Digital TV poised to change landscape

The forthcoming digital TV, for which licence auctions are to be held in mid-December, will draw fresh investment of 100 billion baht for networks, set-top boxes, content and channel operations.

A set of digital signal-converting equipment.

Competition among potential digital TV bidders will be fierce as they vie to secure 24 licences for commercial-purpose channels. Their aim is to share revenue from ad spending, which was worth more than 100 billion baht last year (with 60% going to free TV).

This is the business game as designed by the broadcasting regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). It expects ad spending on TV to reach 200 billion baht in the next five years.

"We hope digital TV will diversify and open business opportunities for small and medium-sized operators," said Col Natee Sukonrat, chairman of the NBTC's broadcasting committee. "Our highest goal is to enhance content."

Consumers will get a variety of content from the six existing free TV stations and 48 digital TV channels, consisting of 24 commercial channels, 12 public channels and 12 community channels.

The NBTC is allocating the 12 public channels via the beauty contest method and the 24 commercial channels via the auction method. Strong interest has come from new players looking to make the jump into broadcasting.

Thirty-three firms have bought 49 sets of bidding documents for commercial digital TV, whose four channel categories are children's, news, standard-definition (SD) variety and high-definition (HD) variety.

Consumers have a big question about how to receive digital TV. Do they need to buy a new TV set?

No. There are two options to receive digital TV broadcast signals. The first is to use a set-top box to convert the digital TV signal to match an analogue receiver. The box costs 1,000 baht now, but the price will drop soon.

The second option is to buy a new TV set with a built-in tuner, marked by the NBTC's sticker of approval. The regulator has approved 54 models from Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and LG that can pick up digital signals inherently.

One advantage of digital TV is that consumers will not have to install an antenna. The NBTC requires licensed network providers to provide signal coverage in city areas. Therefore, the screen image will be clearer with no visual pollution.

For those watching TV on a satellite system, they need not change TV sets.

According to NBTC rules, a satellite set-top box provider must carry at least 12 public TV channels on its network; then it can choose other channels from the children's, news, SD variety and HD variety categories.

The NBTC earlier approved subsidy coupons for 22 million households in Thailand to hasten the digital transition, to be distributed once the auction is complete.

The coupon will be worth about 690 baht towards the purchase of a converter box. The NBTC will gradually hand out coupons in line with network coverage.

"The important principle of the digital switch is that consumers will be modestly affected by the changes," said Col Natee.

The first and most recent major change in Thai broadcasting took place four decades ago when black-and-white TV went to colour. The switch from analogue broadcasting to digital will be the second.

Related search: digital TV, NBTC

About the author

columnist
Writer: Saengwit Kewaleewongsatorn
Position: Business Reporter