Handling of transition to digital era must ensure fair competition
Most advertising budgets tend to be spent on key analog TV channels until their broadcasting concessions expire.
To promote free and fair competition among new and existing players during the transition to digital TV, called the "simulcast period", operating analog terrestrial broadcasters must not be allowed to transmit their TV programmes via digital terrestrial signals, an academic says.
Underlining this point, Sutham Yunaitham, who was a member of the National Telecommunications Commission, which has evolved into a committee of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said yesterday that if the NBTC allowed those analog TV operators, particularly commercial broadcasters, into the digital terrestrial TV market, it would become less attractive for newcomers.
According to the Media Agency Association of Thailand, advertisers and marketers still believe that analog terrestrial TV channels are playing a key role in the Bt120-billion advertising industry as their share is more than Bt60 billion.
Wannee Ruttanaphon, president of the association, said that of total advertising budgets via TV channels, more than half is spent on Channel 7, operated by Bangkok Broadcasting and Television, and Thai TV3, operated by Bangkok Entertainment Company.
Supinya Klangnarong, an NBTC member, has said the broadcasting regulator had the idea to upgrade existing TV operators from analog to digital in an attempt to persuade them to start early on the switch-off process.
Sutham, who is now the dean of law at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said that if existing TV broadcasters had the privilege of converting to digital, it would be unfair for the 24 winners in the spectrum auction for commercial digital TV licences because all licence holders must take responsibility for all the costs of the subsidy scheme to help all 22 million households gain access to digital.
It is final that 22 million households will be given a coupon to buy a digital TV set or digital set-top converter at a discount during the shift away from analog.
The broadcasting regulator will today approve in principle the subsidy scheme after the board of the Research and Development Fund for broadcasting and telecommunications has acknowledged the NBTC's broadcasting committee's proposal to allocate a part of the proceeds from the spectrum auction for 24 licences of commercial digital terrestrial TV channels for the coupons.
The value of the coupon will be set by the starting bid price. The broadcasting regulator expects to set the starting bid price after a public hearing next month. Chulalongkorn University's economics faculty is helping to study the proper price for the world's first spectrum auction for digital TV broadcasting, which is set for July or August.
Thawatchai Jitpanant, chairman of the NBTC's panel on TV broadcasting competition, stressed that the starting price must be reasonable for all high-potential bidders.
However, not only are 22 million households waiting to take part in this historical development in the 45-year broadcasting industry, but companies that are keen on joining the bidding for the 24 licences also need to know how much they can afford to secure a licence and whether there will be a truly free and fair playing field among market participants.