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Germany may give up on digital terrestrial

The withdrawal by private German free-to-air commercial broadcaster RTL from digital terrestrial could be followed by more widespread rejection of DTT across the country.

This warning came from Ulrich Reimers, a leading broadcasting expert and author from the Technical University in Braunschweig. Reimers appeared to endorse RTL’s view 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.

Addressing DVB World, the annual gathering of the DVB standards body, Reimers said it was unlikely that Germany would adopt DVB-T2, the second generation of its digital terrestrial standard, in its present form.

“Commercial broadcasters have said they won’t distribute their signals in some areas, so people simply won’t watch DTT,” he said. “The consequences are clear, people will move away from terrestrial broadcasters, the numbers will move away sharply and the introduction of DVB-T2 in Germany won’t happen. Forget it. The public broadcasters will have to ask themselves if it is worth it to reach 3 percent.”

Reimers is not the first to pick up on this anti terrestrial sentiment in Germany. MABB, the local media authority of the German federal states Berlin and Brandenburg, first suggested in January 2013 that the Internet would become the most suitable TV distribution platform for Germany and endorsed RTL’s decision to exit from DTT. MABB also argued that although public broadcaster ARD had earlier committed to DVB-T2 it was already streaming its full 24-hour channels via the Internet at sufficient quality for large TV screens, at least for the growing number of subscribers with adequately fast broadband connections.

Meanwhile, RTL has stated 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 did emphasize 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.

Another factor is that Austria is supporting encrypted distribution, welcomed by broadcasters such as RTL because they can then control access to their channels via specific set top boxes, although it also adds to the cost.