Helping Smooth the World’s DTV Transition

While millions of viewers in Canada, Europe, the U.S., the UK, as well as Asian and South American countries are currently enjoying the pristine pictures and improved sound quality of over-the-air digital television (DTV) broadcasts, they are in the minority. The Digital TV Transition Group, an offshoot of a Dallas, Texas-based market research firm called Digital Tech Consulting that consults with countries considering a DTV transition, claims that over 70 percent of the world’s countries are not yet broadcasting a digital signal.

Myra Moore, founder of the Digital TV Transition Group (which helps nascent countries go digital), says this digital divide is a big problem because not only are consumers in these non-DTV countries missing out on the benefits of digital broadcasting, it also limits what broadcasters in those countries can do to keep pace with a rapidly evolving global digital landscape and generate new revenue streams. Moore—a market research specialist, technology analyst and business journalist—has spent the past three years working with governments, regulatory agencies and national broadcasters that have not made the transition, offering consultation on how best to implement the best platforms to serve the widest range of consumers.

Anita Wallgren, another key member of the DTV Transition group, oversaw the nation’s DTV Converter Box Coupon program (conducted through the National Telecommunications & Information Administration) in 2009 that provided assistance to consumers towards the purchase of a converter box to enable analog TVs to receive the new digital broadcasts.

“We look at general characteristics of a particular country and identify what it would take to make a smooth and cost-effective transition,” said Moore, who recently attended a Caribbean Telecommunications Union meeting in Trinidad. Most of the Caribbean countries are trying to set a common transmission standard. “The challenges that people who live on small islands or other isolated places face are that they have to deal with the penetration of digital sets among consumers and limited funding resources among broadcasters.”

She said that while most of the major countries are addressing the transition in one way to another, there is still parts of eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America that do not have a clear migration strategy for DTV.

“What we say to these island countries is, ‘your economy is based on tourism, so you'd better give tourists the same experience they can get back home, or they night not return.’” said Moore. “But money is not the only hurdle these smaller nations face. Many countries are considering a move to digital in order to generate new revenue by using the available spectrum more efficiently and auctioning off some frequencies for wireless phone service.”

In terms of deciding which transmission standard to use, Moore said her group does not advocate ATSC over DVB-T, or vice versa, it’s the particular country that makes that choice. The DTV Transition Group maintains several broadcast engineers on staff to help once the transmission standard decision is made.

One of the key issues that Moore’s group advises on is whether a country can make the necessary arrangements to have digital sets brought in large enough quantities in order ensure that the transition is successful.

“Most of the countries that we have worked with have good access to flat-screen sets, so we help identify sources for them and how easy it will be to ship them in,” Moore said. “There are still a lot of analog TV sets out there, but the further along we get in time, the less analog TVs will be sold. At some point, when it becomes more expensive to operate in analog, then it becomes critical that a country to digital.”

Moore recounts one visit to Suriname (South America, population 500,000) where she went off into the rain forest near the capitol city of Paramaribo and stopped at a small concession stand that had analog TV with broadcast of a person sitting in front of a camera reading a news script. That, she says, is the reality in a lot of places around the world.

Another country she worked with selected the DVB-T standard for digital, while their analog system has been NTSC. This resulted in a shortage of consumer equipment, so The DTV Transition Group created a printed guide for local retail outlets to help them gain access to and stock the required receivers.

Moore also highly recommends discussing the migration to DTV with neighboring countries to avoid negative consequences to consumers. One country referenced above is bordered by another Spanish-speaking country where residents of the first country are able to pick up signals across the border. The first country picked DVB-T while the second country chose SDBTV (the Brazilian version of the Japanese ISDB-T) as its digital standard. When the time comes to shut down both of their analog broadcasts (sometime in 2020), the people in the second country won't be able to pick up the signals anymore.

“Sometimes part of our consulting process is looking at what makes sense going forward and what doesn't make sense,” Moore said. “I’m not the type of consultant who says ‘you need to do this.’ I try to provide guidance based on the parameters I am presented with. Every situation is different. That’s what keeps this interesting.”