German digital terrestrial gains some hope from ProSiebenSat.1

The decision by German private commercial broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 to extend its distribution agreement with transmitter company Media Broadcast until 2018 will come as some relief to the country’s digital terrestrial sector.

While most of Europe has enthusiastically embraced the second generation DVB-T2 standard with long term commitments to terrestrial transmission, Germany’s broadcasters have been pulling the plug.

ProSiebenSat.1, which has both Free To Air and pay TV channels, is the only German private TV group committed to a long-term stay on the digital terrestrial platform. This may be because, according to audience research by GfK, DTT accounts for a relatively high proportion of its viewership.

On the other hand the German branch of RTL has already decided to terminate DTT broadcasts, and this could still be followed by others, following a recent warning by Ulrich Reimers, a leading broadcasting expert and author from the Technical University in Braunschweig. Reimers argued that a transition to DVB-T2, which in Germany would not take place until at least 2016, would not make sense in the country given that consumers would have to purchase new reception devices at a time when they would be obtaining HD quality programming over the Internet.

RTL has confirmed it will terminate its current DVB-T distribution in Germany on December 31, 2014, with the exception of its broadcasts in Munich, which will end earlier on May 31, 2013. This will end terrestrial distribution of RTL, Vox, Super RTL and RTL II and, for Berlin only, n-tv. RTL emphasized that this decision had nothing to do with the technical merits of DVB-T2 but the failure on the part of the German federal government to guarantee that the current terrestrial frequency spectrum will continue to be available for broadcasting after 2020.

Long-term planning is essential for terrestrial deployments given the lead times and costs involved. RTL pointed out that in neighboring Austria it is still highly committed to the country’s DVB-T2 project, because there is a long-term plan and assurances over the future allocation of spectrum.