Digitalisation of broadcast TV continues to be in limbo

By NG MIN SHEN

The nation’s television (TV) system has been trying to embrace change by enhancing its digitalisation plans, but progress has been slow.

Digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcast, or simply known as digital TV broadcast, has been on the cards for Malaysia since the 2000s when the government announced its plan to digitalise free-to-air (FTA) TV broadcasts.

Digital transmission enables superior picture quality, increased interactivity and more efficient utilisation of spectrum resource compared to analogue broadcasting.

More digital channels can be carried on a single TV channel bandwidth.

In April 2010, MYTV Broadcasting Sdn Bhd was established to build and operate the infrastructure and network facilities for DTT services in the country.

Puncak Semangat Sdn Bhd in January 2014 won a government contract to build, operate and manage the DTT infrastructure nationwide.

Other bidders for the contract included I-Media Broad- casting Solutions Sdn Bhd and REDtone Network Sdn Bhd.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) had in June 2013 — when announcing the three shortlisted companies — said full migration was expected to be achieved by end-2015.

However, since the ambitious migration plans did not happen, the deadline was then moved to end-2016 after MYTV appointed the country’s largest fixed-line operator Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) in November 2014 to provide DTT infrastructure, network facilities and related services.

The RM916.1 million agreement commenced from Jan 1, 2016, and will expire on Dec 31, 2030, with an option to extend further for a mutually agreed term. Under the 15-year agreement, TM and MYTV could mutually review the provisions of the agreement every five years, with the first review to take place in 2019.

The MYTV-built network will have high-, medium- and low-powered digital TV transmitters capable of carrying up to 39 standard-definition (SD) or 13 high-definition (HD) digital TV channels initially.

At the end of the migration exercise, 75% portable indoor (PI) and 25% fixed rooftop coverage was expected to be available in Malaysia.

The government has since set June 30, 2018, as the deadline for analogue switch-off (ASO) — following which, analogue broad- casting will cease completely so the transition to DTT broadcasting has to become a reality.

Meanwhile, MYTV has been scrambling to be fully ready for migration by end-2017, plagued by numerous execution challenges and disputes with FTA broadcasters over transmission fees.

To complicate matters, the switch to DTT requires all households that do not have digital-ready TV sets to acquire a set-top box, which decodes a digital TV signal to analogue for the TV screen.

It was recently reported that the rollout was dependent on free distribution of 4.5 million set-top boxes at RM200 each to MYTV, with 500,000 units having been distributed so far.

The government on its part has also committed to distributing two million free set-top box units to selected low-income households, as these homes were more likely to utilise FTA TV channels.

With the issues on implementation still being ironed out,

Media Prima Bhd had as early as May 2016 said it was not ruling out the possibility of withdrawing its channels from the FTA space when ASO happens, due to high transmission fees.

As a result, MYTV had begun discussions to lower its transmission fees following complaints from FTA broadcasters that the fees were too high.

MYTV initially proposed a transmission fee of RM12 million per SD channel and RM25 million per HD channel, upon achieving its key performance indicator of 98% nationwide household coverage.

The operator presently has nine stations lined up — namely Radio Televisyen Malaysia’s TV1, TV2, TV5, Media Prima’s ntv7, 8TV and TV9, as well as Bernama TV, TV3 and TV Alhijrah.

Once the migration becomes a reality, MYTV aims to have 30 channels and intends to have 80 channels by end-2019. The ambitious plans are to ensure that it will be able to break even as early as possible.

The initial break-even plans had been within five to seven years from 2014, when it received the concession from MCMC. The race for DTT is at full speed as time is running out.