Chris Dziadul looks at Estonia’s digital transition
Estonia has long been at the forefront of developments in CEE’s digital TV industry. Dubbed ‘e-Estonia’ due to the high take-up of new technology – at least two-thirds of its population now use the Internet – it was one of the first countries to launch a commercial DTT service and also has, by regional standards, a relatively successful IPTV operation.
Yet even in such a progressive market as Estonia the transition to digital broadcasting was never going to be a straightforward process. Its DTT service ZUUMv, which is operated as a 66/34 joint venture between the MSO Starman and TDF-backed national transmission company Levira, has only secured around 6,500 subscribers in its first year of operation.
Not that this has been for the want of trying. Besides offering an attractive 20-channel package, it has also trialled an HD version of the public channel ETV. More to the point, it is one of the few platforms in the region to employ MPEG-4 rather than MPEG-2 compression.
ZUUMtv’s real problem has been the absence of free-to-air (FTA) channels in its offer, and this will hopefully be rectified following the launch of a number of new services including Kalev Sport, Estonia’s first sports channel. The introduction of a third multiplex will also effectively ensure that the entire country can receive digital signals.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a need – as in many other markets in the region – to get the national commercial broadcasters fully on board. As we report in this week’s issue, it appears this may be done through a number of enticements related to licence renewals/extensions and associated fees. With this in mind, the ASO has been brought forward to a still relatively late 2010, depending on how matters progress in the next couple of years.
IPTV has meanwhile developed into something of a success story in Estonia, compared in other markets in CEE. DigiTV, a platform operated by Elion, itself owned by the incumbent Eesti Telekom, has in the 19 months since it launch secured 55,000 subscribers– a figure comparable to services offered by incumbents in much larger Poland (videostrada) and the Czech Republic (O2 TV) and significantly more than Hungary (T-Home TV).
For a country with a population of only around 1.5 million, Estonia continues to punch way above its weight and set rather than follow the agenda.