Julian Clover finds German cable still struggling to make its way in the modern world.
It is the age old problem, for the television age at least, losing the remote control behind the sofa. For German cable viewers, this probably doesn’t matter, if they are digital subscribers the chances are they have another.
This is the latest reason put forward as to why digital television in the German cable market is still to really take-off. Delegates to ANGA Cable in Cologne this week were told that German cable was already 100% digital, which is sort of true, at least if you count the deployment of broadband internet and telephony.
One observer suggested to me that German cable was five years behind the curve when compared to other European markets. Yet the problem has been not just the belated deployment of digital television, as the now privately owned networks sought to compensate for the under investment during the latter years of the Deutsche Telekom tenure, but the way it has been deployed.
Consumers who decided to upgrade were presented with a digital receiver with a line-up that was largely the same as what was receivable in analogue, overlooking the initial reluctance of the private broadcasters to sign up for digital distribution, and an interface to match. The zapper boxes that have been commonplace in the German market will tell you what you’re watching, but very little else.
It may be that this is about to change, although there have been dalliances with both the proprietary OpenTV and the DVB-backed MHP, there is now a realisation that the viewer needs something that looks a little more digital. Unity Media CEO Palm Sandhu suggested that a return to MHP could be one way of creating the necessary scale, but it seems the private sector may be about to come up with the answer.
NDS has seen its middleware adopted by the soon to be renamed Premiere, and cable operators including Kabel BW, Telecolumbus, and the mighty Kabel Deutschland have followed suit.
But there is still work to be done. The private channels that were previously reluctant to let their channels be broadcast in the digital format are still holding back their EPG data. ProSiebenSat.1 and RTL have gone to court to prevent the Sony-owned portal tvtv from reproducing their data.
This in turn has consequences for the use of personal video recorders that require the data in order to run features such as Series Link.
The remote control problem is something that could easily resolved by a visit to one of the developers, such as Ruwido, the Austrian manufacturer found in the halls of the Köln Messe. As Sky viewers in the UK will tell you, a single remote that operates both television and set-top box is standard, and with Germany about to have its own Sky a single remote is no longer too much to ask for.