German public broadcaster ARD will cease the satellite distribution of its TV channels in SD resolution on Astra (19.2° East) in January 2021.
The channels can then only be received in HD quality. Affected are Das Erste, tagesschau24, ONE and ARD-alpha. According to ARD, the shutdown will save the broadcaster considerable costs. In addition, the commission for the determination of the public TV and radio licence fee KEF has already announced that it will no longer provide funds for the SD satellite broadcasts.
Otherwise, ARD would have had to reallocate funds from other areas in order to continue SD distribution, which would then no longer have been available for the originally designated areas. Whether ARD’s regional channels and jointly operated public channels such as KI.KA, 3sat and Phoenix will follow suit or continue SD distribution is currently unclear. Notably, the SD switch-off decision only concerns satellite broadcasting, there are no changes on other distribution infrastructures.
Almost 80% of DTH satellite households in Germany already receive HDTV – and thus also the public broadcasters’ channels as they are unencrypted. However, the situation is different for commercial broadcasters, because the HD versions of their channels are encrypted and subject to a subscription fee. Just under 16% of DTH satellite households have decided to pay for reception of the advertising-financed free-TV channels in HD resolution. SD switch-off is therefore a long way off for the commercial broadcasters, otherwise there would be a risk of high losses in audience reach and thus a sharp decline in advertising revenues.
Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland recently extended its contract with Astra satellite operator SES for the unencrypted SD satellite distribution of its free-TV channels until 2024. Shortly afterwards, ProSiebenSat.1 also announced that it had signed a long-term contract with SES for the continuation of unencrypted SD distribution.
How difficult it is to convince viewers to pay for the HD versions of the commercial channels is shown by the withdrawal of M7 Group’s Diveo and Freenet TV Sat, offered by Media Broadcast. Both providers marketed RTL, Sat.1, ProSieben and other commercial channels in HD resolution to DTH satellite households in Germany. As it was the case before the two competitors entered the market, SES subsidiary HD+ is now once again the only platform offering the commercial free-TV channels in HD quality via satellite.
Update, February 13, 2020: ARTE has decided to join ARD and also to cease its SD distribution on Astra at the beginning of 2021. This was confirmed by Kemal Görgülü, Head of Technology at the German-French cultural channel, in an interview with German industry magazine InfoDigital. “We definitely do not see our future in the SD distribution of our signals any more and have already terminated this in France in October 2016,” said Görgülü. ZDF, on the other hand, is still hesitating. A ZDF spokeswoman told Broadband TV News that no decision has yet been made.