Digital TV network a reality this year
This year, Thailand is all set to start the process of switching its TV broadcasting system from the current analog to a digital system.
According to Colonel Natee Sukonrat, chairman of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission's broadcasting committee, the first step is to invite suppliers to bid for licences to supply infrastructure for a digital TV transmission network.
"The transition from analog to digital broadcasting has been taking place around the world," Natee said. "Thailand is, however, among the late adopters, as several countries started to digitalise their TV signal transmissions 10-15 years ago.
"That's the first generation of digital TV transmission. As a latecomer, we're jumping right into the second generation of more sophisticated digital TV based on the specifications of the International Telecom Union.
"Digital broadcasting is undoubtedly far better than the analog system in terms of quality and number of channels.
"Quality-wise, there would be four HD or high-definition channels in addition to dozens of SD or standard definition channels. In terms of quantity, the number of TV channels will jump because one spectrum can be used for 10-15 channels instead of just one as in the current analog system.
"The NBTC's schedule is to hold the bidding for digital TV infrastructure licences in March and licences for TV content in July.
"The latter bidding covers the 24 new commercial channels for various kinds of content to serve the increasingly niche audiences. These will be just like the existing free-to-air TV stations such as Channels 3, 5, 7 or 9.
"Licence holders for each of the 24 new channels can also lease up to 40 per cent of their airtime to other content providers so as to maximise the use of spectrum.
"Regarding satellite TVs, they do not use the spectrum we are offering to digital TV bidders, but they have to apply for licences to operate from the NBTC.
"We expect the number of satellite TV channels to fall in the near future from the current 600. I visited Japan recently and was told that in Japan there were as many as 800 satellite TV channels many years ago, but today only 200 are in operation."
"This will likely happen in Thailand as viewers will decide which channels will survive in the long run."
Meanwhile, Sura Gaintanasilp, executive vice president of MCOT, said: "MCOT has been preparing for this digital transformation for some time as we will apply for infrastructure, network-provider and content-provider licences from the NBTC.
"In fact, we have the largest broadcasting network in the country for both TV and radio, so we just need to install additional equipment to support digital transmission of TV signals at our current base stations around the country."
Jamnan Siritan, chairman of JSL Global Media Co, added: "The availability of 24 new free-TV channels resulting from the digital transformation will create tremendous business and other opportunities.
"Of these new channels, five are designated for kids and youth content, another five slots are earmarked for news and sports content, another 10 will be offered to general content channels, and the remaining four are high-definition or HD channels.
"This will require a large number of content providers, especially new ones, which can be small and medium-sized operators. The supply of new digital channels is quite big, whereas the advertising budget will only increase slightly.
"At present, combined annual ad spending in Thailand is about Bt100 billion, half of which is spent on TV media. This means that the tariffs for commercial ads will likely decline in the near future because of a huge supply of new airtime.
"Big players will likely bid for HD licences, while medium-sized operators may go for the cheaper standard or SD channels, which may cost anywhere from Bt500 million to Bt1 billion or more per channel for one 15-year licence.
"For content providers, there can be abundant opportunities. JSL for example may not bid for any licence, but we would rather focus on being content providers to other licence-holders, since there will be as many as 24 new channels. We're waiting for the NBTC to finalise the terms and conditions on the bidding for licences to run these 24 channels.
"For advertisers, the tariffs will be cheaper. Now, the best prime-time slots are very expensive, costing as much as Bt400,000 per minute, This could fall to just Bt80,000-Bt100,000 per minute once there is competition from another 24 new channels.
"For viewers, there will be a lot more choices, but producers will have to invest much more to differentiate their content."