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BROADCASTING

Set-top box vouchers tool for reshaping industry

THE VOUCHERS for digital TV set-top boxes will be a key tool of the broadcasting committee of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to shape up the TV broadcasting industry and put it in order.

In July the watchdog will start mailing the free vouchers to 11 million households to use in buying a set-up box for viewing terrestrial digital television.

Households will have the choice of getting a DVB-T2 digital TV box, DVB-S2 satellite TV box or DVB-C cable TV box.

Natee Sukonrat, chairman of the Broadcasting Committee, hopes that sales will be split evenly between T2 boxes and S2/C boxes so that all digital TV stations and cable/sat TV operators have a chance to survive.

Currently 34 per cent of analog TV viewers use an antenna, while the rest use cable and satellite TV networks.

By 2017, most households are expected to own a digital TV set, so most people will not have to rely on any box to view the new digital TV channels.

The vouchers will also make the broadcasting TV industry more uniform in terms of channel numbering. Cable/sat operators that want to sell set-top boxes under the voucher scheme will have to use the numbering plan. They will have to reserve channels 1-36 for digital TV first on their networks. Currently their first 10 channels are arranged as they please, followed by 36 digital TV channels.

The competition between cable/sat TV operators and digital TV operators to offer set-top boxes to customers under the voucher scheme will also drive down the market price of the boxes.

The terrestrial digital TV network operators have targeted covering half of all households nationwide this year.

One of major cable TV operators, CTH, expects to acquire over three million subscribers this year, up from the present 500,000, based on the plan to offer cable TV boxes under the NBTC's voucher scheme.

Natee said his committee hopes that Thailand would completely enter the terrestrial digital TV broadcasting era within three years.

The voucher scheme is also a way for the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to encourage satellite TV operators, which broadcast free to air TV, to enter its pay TV licensing programme. Among these major satellite TV network operators providing free to air programmes is PSI Holdings.

Satellite TV network operators, if they are not pay TV operators, will have to apply for a pay TV licence from the NBTC first to make them eligible to sell the satellite TV boxes under the voucher programme.

PSI recently hinted that it plans to apply for a pay TV licence to join the voucher scheme. The company reportedly is concerned that by not joining the scheme, it might risk losing customers.

Pay TV operators are competing to offer their satellite TV boxes under the voucher scheme, along with their own special contents, to lure PSI customers to convert to their service.


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