Digital TV: No Two Places Are Alike

I recently participated in a Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) meeting on spectrum management focused on the digital TV switchover.  Listening to regional broadcasters, regulatory officials, and engineers discuss the challenges of planning a digital TV ecosystem only reinforced the axiom that every place has its own DNA.

Not to get all “snow flakey” but no two places are alike. And when it comes to tallying up all the factors for a digital TV switchover, countries within the Caribbean region are as different as individual snowflakes even though (as far as I know) it’s never snowed there.

One of the CTU’s primary goals is to promote a unified approach to the regional digital TV switchover, which is never an easy task amongst separate nations.  Job number one is to coordinate spectrum use within the region and to ensure that all in-region countries/territories are informed of their neighbors’ DTT plans and potential interference issues are discussed. After that, there’s not a whole lot of uniformity as the geographic area is large, islands have different ties to other countries in Europe and North America, and existing  TV ecosystems are a mash up different transmission standards, types of pay TV providers, and regulations.

Just a handful of facts illustrating how important customization will be in individual locales:

  • The islands are a mix of sovereign states and dependent territories. Even those that are sovereign nations have deep ties to European and North American countries that can have significant influence on the technology and policy decisions when building digital terrestrial TV systems. In short, European affiliated islands tend to consider systems similar to those in the U.K., the Netherlands, and France, while those associated with North America lean toward technologies implemented in the U.S.  This, however, is a generalization; other factors come in to play.
  • Because the region is geographically closest to North, Central and upper South America, much of the existing analog TV infrastructure is based on the North American NTSC system. Thus, islands will have different mixtures of analog and digital TV systems that impact the sourcing of receivers.
  • The region is demographically and linguistically diverse. With French, Dutch, English, Spanish, Creole (Haiti), and Papiamento official languages, the need for customization is even greater. The DTC Digital TV Transition Group is producing an analog-to-digital TV educational video for Curacao in Papiamento. This is an official language in three places in the world – Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire with a collective population of about 300,000 people.
  • Demographic diversity contributes to varying rates of pay TV household penetration (as well as platforms from which services are delivered – MMDS systems are a part of the TV mix in addition to satellite, cable and IPTV).  Individual-island pay TV penetration can vary from barely measurable to 90%.  Thus, business models are going to vary significantly.
The need for customization only underscores the need for a top-level unified framework where, at the minimum, spectrum management is a harmonized effort.