Ziggo and UPC delay HbbTV launch

HbbTV on Dutch TVThe introduction of HbbTV in the Netherlands has been delayed because the country’s two principal operators are refusing to co-operate with the introduction of the standard.

“The fact that Ziggo and UPC do not participate means that getting good coverage is a problem, explained Frank Visser, project manager of the HbbTV Forum Nederland, to the Dutch cable TV news site digitalekabeltelevisie.nl.

“Actually, almost everything else is ready to launch HbbTV in the country, but if a small part is missing, you get a chicken-and-egg situation […] which means that it will not get off the ground.”

The aim of the HbbTV Forum was to launch the standard nationwide during 2012. At the moment, the Dutch public broadcasters, under the NPO umbrella, have launched a limited HbbTV service. Commercial broadcaster SBS has said it backs the standard.

However, only a limited number of platforms are distributing the HbbTV signals. These include KPN’s DTT network Digitenne, satellite DTH from Canal Digiaal and a few small cable operators (Caiway, Veendam).

Lacking are the main operators, including UPC and Ziggo, who serve tha majority of viewers in the country. Interestingly, UPC Cablecom in Switzerland is carrying the HbbTV signals of the various broadcasters that use the standard.

In a related development, Swiss French language public broadcaster RTS will launch its regular HbbTV service later this month.

Broadband TV Views. The reluctance of cable operators to join HbbTV is understandable. The standard creates an OTT platform for broadcasters for catch-up TV, which will compete with the platform’s on demand services.

Since most new TV sets come equipped with the standard, penetration of HbbTV sets is set to grow fast.

However, almost all new TV sets also include smart TV functionalities that compete with the STBs of the operator, such as local networking using DNLA and, even more important, connectivity to the web.

This means that viewers can access any OTT service with their regular TV set. Most Philips and Samsung sets now carry the apps for the three main Dutch broadcasters, RTL, SBS and the public channels.

Although cable penetration in the Netherlands has now come below 70% (see story on the latest OPTA figures), it is still the dominant form of TV distribution. By holding on to the reluctance to carry the HbbTV signals, the operators might shoot in their own feet by giving a stick to the regulators – misuse of their market position.