In the past few weeks, Dutch cable operators have announced a number of distribution deals with local broadcasters. These were followed by a press release from the association of cable operators, NLkabel, claiming that 15 local TV stations are now being distributed in digital tiers and that three more local broadcasters will be added before the end of the year. Both Ziggo and UPC are currently talking to a number of local broadcasters and expect to increase the number of digital local stations during 2009.
The digital distribution of local broadcasters has been an issue for some time because of the technical implications. As local broadcasters serve only certain areas, the cablers have to make investments in their networks to enable wider distribution. Operators and local broadcasters have been talking about who should pay the bill, with NLkabel wanting the latter – represented by the association of local broadcasters OLON – to deliver a suitable digital signal to a local feeder point at their own cost.
OLON brings together 133 local TV stations, 197 text TV services (rolling text pages) and 276 radio stations. Although all the TV stations have until now been distributed on the basic analogue tier, OLON wants to make sure distribution continues when digital television becomes more popular.
The cable operators have been reluctant to grant immediate access, mainly because of the technical issues and related costs involved. Both UPC and Ziggo carried out some tests, but the cablers insist that the broadcasters should pay for the delivery of the signal to the feeder point. Because all local broadcasters are non-commercial and work mainly with volunteers, they have limited funds. Indeed, most receive small subsidies from city governments and donations from listeners.
OLON has been very active lobbying on behalf of the stations, but a letter to Minister Ronald Plasterk was too much to swallow for the Dutch cablers. In the letter, OLON stated that there were a number of points on which the two parties cannot reach an agreement. As a result, NLkabel said it no longer wanted to negotiate with OLON, but insisted that the cable operators are willing to distribute the local stations.
In a recent statement, Rob van Esch, director of NLkabel, said: “a number of local broadcasters have already indicated their willingness and ability to pay. Some other local broadcasters lack the financial resources to deliver their signal in the right way.”
Until now, all local broadcasters have only been available in the basic analogue tier. Van Esch added: “cable is the only infrastructure that local broadcasters use; they contribute to the local news reporting, local democratic culture and citizenship. Now we offer local television broadcasters in the digital basic tier that unique opportunity.”
Local broadcasters are currently available on digital cable in the municipalities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Groningen, Westland, Schiedam, Alphen aan den Rijn, Gouda, IJsselstein, Maassluis, West Maas and Waal, Halderberge, Central Delfland, Heumen, Druten and Landsmeer. Oss will follow before the end of this year, as will Velsen and Schagen. Local digital stations are now offered to nearly 900,000 cable households.