At this crucial year for the future of terrestrial broadcasting, high level speakers got together at the EBU’s annual seminar Forecast to discuss the challenges that broadcasters have to face and to discuss what can be future strategies for broadcasting delivery. Broadcasters and regulators have been asked whether we are heading in the right direction.
Regulators acknowledged the importance of terrestrial broadcasting as being unique platforms for the delivery of free-to-air services with universal coverage. But they questioned the need to use frequencies, a limited and scarce resource, for the delivery of services that are to be received by large HDTV screens fixed in the living room where the signals have difficulties to penetrate indoors and require large capacities to deliver high quality image services. They see such type of services be delivered by optic fibre in the future and using frequencies for services on the move. In Europe, the 470-694 MHz will be kept for broadcasting services until 2030 (following Lamy’s report to the EC) and regulators are askingbroadcasters to use this time to define how they could refocus DTT after 2030. Regulators also noted that in some European countries where DTT penetration is low compared to other platforms, broadcasters may have less time to decide their strategy.
Broadcasters, and in particular public service broadcasters, have to deliver linear services to all citizens independently of their social status. Currently they do not see alternative platforms to terrestrial broadcasting that can provide this with the same flexibility, quality and costs. Broadcasters are however conscious that they also have to deliver free-to-air on-demand services to remain competitive regarding new players getting into the media market. Broadcasters have to analyse all models and the associated costs to get the strengths of both terrestrial and broadband models.
Regulators also explained that when defining spectrum allocations they have to find solutions for new entrants taking into account the needs of incumbent services (to secure the investments made), the political requirements (e.g. coverage of rural areas) and the potential economic growth that new services can create. Both broadcasting and mobile services are being very dynamic developing new services and their spectrum requirements are growing. Broadcasters have the feeling that the spectrum squeeze they are suffering is not justified: mobile services have many frequency bands allocated which are not fully used and they have to increase the efficiency. Broadcasting services are implementing new more efficient technologies and feel they have done their homework.
Is ‘flexibility’ the solution for this situation? Flexibility in the use of spectrum needs to be regulated and needs a stable framework to avoid chaos. Flexibility should be used to open spectrum to new business opportunities but should respect incumbent services and not be used to destroy existing business, broadcasters said.
PMSE services (e.g. wireless microphones and cameras) are also suffering from this spectrum reduction to broadcasting services. Regulators recognised that there is no solution yet for PMSE and that without UHF spectrum it would be very difficult (impossible!) to cover peak events.
Independently of the crucial decisions that WRC-15 will take, broadcasters and regulators will need to work together during the next years to build the hybrid broadcast-broadband future that delivers free-to air content to all everywhere.