Is DTV the Last Chance for Terrestrial TV?

An interesting article, German Television Enters the Digital Age on the Deutsche Welle Web site asks the question "Do you think digital can save terrestrial TV?" The question is not rhetorical; you can answer it using a feedback link on the article. The article takes an upbeat view of DTV, even thought it starts out saying, "Unlike telephones and computers, terrestrial television -- as free-to-air broadcast TV is know[n] -- hasn't changed much in the last decades."

As reported here recently, Berlin-Brandenburg has shut down analog TV broadcasting. The DW article said that of the 170,000 households that depended on analog broadcasting, only about 20,000 failed to purchase the necessary DTV set-top box to decode the DTV signals. Aside from these, most did not notice the change because they had been watching programs via cable or satellite and were already equipped for the new digital format. The article notes that "In fact, only about 10 percent of German television viewers rely on a traditional terrestrial antenna for reception, the majority, 60 percent, have cable and the rest satellite." Rural areas, however, lag behind in the digital conversion. To allow for this, Germany is slowing phasing in the DTV conversion region by region. However, the DW article says that by 2010, all television signals should be transmitted digitally. The next regions to lose analog TV will be Bremen and the Cologne-Bonn metropolitan area in May 2004. Refer to the article for the conversion dates for other cities in Germany.

The article says, "The end of the analog age has been referred to as the chance for terrestrial transmission. What until now has had little chance of competing against the more popular and innovative cable and satellite will enjoy a much-needed boost when Germans start purchasing decoder sets to convert their rooftop antennas into receivers for digital transmission." Could the same thing happen in the U.S.? How many outdoor antennas remain in the U.S.?

An increase in the number of channels (program streams) is seen as a key benefit of DTV. The article notes, "The jump in channel selection offered by DVB-T is clearly one of the key benefits for consumers. By the end of 2004 everyone in the new digitalized regions will have the luxury of choosing from 24 different channels. Jobst Plog, director general for NDR public broadcaster said that the new technology will make terrestrial reception just as attractive as cable and satellite."

The next benefit of DTV is that it will be available anywhere. "People can watch television in practically any corner of the house or garden and even traffic jams will be more endurable with DVB-T," according to Fritz Pleitgen, director general of public broadcaster WDR.

The article concludes, "With the widespread adoption of digital television technology, media analysts believe it is only a matter of time before TV programs start popping up on PCs, mobile phones or even wristwatches. And new hybrid systems such as the much-talked about Multimedia Home Platform (MHP), which integrates television and other interactive information sources like the Internet, come one step closer to digitizing the normal household. When that happens, and the coach-potato actually starts interacting with the tube, television will truly have entered a new era."