Corporate News

By Keith Richard D. Mariano, Reporter

Broadcasters commit to digital TV switch by 2023

Posted on February 16, 2017

THE PHILIPPINES should have switched to digital television (TV) by 2023 with the implementation of a comprehensive migration plan that received commitment from the country’s major broadcasters.

ABS-CBN Corp. started selling TVplus boxes since February 2015. -- COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG /USER:LOGAN
The Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) on Tuesday launched the Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting Migration Plan at the opening of the two-day Digital TV Summit in Quezon City.

Under the plan, the government expects broadcasters to have adopted the Japanese standard for digital TV within the next four to six years. It will then switch off the analog system upon migrating 95% of households to the newer technology.

“Technology is fast changing and it is changing for the better,” DICT Secretary Rodolfo A. Salalima told reporters on the sidelines of the Digital TV Summit.

“It is a case now of us humanizing technology because before we used to be the one that have to adapt to technology. So, expect better television viewing, expect better resolutions, expect better voice and on top will also be of public service.”

Mr. Salalima noted that digital TV comes with an emergency warning broadcast system that allows for the transmission of warnings of disasters along with advisories on evacuation, food provision and medical assistance.

Also, the migration to digital TV will free very high frequencies (VHF) comprising channels 2 through 13 for broadband deployment in the future, Mr. Salalima said.

The transition requires the reassignment of TV broadcasters to ultra high frequencies comprising channels 14 to 51, National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Deputy Commissioner Edgardo R. Cabarios noted on the sidelines.

“The channel assignment is, I guess, being prepared,” Mr. Cabarios said. “The principle there is to have equitable assignment of frequency. It will be discussed to them how to handle this situation so I think we’re going there and there will be decisions to be made soon.”

Digital TV is expected to foster competition and innovation among broadcasters, as the technology allows for the offering of new services through datacasting and broadcast markup language.

The country’s major broadcasters have committed to the migration plan. In fact, ABS-CBN Network, Inc. has shifted to digital TV in 2012 even before the NTC issued guidelines in 2014 for the planned analog switch off.

“It actually requires a significant investment on the part of the broadcasters -- just to build one transmitter site requires major capex (capital expenditure) not to mention the annual operating spend,” Maria Concepcion Alcedo, head of digital TV at ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp., noted.

“However, we believe this will allow broadcasters to use the bandwidth more efficiently to deliver more channels and, thus, more choices to their viewers as well as down the line deliver digital services,” Ms. Alcedo added.

GMA Network, Inc. is shifting next to digital TV. It will initially spend P416 million to build the transmitter covering the National Capital Region and the nearby provinces, Chief Financial Officer Felipe E. Yalong said.

Asked when the network can commercially launch digital services, Mr.Yalong said: “It depends; we don’t have any specific plans yet. What is definite is we will be able to come out with the DDT signal within the year.”

TV5 Network, Inc. is equally committed to shifting to digital TV within the timeframe set by the government, President and Chief Executive Officer Vincent “Chot” Reyes told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.

“We’re all going to make the deadline, even sooner in Metro Manila,” Mr. Reyes said. “We’re in the process, we’re preparing, we’re working hand in hand with the government, so when they actually give the signal and do the actual switch, then we will be ready.”

Mr. Reyes noted the migration from analog TV requires a “hefty” investment mostly for setting up transmitters of digital TV broadcasts.

“Initial indications are in the billion-peso range at least in Metro Manila. We’re looking at the same things but we’re looking at a different way of doing DDT that is going to leverage the assets of the entire group of companies,” Mr. Reyes said.

Broadcasters with narrower coverage may need to invest around P50 million to adopt the technology Mr. Cabarios noted.

“At first, we had concerns about the capacity of smaller broadcasters to shift to digital TV. That’s a big investment. The migration plan should give them enough time to program the investment needed,” Mr. Cabarios said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Under the migration plan, the government will allow for the simultaneous transmission of TV programs on analog and digital systems until 95% of households have adapted to the latter.

“For now, we’re not thinking of any subsidy to broadcasters, but we may help particularly in acquiring boxes in the remote areas. It may take some time also for the people in rural areas to go digital unless we provide them with the boxes for digital television,” Mr. Salalima noted.