[LINK] Digital television in Australia
Tue, 20 Nov 2001 10:17:15 -0000
> a) Consumers don't see the upgrade as sufficiently
> compelling. No TV -> TV
> is a big jump. TV -> new TV is not. TV -> Very Expensive new
> TV? A dead
> duck, especially since we spend less time watching TV...
Hi Bob, Richard, Link,
In the UK digital TV is nearly synonymous with pay TV. The UK had an
analogue pay TV infrastructure in place (via Sky satellite and cable) when
the government made a familiar pronouncement that all free to air broadcasts
will go digital by 200x.
To bring the existing channels on side (most of which are public owned
anyway) they offered each double the digital spectrum. The result is we see
BBC 1 & 2 on free to air plus BBC Knowledge (documentaries), BBC Choice
(kids during the day and reruns at night) and BBC Parliament (audio only,
apparently due to sensitivity of bald spot display).
Channel 4 has E4, on which they tend to premiere their "cult" TV and follow
with a repeat broadcast later in the week.
There is also a second channel for ITV, of which I am ignorant due to
disputes between ITV and Sky over carriage of the channel.
Handing over the extra channels bought off the broadcasters, and they are
keen promoters of digital (although reluctant to cut off analogue).
The signal is transmitted via three means, either digital sat (Sky has now
upgraded all its legacy dishes so it is 100% digital and has stopped
analogue transmissions), by cable (my local cable company offer a bundle of
telephone plus a basic 4 or 5 TV channels for the same price as a BT PSTN
line) with the cable companies trying to convince their analogue customers
to swap to digital, although with limited success or by traditional
broadcast (a financial disaster for the company doing it (ITV) who projected
profits within 5 years but didn't expect to have to give away the set-top
The net result is the sat digital supports 1000 channels, although most of
these are pay per view movies starting at staggered times or rebroadcast
Broadcast delivers 100 channels, but is more focussed, with only one or two
24hr music video or news channel rather than the plethora on digital.
Cable is about the same capacity as broadcast, to my knowledge, but I
haven't played with their box.
All this probably sounds pretty good compared to Foxtel or the dire Optus
vision (at least how it was a couple of years ago) but increased capacity
does not mean increased quality ;-) For example, there are three 24 hour
home rennovation channels.
Sky satellite is by far the most popular, with about 3 million homes
connected. The offer you a free dish and set-top box if you pay for
installation. This means for 100 pounds you can get the extra BBC channels
for free and possibly a couple of others (CNN I think, and Sky news). If you
choose to subscribe to a Sky PayTV package at the same time they will
discount install to £40.
The packages start at around $11 monthly and it costs around £32 to get all
the sport and all the movies etc.
The broadcast and cable options are about the same price.
The broadcast guys sell the set-top boxes in stores with a bundled, pay in
advance, lowest level 1-year subscription for about £100. At the end of this
time, if you don't renew you are meant to return the box. In theory, you
just plug in your existing antenna and you get digital immediately. In
practice around a half of homes require an antenna upgrade to pick up the
This is a costly exercise, but necessary as there is no gentle degradation
with digital TV, if the signal is too weak you get no picture. The box
suppliers offer a discount antenna upgrade service for £40 if you get it
when you first buy the box.
So the companies subsidise the cost of digital boxes *very* heavily.
This last point is the unspoken secret of digital broadcasting, and will
hopefully kill it in Australia. In Sydney there are a lot of homes that get
bad TV reception, under digital they will get no signal, or will require
expensive antenna upgrades.
In the bush it is ten times worse. I remember visiting cousins on a farm in
QLD when I was a kid. They watched Sesame Street through a very snowy
picture, but watched it all the same because there was no alternative.
With digital, this type of marginal reception will be stopped, much to the
disadvantage of those on the fringe of broadcast footprints.
Presumably, as with GSM phones versus AMPS, the broadcast footprint will be
smaller too, as signal weakness so minor that the TV picture still looks
fine to humans is enough to prevent digital broadcast. Not really a step
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