An ongoing dispute between the Swedish Post and Telecom Agency (PTS) and the transmission company Teracom has meant that channels scheduled to commence broadcasting in the country’s sixth digital television multiplex remain off the air.
Consequently, entertainment channels Star and TV7, as well as music channel The Voice, that were obliged under their licence conditions to move to a new sixth multiplex have effectively been moved to a ‘ghost’ multiplex that has yet to commence transmissions anywhere in the country.
Comedy Central began broadcasting on January 1, but is located in the fourth multiplex. As with the majority of the channels on the Swedish DTT network, Comedy Central is encrypted and has elected to join the Boxer programming package. The Viacom-owned broadcaster will be available free of charge to all customers until the end of January, when it will join the Boxerpaketet.
Sweden currently has four multiplexes that cover the entire country, with a fifth that will reach 98% before the end of 2009.
The sixth DTT multiplex was scheduled to go live on January 1, 2009. However Teracom, which also owns packager Boxer, is refusing to build out the network because of a dispute over what the regulator believes to be a significant market position. Consequently the amount it charges for its services in this area should be regulated. Teracom argues that its position should be assessed in the context of other forms of TV delivery such as cable and satellite operators.
“They’ve used a model for the regulation that doesn’t give us a chance to make investment in the building of Multiplex 6. There was a suggestion last spring that we might just take a set fee from the broadcasters, so there is a limit for us on how much we can receive from those activities,” said Teracom spokesman Lennart Ivarsson. “We find it strange how Sweden is being treated differently to other countries in Europe”. He added that the model being used to calculate the price received was not an accurate reflection of market conditions.
Multiplex 6 would be the first terrestrial multiplex in Sweden to use MPEG-4 compression. Since April 2008, Boxer has no longer been accepting MPEG-2 boxes for test and approval. The MPEG-4 technology is backwards compatible, meaning that subscribers using the new MPEG-4 receivers will also be able to watch the existing MPEG-2 channels.
Channels licensed to broadcast in Multiplex 6
Discovery Communications Europe Ltd (Discovery Travel & Living, Discovery Science)
Viasat Broadcasting UK Ltd (Viasat, Sport1)
TV1000 AB (TV1000)
NGC-UK Partnership (National Geographic Channel)
Jetix Europe Limited (Jetix)
Nonstop Television (Showtime, Star, Nonstop TV7)
BBC World Ltd
SBS Radio AB (The Voice).
Immediately following the Swedish government’s decision on December 19, 2007 that a sixth television multiplex should be established, the PTS announced a national planning solution that allowed DTT transmissions in the 174-230MHz (VHF) and 470-790MHz (UHF) bands.
Having issued its licences, the Radio and Television Commission (RTVV) then asked both the PTS and Teracom for the feasibility of getting the sixth multiplex up and running. The PTS did not respond until December 2, 2008, when the body said that a network would be possible, but that the network would not be able to be fully built until international frequency clearance had been completed. The delays have also brought with them reluctance for the broadcasters to pay the full price when they are not reaching the complete coverage area.
Although the licence holders can technically be penalised for not starting transmissions, it is highly unlikely that this will happen, given that the matter is largely out of their hands. Teracom is awaiting the outcome on the arbitration with the PTS, which is due to be given before the end of January. PTS is also now working on a new market analysis to establish whether further market intervention is required.
Meanwhile Boxer, under pressure from other providers including Telia’s IPTV service, is finding it difficult to hold on to its existing subscriber base. It lost another 6,000 subscribers in the final quarter of 2008, continuing the downward trend that has seen numbers fall by 20,000 in the last 12 months.
As of December 31, 2008 the Teracom-owned operation had 689,000 subscribers, representing a loss of 3% of its subscriber base in the post switchover environment.
“The Swedish TV market has matured, and at the same time the range of pay-TV services that are available has increased; IPTV in particular has established itself as a very strong TV platform,” said Per Norman, MD of Boxer.
“Nevertheless, we have noticed an interest in further service purchases, such as extra cards in order to receive subscriptions on more TVs, and there is a growing interest in recordable boxes (PVR). In future, growth will take place through the sale of more services to existing customers, as well as through overseas expansion,” Norman continued.
Boxer launched in the Swedish market in October 1999 and last year won contracts to operate DTT platforms in Denmark and Ireland.
Boxer’s difficult year
31/12/08 30/09/08 30/06/08 31/03/08 31/12/07
689,000 696,000 701,000 709,000 709,000
Source: Boxer TV Access