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MDA’s digital TV move: so what’s next?

Today’s announcement by the Media Development Authority of Singapore’s free-to-air (FTA) TV channels to go fully digital by 2013 has been applauded by the industry but the praises come with a hint of caution.

While the move is being seen as win-win for both consumers and advertisers alike, media professionals such as Marie Gruy, regional business director, PHD Singapore said for free to air channels this is an opportunity to expand and explore new content as well as other interactive services over the greater range of channels.

This will also strengthen FTA’s position vis-à-vis pay TV, as the government attempts to move to digital TV from the analogue format.

Moving to digital will release more spectrum, which allows MediaCorp to push more channels on air, at higher quality (HD), so MediaCorp may be able to offer niche channels, competing directly with pay-TV, thus shoring up the declining FTA viewing, according to Bharad Ramesh, regional executive director of strategic operations and trading in Asia at Starcom Media.

“Digital broadcasting also allows for reception even in moving vehicles, thus expanding reach. In Indonesia, for instance, where cable is expensive, SCTV is already trialing ‘pay-tv’ service using digital terrestrial broadcast,” he said.

But with more and more fragmentation in consumer’s viewing habits, advertisers are already migrating to online video. “That’s where the competition is.”

Nonetheless, the challenge for MediaCorp remains quality of content. “More channels doesn’t mean anything if MediaCorp’s content doesn’t have enough appeal- which is the crux of the problem,” Ramesh added.

Some experts also added that while there may not be any benefit for advertisers in the short-term, the move will bear fruits in the long run.

According to Desh Balakrishnan, executive director at MPG Singapore, once the Smart TV becomes popular, the benefit of the move will be obvious, given the potential of integration with online, the medium will offer.

“That’s the evolution we are all waiting for,” he said.

Echoed Vikram Bansal, head of services, Aegis Media Singapore, who said the benefits of this can be far reaching. While the obvious one is the improvement in quality of transmission, the bigger opportunity lies in the benefits of convergence, where the content could be served across platforms and could merge seamlessly with web content, he said.

“Another potential benefit could be in the area of improving audience measurement. And finally this could also allow for ad-serving on broadcast TV, in the way it’s done on online advertising, allowing greater accountability and flexibility to advertisers.”

In an announcement today, The Media Development Authority today announced that Singapore’s free-to-air (FTA) TV channels will go fully digital by the end of 2013 using the DVB-T2 (Digital Video Broadcasting – Second Generation Terrestrial) broadcasting standard.

With Singapore’s migration to digital TV, free-to-air broadcaster MediaCorp will transmit all its seven free-to-air channels digitally by end 2013. Channels 5, 8, Suria and Vasantham will be available in High Definition by end 2013. The remaining three channels – okto, Channel U and Channel NewsAsia will first be broadcast in Standard Definition from end 2013, before being broadcast in High Definition in 2016.

The adoption of DVB-T2 standard comes after a successful trial conducted last year with MediaCorp and pay-TV operator StarHub. The trial, which involved some 500 households in Ang Mo Kio and Bedok housing estates, showed that DVB-T2 was suitable for deployment in Singapore’s urbanised environment.

To ensure a smooth switchover, there will be a simulcast period, where both digital and analogue free-to-air television signals will be broadcast to ensure all households have time to get accustomed to receiving their free-to-air TV signals digitally.

Singapore will complete the switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting by 2020, in line with ASEAN’s agreed timeframe for making the switch.

When contacted MediaCorp declined to comment on its strategy for advertisers only saying that as the planned switchover to digital broadcasting is scheduled to complete only by December 2013, “we will make an announcement when more details become available towards the second half of next year.”

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