Russia’s transition to digital broadcasting is finally starting to take shape following a late start, even by regional standards.
Although it was one of the first countries in CEE to launch a DTT service – Telemedium operated in St Petersburg between 2002 and 2004 – Russia has only had a digital strategy in place since November 2007. It was then announced that the DVB-T standard would be employed to offer viewers 5-6 free public digital TV channels, along with 3-4 free digital radio stations, by the ASO date, which was set for 2015.
The emphasis was clearly on offering a basic minimum number of channels nationally, and there was no mention of pay services. Costs of the transition were put at €10 billion, of which at least €3.6 billion would come from the private sector.
Since then we have, of course, had the global economic crisis, which has hit Russia badly, as well as phenomenal growth in the take-up of satellite-delivered services. The latter are now provided by no fewer than five platforms in the country, with the market leader Tricolor TV claiming around 5 million subscribers.
Although there have been a number of announcements related to the transition in the last year and a half, two made earlier this week were of particular significance.
The first saw President Medvedev approve the composition of what will be Russia’s first DTT multiplex. In total, it will carry eight digital TV channels and three digital radio stations, all of which will be available to viewers free of charge. Perhaps the only surprise was the omission of the national commercial network CTC, which is backed by Modern Times Group (MTG), from the list.
The second was a clarification of the costs that will be involved in undertaking the transition. According to Igor Shchegolev, the Minister of Mass Communications, they will be region of R120-127 billion (€2.76 -2.92 billion), of which some R80 billion will be provided by the federal budget.
He added that launching a national DTT service would require the use of five new satellites and that ASO would only be completed once 95% of the population have digital decoders, typically costing $80-100 (€57.3-71.7) each.
Certainly at this stage, there are no plans to include a pay element in Russia’s future DTT operation. The emphasis will be on delivering a basic minimum service, most probably through the use of state-of-the-art technology, to the entire population.