As tens of thousands of consumers flock to the halls of the Messe Berlin for the consumer electronics show IFA, confusion still reigns about the future of digital television in Germany. Having been spoilt for many years with a multitude of high quality channels, first in analogue and now in digital, consumers are faced with the fact they might have to pay for the privilege.
First, there is HD+, the HD platform to be launched by SES-Astra. The two leading private TV groups in the country, RTL Deutschland and ProSiebenSat.1, have pledged their support. They argue that the SD versions of their channels will remain free, but when people want to see the programmes in full HD they need to buy a receiver that will be capable of receiving the signals.
Consumer groups, the public broadcasters and others including some representatives of the press are now crying foul. In some respects, they are right: the addition of yet another system for pay-TV is creating confusion for the consumer. If people want to receive the HD signals of the private broadcasters, they need a suitable receiver if they are dependent on satellite reception.
If people want to receive the premium channels from Sky Deutschland as well, they need to buy (or rent) a receiver that is capable of handling both offers – and as yet there are no such receivers in the shops.
No one forces consumers to watch television by satellite – they can also choose to subscribe to cable. In that case, they will probably also find that they have to pay for the privilege of watching the channels in HD rather than in SD. Is that bad? Not really, as commercial broadcasters are still offering their channels in basic – and they need to have an additional income stream to pay for the extra costs of HD. Advertisers won’t pay extra, so it is the consumer who has to foot the bill.
Second, there is CI Plus, the next generation of Common Interface. As yet, no platform in the country has fully committed to the standard, but the discussion rages on. For content providers, CI Plus is a good thing as it gives more control over the content.
On the other hand, consumers are worried about this control as it might prevent them from recording certain programmes or limit their availability.
Although this will technically be possible, broadcasters will have to be very prudent when applying certain restrictions. Commercial broadcasters need their audience and certainly do not want to alienate them. If they do, they will find that their viewers will go elsewhere and find the content they want to see – either legally or illegally.
In both cases, broadcasters and platforms should go to great lengths to explain what they are doing and why they are doing it. Also, they should make sure their technology solutions are as open as possible so there are no additional impediments, such as set manufacturers who are reluctant to apply the standards because of high costs.