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Convergence and digital power

U.S. broadcasters have a deadline to adopt a DTV system. You also have to prepare in Latin America.

In 2006 most commercial television broadcasting operations must be fully digitized. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and other regulators simply put a date on the table, and decided to leave the issue of standardization at the mercy of the free play of the market.

This relatively unexpected move has generated some confusion. Both large chains and independent stations have dedicated themselves to publishing statements that demonstrate the serious economic problem that can represent the assembly of transmission systems with digital technology.

The entertainment industry is blindly preparing for the monumental task of transporting its files to formats compatible with an undefined DTV standard. And large manufacturers of production equipment continue to develop their product lines, in many cases incompatible with each other, hoping to be able to retain their niche in the market.

The questions

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What will be the digital television of the coming years? What will happen to existing analog HDTV systems? The consumer electronics industry has washed its hands, showing that it can accommodate any market movement by generating multifunctional products, capable of accepting signals from various standards.

Which tape recording formats can be successfully inserted into the DTV market? Will it be possible to migrate to digital transmission without completely renewing RF antennas and equipment? And what will ultimately happen to the spectrum used for conventional transmissions?

At NAB'98 some answers will be hinted at. Even unexpected agreements that affect the rules of the game are likely to be made public for the near future. Some of the parties involved are already prepared for change. For example, transmission equipment manufacturers are ready to provide stations with expensive equipment to digitize their operations. For them the issue of standardization is not so serious, because they only need to make small adjustments to their products to accommodate the changes that are necessary.

Transition to Latin style

As american colleagues advance their debate, we wonder what impact these issues may have on our region. It is clear that most Latin American producers are not part of the game of immediate equipment renewal, and that we will continue to operate on traditional transmission systems for many years to come.

And it is to be expected that manufacturers will continue to support conventional production operations with traditional equipment and with new digital systems that facilitate a gradual step to the new standard.

However, we must not believe that the transition to digital television in the United States will not affect us. It should be borne in mind that the transnationalization of the industry will bring DTV to Latin America sooner than expected. Surely the powerful American subscription television industry will make every effort to start transporting DTV signals as soon as possible.

- Publicidad -

In fact, direct satellite transmission systems do not require great efforts to adopt signals of different specifications from the current ones, although they may be forced in principle to handle highly compressed versions so as not to affect their utilization of the available bandwidth.

In short, the conditions of competition between free-to-air TV and Pay-TV in our region could change radically in the coming years. The pressure from the consumer electronics industry to mobilize the acquisition of new equipment will be favored by the presence of DTV signals and the increase in 16:9 transmissions on satellite channels.

In the most important markets of Latin America, the entertainment value of local programming will be further diminished in the face of the onslaught of the North American cable industry, which will continue to attack our market aggressively. And the effect of inserting local advertising into satellite feeds can prove disastrous for local operations.

Treatments for the problem

Importing solutions is one of the obvious answers to the question about the method of solving this problem. The Latino television industry could try to reproduce the reactions of the big U.S. television networks to the cable television boom of the eighties: diversify programming, favor local production in small markets, implement automated systems, mount sophisticated news operations. And cut costs on all possible fronts.

It is likely that these proposals can be fully adapted to the operations of the largest markets in the region, but they will hardly be able to be implemented in countries where recession, unfortunately, is customary.

- Publicidad -

An interesting option is to explore the market for value-added products that can be integrated into free-to-air television systems. Interactive systems for opinion queries, data distribution and even signal transmission for beepers or pagers, can be additional sources of income for television channels in difficult times.

Perhaps it is feasible to invest in limited modifications that allow the retransmission of DTV signals converted into conventional signals of 16:9 ratio, in order to compete with possibilities, at least in the prime time.

Surely the most powerful television operators in Mexico and Brazil will begin to conduct partial migration processes towards DTV production, in order to continue competing in international markets, while small national networks and local operators begin to adapt to the new rules of the game.

In short, it is possible that this scenario will not develop until its final consequences. But you have to prepare. And the answers will start showing up in NAB'98.

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