)
Zhang also said that SARFT will publish customer service standards for digital
cable TV.
3.3 Economies of scale by service integration
There is a serious shortcoming in China’s cable network, which is its regional
diversity. Across the country there are nearly 200 cities, each with its own
cable network and operator. But, outside the large developed cities, most
of them have a very small amount of users and find it difficult to achieve
economies of scale. With digitalization, this fragmented pattern has become
increasingly unsuitable to the needs of the industry. If each city had to build
its own front-end platform, purchase and package the content, and under-
take the marketing, most of the operators in developing cities could not cope
financially. In these circumstances, some network operators have investigated
the idea of integrating their services with those of an established operator in
a large developed city. WASU has been in the vanguard here. The coopera-
tion model is: WASU provides its VOD content database to the local network
operator, the local network operator provides the basic network, and the ‘two
wheels’ share the income. Through this cooperation, local network opera-
tors save money on the front-end platform and on content purchasing, while
WASU also enlarges its customer base and increases its income from its con-
tent investment. This kind of cooperation can secure economies of scale with-
out infringing the interest of either partner and is potentially of great benefit
to the development of digital cable TV in China.
3.4 Video business mainly conducted by the
broadcasting industry for 3–5 years
In addition to the broadcasting industry, the telecommunications industry is
also trying to provide video services by IPTV (Internet Protocol Television),
mobile TV and other forms. However, on current evidence, broadcasters will
remain the main providers for at least a few years. There are many limitations
for telecommunications operators entering the video business. First of all, the
telecommunications network is not suitable for large-capacity transmission of
video-type content. If telecommunications companies want to get involved
in the video business, they have to carry out a large-scale transformation of
network, so that the network can get enough bandwidth to transmit video
content. Secondly, the broadcasters have been accumulating content for dec-
ades, but the telecommunication industry has to start from scratch. Third, the
cable digital TV also receives great support from national policies relating to
taxation, prices, business, investment and financing and other fields, and, as
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Wei_105-112.indd 110 10/23/09 3:57:17 PM
A Description of China’s Digital Cable TV Services
newcomers, the telecommunications industry will find it very difficult to get
similar policies. Fourth, from the user’s point of view, cable digital TV is estab-
lished in families’ relatively fixed viewing habits. So, on this basis, it may be
inferred that the video business will be mainly conducted by the broadcasting
industry for the next few years.
General Office of the State Council (1999), Circular on Strengthening
Construction and Management of Radio and Television Cable Networks,
Beijing: The General Office of the State Council.
General Office of the State Council (2008), Policies on Encouraging the
Development of Digital Television Industry, Beijing: The General Office of
the State Council.
Huang Shengmin (2002), ‘Digital TV industry management and business
model’, Wuja Press in China, Beijing.
Media Magazine (2009), ‘The report of value-added services of cable digital
television in 12 areas in China’, 240: 27, p. 102.
Wang Taihua, Minister of the State Administration of Radio Film and
Television [SARFT, (2006), speech at The conference of National digitaliza-
tion of digital television promotion, Dalian.
Zhang Haitao (Deputy minister of the State Administration of Radio Film and
Television [SARFT]) (2009), ‘The theme speech’, China Cable Broadcasting
Network Exhibition 2009, Beijing Exhibition Hall, 21 March.
Wang Wei (2010), ‘A description of China’s digital cable TV services’, International
Journal of Digital Television 1: 1, pp. 105–111, doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.105/7
Wang Wei, Ph.D., is a Lecturer at the Communication University of China
and Editorial Director of Media Magazine, which is engaged in digital new
media research. Publications include: Information Platform of the Family: New
Breakthroughs in Digital TV Business; China Digital TV Report 2007; China Digital
New Media Development Strategy Research.
E-mail: adweiwei@yahoo.com.cn
JDTV 1.1_2_comm_Wei_105-112.indd 111 10/23/09 3:57:18 PM
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JDTV 1 (1) pp. 113–115 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.113/7
Digital Television in
Developing Countries?
Reflections from the
Broadcasting Association’s
Asia-Pacific Conference in
There can be few more exotic locations to gather for a broadcasting conference
than the South Pacific Island Kingdom of Tonga, where the Commonwealth
Broadcasting Association (CBA) held its Asia-Pacific regional conference in
February 2009. Tonga lies north-east of New Zealand and east of Fiji, close
to the International Date Line. It has a population of just over 100,000 but
encompasses 171 separate islands (to which another one was recently added
JDTV_1.1_conf-ref_Starks_113-116.indd 113 10/24/09 12:02:19 PM
Michael Starks
by a volcanic eruption from the sea). Most of the people live on the main
island, Tongatapu, and it was in the capital city here that the CBA organized
its conference.
The conference delegates were drawn from Australia, New Zealand and
South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Brunei, and Taiwan, as well as the Pacific Island
nations of Fiji, Papua-New Guinea, the Cook Islands, the Solomon Islands,
Samoa, Vanuatu and Kiribati. Digital television was a sub-set of the main
agenda, with the focus on regulatory and technical planning. Australian and
New Zealand broadcasters and regulators, in particular, had plenty of experi-
ence of the challenges of launching digital television within a strategy designed
to lead to analogue switch off. However, the conference session aimed prima-
rily to provide a forum in which to consider the relevance of digital television
to less developed and – certainly in the case of the Pacific Islands – often very
small countries.
A starting assumption, voiced by one of the Tongan representatives, was
that this was a development which could wait for a decade or two, after all
the large economically-advanced nations had completed their digital tran-
sitions, streamlined the process and brought the costs down. However, a
Fijian government representative was a platform speaker, explaining how
his country was already planning to embark on the transition, and South
Africa has already started.
Opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association’s Asia-Pacific conference in Tonga.
JDTV_1.1_conf-ref_Starks_113-116.indd 114 10/23/09 11:31:12 AM
Digital Television in Developing Countries?
The arguments for waiting are, in a sense, obvious, especially in coun-
tries where television ownership is limited, where consumer spending power
is low, and where governments and public agencies have much more urgent
development priorities. However, some other points are worth considering:
Once the main advanced economies of the world have switched fully •
to digital television, analogue broadcasting equipment, from cameras to
transmitters, will slowly become obsolescent (although, of course, this can
also bring a temporary increase in second-hand discarded gear).
In other spheres, from airplanes to audio equipment, modern technology •
often penetrates developing countries quite swiftly and sits, somewhat
incongruously, within a relatively under-developed agricultural economy.
There can be advantages in technological ‘leapfrogging’, as exemplified •
by the spread of the mobile phone in countries with limited landline net-
works: if you were going to start a new television system from scratch
now, you would certainly think about an all-digital design.
The substitution of digital terrestrial television for analogue, with a tran- •
sition period of simulcasting, can take many years (just look at the UK,
where planning started in the mid-1990s and analogue switch off will be
complete at the end of 2012). Low consumer spending power and lim-
ited public funding can prolong the transition period. Therefore, even if
a developing country sees analogue switch off as at least a decade away,
there may still be a case for starting work in areas like spectrum planning.
For small countries which belong to a wider economic group, there may •
be advantage to be gained, through economies of scale, in collaborating
with like-minded neighbours, e.g. in the choice of technical standards and
the specification of equipment.
Indeed, on this last point, Rick Ellis, Chief Executive of TVNZ, having described
New Zealand’s own plans for digital switchover, stated:
Whilst the transition to digital in the Pacific Islands is likely to be some
years out, I believe it would be strategically beneficial for the Pacific Forum
of Leaders to consider establishing a working group to agree a common
pan-Pacific approach to digital transition and standards, so that the Pacific
can reap the benefits of standardization and economies of scale.
Some sort of harmonization with Australia and New Zealand would
also make sense, so that technical support, equipment supply etc. can
continue to be provided in the same way that TVNZ has supported the
analogue services in the Pacific over the past several years.
JDTV_1.1_conf-ref_Starks_113-116.indd 115 10/23/09 11:31:15 AM
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JDTV_1.1_conf-ref_Starks_113-116.indd 116 10/28/09 12:07:11 PM
117 117
JDTV 1 (1) pp. 117–120 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.117/7
Digital TV and
Democratic Media in
Post-Communist Europe:
Reflections from the
‘Beyond East and West’
Conference Hosted by the
Central European University
in Budapest
The ‘Beyond East and West’ conference held in Budapest in June 2009 looked
at two decades of media transformation in Central and Eastern Europe fol-
lowing the collapse of Communism in 1989. It was organized by the Center
for Media and Communication Studies at the Central European University in
Budapest, in collaboration with the International Communication Association
(ICA) and the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of
Pennsylvania. It also marked the closure of the European Co-operation in the
JDTV_1.1_conf-ref_Starks2_117-120.indd 117 10/24/09 12:03:35 PM
Michael Starks
field of Scientific and Technical Research (COST) programme of research into
Central and East European media issues.
The conference looked back at what had happened to the high hopes
and westernizing aspirations that followed the dramatic events of 1989
and set out to assess the future of communications in the emerging new
environment. However, it began with a challenge to western stereotypes
of a sudden collapse of Communism in 1989, symbolized by the toppling
of Communist leaders’ statues: a better image, said ICA President Barbie
Zelizer, was of Communism slowly melting ‘like butter in the sun’ and still
doing so.
From today’s perspective, it is perhaps no surprise that Central and
East European state broadcasting was not swiftly replaced during the
1990s by an idealized set of western-style public service broadcasters. Early
naivety has now been tempered by a much fuller understanding of the
forces of continuity, economic constraints and foreign commercial capital.
Nonetheless, Central and East European media experts retain aspirations
to construct broadcasting systems which can underpin well-informed open
democracies. They, of course, appreciate that the technological and com-
mercial environment of the twenty-first century looks very different from
that in which Western Europe’s long-established public service broad-
casting institutions were born. So the implications of digitization for the
media’s role in democracy became one of the strands of conference papers
and debate.
Introducing a survey of television in nine European countries, with the
subtitle ‘More Channels, Less Independence’, Mark Thompson of the Open
Society Institute presented a gloomy picture (‘Television Across Europe’,
Open Society Institute and Open Society Foundation Monitoring Report,
2008). He announced a new Open Society Institute project to examine the
potential impact of digital switchover on media freedom, pluralism and
New media technology, of course, neither ensures, nor prevents,
democracy – but it can be a valuable tool. First, the advent of digital televi-
sion provides governments and regulators with an opportunity to broaden
the number of broadcasters and sources of news and current affairs coverage.
Public service broadcasters who are allocated additional channels can have
their public service objectives sharpened. Spectrum can be found for new
regional and local television services.
Second, the synergies now developing between television and the Internet
do offer improvements. Television editors now regularly design programmes
of broad appeal for broadcast transmission, with the provision of a website
address for those who want to find more local or more personally relevant
information as a follow-up.
Third, the development of programme downloading and of on-demand
services is transferring scheduling power to the viewer and disaggregating the
audience. Simultaneous mass consumption of a single programme is becom-
ing a rarer event. Individuals pursue their own tastes and interests in a self-
service supermarket of segmented choices, with the digital TV schedules, the
on-demand libraries and the Internet as resources. While for some, including
the University of Pennsylvania’s Elihu Katz, this disaggregation represents a
social and national loss, it should mean that the central control of a coun-
try’s information agenda, and the scope for manipulation which this offers, is
JDTV_1.1_conf-ref_Starks2_117-120.indd 118 10/28/09 11:36:39 AM
Digital TV and Democratic Media in Post-Communist Europe
‘Beyond East and West’ conference at the Central European University in Budapest.
JDTV_1.1_conf-ref_Starks2_117-120.indd 119 10/23/09 11:40:04 AM
Michael Starks
Some diary dates for events of international interest in the first half of 2010.
Consumer Electronics Show
January 7–10, 2010
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
National Association of Broadcasters Show
April 10–15, 2010
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Conference
April 17–21, 2010
Johannesburg, South Africa
International Communication Association Annual Conference
June 22–26, 2010
JDTV_1.1_conf-ref_Starks2_117-120.indd 120 10/23/09 11:40:10 AM
JDTV 1 (1) pp. 121–126 Intellect Limited 2010
International Journal of Digital Television
Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Reviews. English language. doi: 10.1386/jdtv.1.1.121/4
HARTLEY (2009)
Digital Media and Society Series, UK and USA: Polity Press, 140 pp.,
ISBN 9780745644783, Hardback, £45.00
Reviewed by Abigail Thomas, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The first sentence of this book is entirely factual but startling; it reminds us
that YouTube was only launched in 2005. Like all cultural phenomena, it is
now impossible to imagine life – and certainly the Internet – without YouTube.
Burgess (a Research Fellow at Queensland University of Technology) and
Green (a Postdoctoral Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
track the website’s short but intense history with the aim of pinpointing ‘the
YouTubeness of YouTube’ [p. 39].
The most fascinating part of the book is the authors’ survey of the 4000-odd
most popular videos on YouTube between August to November 2007. This
highlights how users consume and engage with user-generated videos and
mainstream media videos in subtly different ways. One significant distinction
that emerged was that while videos sourced from mainstream media – which
incidentally had mostly been uploaded by individual users – were the most
popular in terms of number of views, it was the user-generated videos which
were inspiring most discussion and responses.
Some of the case studies, such as the analysis of Corey Delaney and his
infamous party invitation, are entertaining but now seem somewhat dated.
More recent episodes such as the Susan Boyle video and the use of YouTube
during the Iran election would obviously resonate more with readers. There
JDTC 1.2_rev_Thomas_121-126.indd 121 10/23/09 11:48:05 AM
is an inherent challenge in writing about such a fast-moving technical and
cultural phenomenon as YouTube in a book format. Perhaps the value of a
book such as this is that it captures a moment in time. The authors describe
YouTube as an ‘accidental archive’ [p. 88] and their book serves as a catalogue
to the origins and evolution of that archive, four years into its lifespan. One
symbolic shift is the transition from the site’s original stated purpose of ‘Your
Digital Video Repository’ to the more direct ‘Broadcast Yourself’.
The authors describe how the various subgroups on YouTube are mould-
ing the site over time, while each believing that it has been designed spe-
cifically for them. One example is that the site does not overtly cater for
collaboration and community-building but users have developed ‘work-
arounds’ to compensate, using supplementary sites like live video chat site
‘Stickam’ to create a real-time conversation around YouTube videos. This is
enabled by the tools YouTube provides to embed content on other sites like
blogs, which increases its reach. Many users will encounter YouTube videos
several times a day without ever visiting the site directly, via links on other
sites. Recent demographic figures suggest that YouTube is now accessed very
evenly across all age groups and is firmly integrated into people’s daily hab-
its. One slight criticism of the book is that it fails to acknowledge this and
implies that YouTube’s audience is largely a young one – although this could
also be due to the date of their study.
The accidental and unplanned nature of YouTube is a constant theme in
the book, significant perhaps because YouTube is now so influential across all
demographics and countries and yet, as a commercial entity, it is not required
to take responsibility for its cultural impact. For example, the site’s commer-
cial decision to develop localized country versions may actually be damaging
for global cultural citizenship: ‘perhaps US-based YouTube participants need
a globalised YouTube far more than the rest of the world needs a “localised”
one’ [p. 86].
Two essays by Henry Jenkins and John Hartley complement the book.
Jenkins’ analysis of various pre-existing communities who integrated YouTube
into their habitual practices is fascinating. He discusses the Star Trek ‘fan vid-
ders’ who have, for decades, painstakingly created their own mash-ups using
analogue technology. YouTube now offers them far easier ways of making and
sharing their creations but these users are still ambivalent about its promise
of instant fame; they are nervous about falling into legal copyright traps and
wary of their highly personal creations being commercialized or viewed out of
context. Hartley’s piece neatly compares digital and print literacy and exam-
ines the archetypes and structures of stories but the argument’s relevance to
YouTube is slightly unclear.
In general, the book is engaging and accessible for both industry and gen-
eral readers although some of the more academic language and theories may
be off-putting, particularly in Hartley’s essay.
Abigail Thomas is Head of Strategic Development, ABC Innovation, Australian
Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney.
E-mail: Thomas.abigail.e@abc.net.au
JDTC 1.2_rev_Thomas_121-126.indd 122 10/23/09 11:48:05 AM
VUBPRESS, 244 pp., ISBN 978 90 5487 541 3, Paperback, £ 19.95
Reviewed by Martin L. Bell
Ever since the introduction of digital television began, trying to keep track of
what was happening in different countries has been far from straightforward:
the pace of change was too fast. No sooner had a short report on a country’s
position been published than it would go out of date. Regulatory bodies might
have second thoughts; companies new and old might reconsider their busi-
ness plans, or founder under market pressure. New technology variants might
come along to upset recently established certainties or to open more options.
Cautious governments were circumspect about setting dates for the closure
of analogue services, while incautious ones chose wildly optimistic timescales
for doing so, and soon had to think again. Now, more than ten years after the
first digital television services launched, markets are maturing, digital switch-
overs are taking place (or are complete) in an increasing number of countries,
and those nations yet to introduce digital services have the benefit of a clearer
road map in the example of those that have successfully gone before. Perhaps
now, because things are beginning to settle down, the editors of this new
survey, Digital Television in Europe, will find that their publication may enjoy a
longer shelf life, although they acknowledge in their introduction that change
is still happening rapidly and that their overview can only be a snapshot of a
particular moment in time.
In compiling this work the editors – Wendy Van den Broeck and Jo Pierson,
both academics at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium – have commissioned
reports on most of the countries of the EU, written in each case by nationals
of those countries, in an initiative that came from within COST – European
Co-operation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research.
Most of the contributors are academics – ranging from Ph.D. students to
professors – all of whom declare an interest in, and very often a participation
in, studies relating to the emerging and converging communications technol-
ogies and the way they might impinge upon various facets of society, with a
fashionable emphasis on interactive television and the once widely-held belief
that it will facilitate all manner of new services which feature on the e-business
and e-government wish lists. A number, in their helpful brief biographies
at the end of the book, mention their involvement with one or other of the
COST working groups. In their search for detail, these contributors have been
assiduous in trawling the byways of websites belonging to the responsible
national organizations, public and private, helpfully listing them in a handy
reference section at the end of each entry.
Twenty-three European countries within the European Union are covered
in this book. There is much detail in all the entries, some of which are longer
than others. The editors have sought to impose a common structure for each
entry: a description of the country and its TV market; an account of the intro-
duction of digital television; the present status with details of each platform
and what role the government has played. However, many contributors stray
from this, often inventing their own section titles. Some put detailed com-
parisons between platform service offerings in tabular form, but there is little
JDTC 1.2_rev_Thomas_121-126.indd 123 10/23/09 11:48:05 AM
consistency of approach here, and many contributors choose not to use tables.
This is a pity since comparing the costs to the consumer and the multiple
service offerings of three platforms, cable, satellite and terrestrial (or in some
cases four, where IPTV services have launched) is necessarily complex, and
the effect of these inconsistencies is to make it difficult for the reader to draw
comparisons between countries.
Perhaps the most worrying inconsistency is in the treatment of interac-
tive services – or the lack of them. While some contributors have written
quite good accounts of the introduction of digital television, with references
to interactive content in passing (the entry on Spain’s convoluted roll-out is
particularly good), others have written mainly about the history of interactive
service pilots and service launches (and failures) in their country with only
the scantiest reference to the all important context of television broadcast-
ing. One wonders at times whether some of the contributors understand their
subject sufficiently well, especially since there is an almost universal lack of
discussion about the technology used by competing systems. The UK entry
gets the balance about right, and makes some useful observations about the
limitations of interactivity on a television set. This entry provides good exam-
ples of how, apart from one or two particular applications, the early hopes
of a multitude of innovative services have evaporated in the face of technical
shortcomings, usability issues, and lack of interest on the part of a public (who
much prefer this kind of thing on their computers).
Despite its inconsistencies and shortcomings, this is a useful reference
work, available at modest cost, and is probably unique outside the very
expensive subscription studies which appear from time to time from specialist
After being a television producer for much of his career, Martin L. Bell worked
for ten years on the introduction of digital television broadcasting; first at the
BBC, where he was responsible for some early demonstrations of DTT and
formulated procedures for the digital simulcasting of widescreen programmes,
and later, he was Director of Communications for the Digital TV Group, a
cross-industry association. His book, Inventing Digital Television – The Inside
Story of a Technology Revolution, was published in 2007.
E-mail: martinbell42@btinternet.com
JDTC 1.2_rev_Thomas_121-126.indd 124 10/23/09 11:48:05 AM
Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke, 234 pp.,
ISBN-13 978-1-4039-9890-3, Paperback
(also available in hardback), £18.99
Reviewed by Martin L. Bell
It has been many years now since the owner of a car could open the bonnet,
look at the engine inside it and, without the benefit of any specialist training,
have a fairly good idea what all the bits were for. And the kid standing on a sta-
tion platform trainspotting knew intuitively how a steam engine worked just by
looking at it. The old idea that if you used machinery you should know some-
thing about how it worked has gone, and I blame electronics. The miracle com-
munications devices of the present generation seem to be all black boxes (or in
the case of my old PC, a rather undistinguished grey) and what goes on inside
goes completely unremarked by users. Opening up the box and peering inside
doesn’t help. The worry is that as large numbers of our brightest youngsters
opt for media and communications studies at school and university, they will
qualify and proceed to their chosen careers without the foggiest idea of how the
kit actually works. Imagine having an airline pilot who didn’t know how the
aircraft functioned, and just sat there and pointed it in the right direction.
So it comes as a great relief to know that the Institute of Communications
Studies at the University of Leeds counts amongst its teaching staff Stephen
Lax, who is Senior Lecturer in Communications Technology, and the author
of this book, Media and Communication Technologies – A Critical Introduction,
which should be compulsory reading for every undergraduate heading, starry-
eyed, towards the ephemeral glamour of the media.
Lax gives capable summaries of the various communications technologies
that have appeared, including the very earliest semaphore telegraphs of the eight-
eenth century, through the appearance of telegraphy – wired in the mid-1800s
and wireless after 1900 – telephony and its wireless relative radio of the 1920s,
television broadcasting after 1936 and their digital descendants in the 1990s. He
also explores cable and satellite distribution – first with communications satel-
lites in the 1960s, then high powered satellite-to-cable-head-end distribution
(the pioneers Home Box Office and CNN in the mid-1960s) and finally direct-
to-home medium powered satellites (the original Sky TV began broadcasting in
1982). Taking a deep breath, Stephen Lax then goes on to deal with the rise of
computers, the web, mobile communications and, inevitably, convergence.
This is a broad canvas indeed, and while the brushwork (so to speak) is
deft and assured the effect in places is that of pointillism. Explanations of the
various technologies are necessarily simple and succinct, as are the accompa-
nying accounts of the social, economic and political contexts which encour-
aged each technical advance. Lax’s narrative has a clarity and bounce while
dealing with the relatively simple technologies of telegraphy, telephony
and analogue broadcasting. From time to time some basic technologies are
explained in separate boxed sections on the page with the use of diagrams.
The author is less clear when dealing with the highly complex technologies
of digital broadcasting. I can forgive him this: I struggled for years to com-
prehend MPEG coding and the modulation system COFDM, which is used
JDTC 1.2_rev_Thomas_121-126.indd 125 10/23/09 11:48:05 AM
in DAB and DVB-T (amongst others). And I know, because I have tried and
failed to find it, that there exists no simple explanation of Coded Orthogonal
Frequency Division Multiplexing! But it is a very clever set of mathematical
tools which, even half understood, is wondrous. Lax regrettably fails to com-
municate the wondrousness of the more recently invented technologies, but
then that is not, I suppose, his main purpose, but he is good on the awe with
which the earlier technologies were greeted by an enthusiastic public.
I have some minor quibbles. In the chapter on early television broadcast-
ing Lax does not properly explain Baird’s ‘Intermediate Film System’ (a classic
technological dead end if ever there was one), or point out that extensive use
of this technique took place in Germany in the 1930s, pre-dating Baird’s adop-
tion of it. And reading about the launch of the BBC Television Service in 1936,
I was irritated at the description of the competing all-electronic system as ‘the
Emitron system’. The Emitron was the trade name of EMI’s all-electronic cam-
era tube: the system was – and is – properly called the Marconi-EMI system.
The two companies formed a partnership, with EMI concentrating on the cam-
era and studio systems, and Marconi largely on the transmitter and aerial. And
in a rather confused section, Lax says that Europe adopted the 405-line system.
This is not the case: many differing standards were in use before and immedi-
ately after World War II, but Britain was the only country to use 405-lines. And
the 625-line system was later conceived as a pan-European standard and was
universally adopted in both West and Eastern Europe and many other coun-
tries where American influence did not prevail. But these examples are surely
the understandable result of condensing a complex subject into 200-odd pages,
and seeking explanations which will require no previous technical knowledge.
The author’s sure touch largely returns in the later chapters on comput-
ers, convergence and mobile communications, in which there is more about
digital audio broadcasting technologies, and useful explanations of things like
WAP, GPRS and 3G, and of Wi-Fi and the concept of a wirelessly intercon-
nected home.
In his final chapter, ‘An Information Society?’, Stephen Lax writes a con-
vincingly measured judgement on what this ever quickening onrush of new
communications technologies means for our society. He is at pains to refute
the claims made often – by politicians seeking credit, by journalists looking
for a story, but also by widely quoted academics – that we are entering a new
‘knowledge society’ or ‘information age’ where our society will be reformed
and further democratized in a final move away from the industrial society
of the last two hundred years. In a careful critique of these views, he argues
instead that these new technologies have reinforced rather than fundamen-
tally altered the way our society is ordered.
This is a useful book, well researched and written, worth having not just
as the reference work it was probably intended to be, but because it is a good
read which offers worthwhile perspectives on the introduction of new com-
munications technologies and their social causes and effects.
Martin L. Bell’s biographical details are given at the end of the preceding book
E-mail: martinbell42@btinternet.com
JDTC 1.2_rev_Thomas_121-126.indd 126 10/23/09 11:48:05 AM
Michael Starks is an Associate of Oxford University’s Programme in
Comparative Media Law and Policy. He is a leading expert in digital television
and, in particular, in the field of public policy associated with the switch of
entire nations to digital TV. He is the author of Switching to Digital Television,
published in 2007 by Intellect Books and the University of Chicago Press.
From 2002 to 2004, Michael Starks managed the UK Digital TV Project,
working for the UK Government in close collaboration with all the stakehold-
ers, to plan the strategy for the UK’s full transition to digital. Prior to that, he
led the BBC’s initial feasibility study of digital television and its Free-to-View
Digital TV Project, which culminated in the launch of Freeview. He was the
founding Chairman of the UK Digital TV Group.
Michael Starks now works in Oxford – writing, lecturing and consult-
ing on digital television. He is a member of the Senior Common Room at
Lady Margaret Hall. In 2007 he was a Research Visitor at the University of
Melbourne in Australia and in 2008 became a Visiting Fellow at the China
Media Centre at the University of Westminster. Between 2005 and 2007
he advised the New Zealand Government and, in 2008, the Broadcasting
Commission and Government of Jamaica on digital switchover policy.
Jeffrey Hart is Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington,
where he has taught international politics and international political economy
since 1981. His first teaching position was at Princeton University from 1973
to 1980. He was a professional staff member of the President’s Commission
for a National Agenda for the Eighties from 1980 to 1981. He worked as
an internal contractor at the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S.
Congress 1985–86 and helped to write their report, International Competition
in Services (1987). Jeffrey Hart’s books include The New International Economic
Order (1983), Interdependence in the Post Multilateral Era (1985), Rival Capitalists
(1992), Globalization and Governance (1999), Managing New Industry Creation
(2001), (with Joan Spero) The Politics of International Economic Relations 5
, 6
and 7
editions, and Technology, Television, and Competition (2004).
Jock Given is Professor of Media and Communications at the Institute of Social
Research at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author
of Turning Off the Television: Broadcasting’s Uncertain Future and America’s Pie:
Trade and Culture after 9/11. He was previously Director of the Communications
Law Centre at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Policy Advisor
at the Australian Film Commission and Director, Broadcasting Legislation
and Industry Economics, Department of Transport and Communications in
Canberra. His book Turning off the Television: Broadcasting’s Uncertain Future
was published by UNSW Press in 2003. His doctoral thesis about Ernest Fisk
(managing director of AWA in Sydney from 1917–44 and of EMI in London
from 1945–51) was accepted by the University of Melbourne in 2007. He
now writes, researches and teaches about communications law and policy,
especially digital broadcasting, media ownership, international trade and the
history of multinational media enterprises.
JDTV Editors' Details & NFC_127-128.indd 127 10/23/09 11:50:04 AM
The journal would like to invite contributions in the
following broad areas:
• Trends in the TV business: audiences, platforms,
finance, institutions
• Policy and economics:
• National case studies, comparative analysis and
lessons for the future
• Cost-benefit analysis, public expenditure, subsi-
• Spectrum management: pricing, allocation and
auctioning, ‘digital dividends’
• Digital television and developing nations
• Social and cultural issues:
• The ‘digital divide’
• Global services and national cultures
• New services and developments:
• Mobile TV
• Innovations in downloading and recording
• High definition television and flat-screen
receiver technology
• Broadband, Internet TV, on-demand and hybrid
• Technology: standard setting, industrial policy,
platform interoperability
• Law and regulation: copyright, freedom of expres-
sion, pluralism
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When articles are accepted, you will be asked to sign
an Author’s Agreement Form (available from the
Please be sure to list, embedded in your article:
• The article title
• The author’s name and a short-form affilia-
tion (e.g. Jock Given, Swinburne University,
• An abstract, summarizing the article in 100–150
• Five or six keywords (e.g. digital, analogue,
television, regulation, Japan)
• Full list of ‘References’ in the article
• A three-sentence author biography, entitled
‘Contributor details’.
Intellect’s style for quotations embedded into a para-
graph is single quote marks, with double quote marks
for a second quotation contained within the first. All
long quotations
(i.e. over 40 words) should be ‘displayed’ – i.e. set into
a separate indented paragraph with an additional one-
line space above and below, and without quote marks
at the beginning or end. Please note that for quota-
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Please try and avoid explanatory footnotes. Sources
should be attributed in the Harvard style, i.e. men-
tioned briefly in brackets in the text (author + year:
page) and listed in full under the heading References
at the end of the article as follows: Author surname,
Initial (year), Title in italics, Place of publication:
Publisher. Thus, if the source is page 21 of Hernan
Galperin’s 2004 book New Television, Old Politics, the
text reference should be (Galperin 2004: 21) while the
full entry in the ‘References’ section should read:
Galperin, H. (2004), New Television, Old Politics,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
If the source is an article, the format is: Author sur-
name, Initial (year), ‘Title in single quotation marks’,
Name of journal in italics, volume number: issue num-
ber, page numbers (first and last of entire article). For
Iosifidis, P. (2006), ‘Digital Switchover in Europe’,
The International Communications Gazette, 68: 3, pp.
Contributions should include original work of a
research or developmental nature and/or new ideas,
presented in a clear and concise style. They should
not be under consideration by any other publication.
Major articles should normally be 5000 to 8000 words
in length and shorter features and reviews should not
normally exceed 3000 words. Major articles are peer-
reviewed on an anonymous basis.
Contributions should be submitted electronically
as an email attachment to the editor, Michael Starks
(m.starks@ntlworld.com), and must include metadata
(requirements set out above) to assist the indexing and
accessing of the material after publication.
The journal follows standard British English. Use ‘ize’
endings instead of ‘ise’. Also ‘analogue’ and ‘pro-
gramme’. Articles should be written in Word, Times
New Roman, 12 point. The title of your article should
be in bold at the beginning of the file; bold is also used
for headings and subheadings, which should also be in
Times New Roman, 12 point.
JDTV Editors' Details & NFC_127-128.indd 128 10/23/09 11:50:04 AM

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