Digital broadcasting: The future of Philippine television

SUITS THE C-SUITE By Ena Luigi V. Magay-Goyanko

Business World (05/18/2015 – p.S1/4)

Television broadcasting, which has been a primary source of entertainment and public information in the Philippines for decades, is making the move to digital.

The country’s migration from analog television to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) was made possible when the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) finally released on Dec. 17, 2014 via Memorandum Circular No. 07-12-2014 the rules and regulations for DTT broadcast services.

The country’s shift to digital television aims to help the industry keep pace with developments in technology and ensure the competitiveness of the Philippine broadcasting industry. A number of countries have transitioned to digital television ahead of the Philippines, with Luxembourg pioneering the complete switch-over in September 2006.

Under the NTC’s Circular, analog Very High Frequency (VHF) TV operators are required to simulcast DTT broadcasting (DTTB) services together with their analog TV services within one year from the grant of authority to provide DTTB services. VHF operators who fail to simulcast within one year will lose their frequency to other qualified Ultra High Frequency TV operators.

The transition to DTT will take years to complete, considering the need for country-wide coverage. In a media interview with the NTC’s Broadcast Services Division, an official said that migration to digital television could take five to 10 years, adding that the migration plan is being finalized.

The migration plan to be issued by the government will address policy, regulatory and technical issues and fiscal considerations for the country’s migration to digital TV broadcasting. While the Philippines is still in the early stage of the switch-over, several TV operators started broadcasting using digital technology five months after the effectivity of the Circular.

On the other hand, there is still a strong need for the NTC and TV operators to conduct an extensive information campaign to increase the viewing public’s awareness of the mandatory digitization of television broadcasting, given that majority of viewers still use analog television sets at home.

Following the mandatory shut-off of analog broadcasting services, analog TVs will not be able to receive digital broadcasts without a converter box, which decodes digital signals from the transmitter into a form that can be displayed on the television screens.

Technology for newer television sets will also have to catch up with the latest broadcasting systems through a built-in digital decoder. This means that in order to watch television, the public will have no choice but to either purchase a digital-ready television set or retrofit their analog television set with a converter box.

Government should also consider the possible environmental implications that may arise when current analog television sets are discarded following the transition to digital television. Discarded television sets can be sources of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and chromium, among others. The 2008 publication Heavy Metals Concentrations of Surface Dust from e-Waste Recycling and Its Human Health Implications in Southeast China by Anna O. Leung, et. al, disclosed that exposure to these heavy metals can result in acute and chronic toxicity.

The switch to DTT technology will cost operators a sizeable investment to upgrade their facilities, such as new transmitters, multiplexers and decoders. Operators will nevertheless benefit from the transition to digital television through the efficient use of available bandwidth that will enable them to integrate new channels and other digital services.

The improved free-to-air broadcasting services may be a setback to cable operators but should not significantly threaten their revenues, as premium channels are still only accessible through subscription. For the Filipino viewing public, the digitization of the broadcasting industry will provide a better viewing experience through a wider variety of television channels and better quality of picture and sound.

The Government’s decision to adopt Japan’s DTT system — the Integrated Services Digital Broadcast Terrestrial (ISDB-T) — is also partly due to functional reasons. For a calamity-prone country like the Philippines, having the ISDB-T (which is equipped with an integrated Emergency Warning Broadcast Systems) means that information can be more easily broadcast to the public in the event of natural disasters like typhoons, tsunamis, flash floods and others.

The digitization of Philippine television has added another competitive dimension among broadcast operators who are all vying to be forerunners in modernizing their infrastructure and providing comprehensive transmission coverage nationwide. Operators who cannot keep pace with these technological changes risk detrimental impact on their business operations.

Competition among operators will shift to creating business models and platforms that will maximize this new technology while generating profits. In this digital age, operators need to do more than just responding to technology changes; they should be able to see the emerging opportunities and trends that will affect existing business models and direct the future of Philippine television.

Ena Luigi V. Magay-Goyanko is a Senior Director of SGV & Co.