France debates future of DTT after loss of spectrum to telcos

France’s communications ministry DGMIC and media regulator CSA have launched a joint consultation over the future of digital terrestrial transmission in the country after a probable reallocation of spectrum in the 700MHz band to telecom operators. But the agencies emphasized that DTT would continue to play an important role in French broadcasting and that the debate was over the makeup of services that would continue to be deployed in the wake of any spectrum handover and the technologies involved. The consultation is seeking views on six topics, starting with the service mix and in particular whether HD will become the standard format for DTT and whether it will be possible to distribute ultra HD channels within a multiplex of limited geographical coverage. The second and third aspects cover compression technologies and their future evolution, with a view eventually to deploying the HEVC codec ratified early this year. The fourth aspect concerns evolution of reception equipment, including likely timing of ultra HD TV launches, while the fifth and sixth areas revolve around the impact of spectrum loss and potential for synergy and convergence between TV and mobile services thereafter.

Most other European countries have confirmed their support for continued DTT transmission with strong backing from the EBU, which consistently lobbies against handover of spectrum to mobile services. In the Nordic countries pay operators have helped with successfully transitioning of the DTT platform from the first-generation DVB-T standard to DVB-T2, with several pay-DTT services.

In the U.K., the DVB-T2 platform is accessed by more than 3.5 million households as their primary source of TV content, available in HD free to air, with almost total coverage reached in October 2012. The one notable exception to the rosy piucture for DTT happens to be Europe’s largest TV market Germany, where DTT has never caught on greatly and is used by just 11 percent of the population, and only 3 percent in some regions. Enthusiasm in the country has waned further after commercial broadcaster RTL announced in January 2013 that it would exit the current DTT platform altogether. This was followed by a prediction from Ulrich Reimers, a leading broadcasting expert and author from the Technical University in Braunschweig, that other broadcasters in the country would follow RTL by deserting DTT. Reimers said it was unlikely that Germany would adopt DVB-T2 in its present form.

Yet the approach in neighboring Austria suggests that interest in DTT could still revive in Germany. In Austria DTT has an even smaller market share of only 6 percent, but broadcasters have decided DVB-T2 has good potential for delivering premium pay services. ORS, which provides terrestrial and satellite infrastructure, has announced plans to launch a pay-TV platform using the DVB-T2 standard, aiming to make the DTT platform more competitive by increasing the amount of content available over it. Significantly RTL, despite giving up on DTT in Germany, remains committed to it in Austria because it believes there is stronger governmental and regulatory backing.