3.5.1 Market complexity; plurality of scenarios and stakeholders
There is no single switchover pattern or formula. Experiences vary according to the localcircumstances and from one network to another. Consequently, the general analysis provided here could only be a simplification. The switchover debate tends to focus on terrestrial TV for two reasons: greater difficulties for a market-led digitisation than other networks; and higher political stakes and government involvement, mainly because of the pressure to recover spectrum, and a wide-spread perception associating terrestrial with universal free-to-air broadcasting services.
Switchover is a complex and long process involving many variables and affecting more or less directly many parties, namely: users/ consumers, industry and public authorities. Each group can be further subdivided into smaller segments. For instance, users can be categorised according to their attitude towards digital TV: current or potential pay-TV subscribers, assuming that all pay-TV will be digital sooner or later; current or potential free-to-air digital TV viewers, who have bought or are ready to buy a digital receiver; viewers who will be always reluctant to adopt any form of digital TV, pay or free-to-air, for various reasons. The switchover strategies adopted will obviously determine, and be determined by, the respective percentage of each user category. In particular, the extent to which market forces alone can achieve digitisation will depend on the number and resilience of consumers reluctant to migrate to digital TV.
Switchover also concerns many industry players, such as content creators, service providers, network operators or equipment manufacturers. Some were already active in the analogue broadcasting market, others look for new business opportunities. Likewise, various departments in national and international administrations are interested in switchover insofar as it affects the achievement of policy objectives.
3.5.2 The case for public intervention
A key question is whether public authorities should intervene to accelerate switchover and/ or otherwise influence the process. That would be justified under two premises: first, the extent to which general interests are at stake; that is, how far there are potential benefits and/ or problems for the society as a whole, rather than just for certain groups or individuals. Secondly, market failure; that is, market forces alone fail to deliver in terms of collective welfare. In other words, market players’ behaviour does not fully internalise switchover costs. Assessing the existence and intensity of both premises is largely a matter of political judgement by the competent authority, which, in the case of broadcasting, tends to be national and/ or regional authorities. In any case, such judgement should not be arbitrary but supported by sound market analysis.
As to general interests, potential benefits from digitisation can be oriented towards various policy goals: social, cultural, political, economic, etc. Usually there are trade-offs to make between them. For instance, part of the spectrum released by analogue switch-off could be redistributed in order to transfer this resource to operators who would use it to support different services or ‘reinvested’ in broadcasting to improve and extend the service.
The broadcasting sector is not comparable to any other sector, as it plays a central role in modern democratic societies, notably in the development and transmission of social values. Broadcasting offers a unique combination of features. Its widespread penetration provides almost complete coverage of the population across different broadcasting networks; provision of substantial quantities of news and current affairs together with cultural programming mean that it both influences and reflects public opinion and socio-cultural values. Switchover may affect these general interests. It will be important to ensure the continuing availability of a variety of television services, without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunities, to all parts of the population. In particular, this is a pre-condition for public service broadcasters to fulfil their special obligations.
The likelihood of market failure is linked to the complexity of the environment where switchover takes place, and the interactions between the main parties involved. All have interests to defend and seek to influence the main variables: introduction or not of digital terrestrial TV, speed of the migration and switch-off timing, convenience and type of public intervention. However, coordinated action from the main stakeholders, rather than confrontation of individual strategies, is likely to lead to the collective optimum: a swift and efficient switch-off, with the minimum negative social and economic implications.
At least in the case of terrestrial television and radio, a series of structural failures hinder market co-operation and slow down switchover, notably (free riding) behaviour, oligopoly situations and ‘chicken and egg’ deadlocks. More specifically, the parties benefiting the most from switchover (equipment manufacturers or potential beneficiaries of released spectrum, including new broadcasters) may be different from those likely to bear the costs (final users or current broadcasters). So the latter have little incentive to internalise the costs and contribute to the switchover. Overcoming this kind of situation would require setting up co-ordination mechanisms to share benefits and costs between all parties involved, ideally with little or no public intervention. In this regard, public authorities, especially those responsible for competition law, must make careful judgements as to the right balance between market competition and cooperation between relevant parties. Those judgements must be based on clear understanding of both market dynamics and policy goals pursued.
If the need for public intervention is established, decisions must be taken about its modalities, within a coherent switchover strategy. Any intervention should be transparent and proportionate as to the policy objectives pursued, market obstacles, and implementing details. This would provide certainty for all parties to prepare themselves and would limit the scope for arbitrary or discriminatory measures.
Five principles and guidelines for regulatory action can be established. Regulation should:
− Be based on clearly defined policy objectives.
− Be the minimum necessary to meet those objectives.
− Further enhance legal certainty in a dynamic market.
− Aim to be technologically neutral.
− Be enforced as closely as possible to the activities being regulated.
A key area in national switchover strategies is the approach to digital broadcasting licensing and regulatory obligations attached thereto. This involves policy choices on network competition versus complementarity, number of operators, roll-out calendar and map, etc. Otherwise, there is a variety of possible intervention instruments and measures to encourage switchover, ranging from encouragement measures, like information campaigns, to compulsory ones, like analogue turn-off dates, or mandatory standards for equipment including digital tuners. They can also vary according to the parties targeted (consumers, equipment manufacturers, broadcasters, potential users of released spectrum, others). The impact of the planned measures should be evaluated through prospective economic analysis to ensure that the expected cost and benefits are fairly distributed; public policy should not lead to situations where some parties will be forced to bear most switchover costs whilst others will enjoy the benefits.
Timing is a key element of any intervention on switchover. Premature or late action can be useless and even counterproductive insofar as it introduces market distortion. Timely intervention requires good knowledge of market status and evolution, and therefore regular monitoring and analysis. In principle, an early switch-off is likely to be more controversial, but a more distant date may reduce any beneficial impact. In this connection, three main phases can be identified in TV switchover: the take-up phase driven by pay-TV, where sooner or later operators convert subscribers to digital; the consolidation phase, starting now in the countries where digital TV is the most advanced, where some consumers decide to equip themselves with digital devices to receive free-to-air digital TV; the closure phase, where users still not interested in any type of digital TV are forced to adopt it, with or without public support for the acquisition of a digital receiver.
Public intervention can support digital TV penetration in all three phases but stronger measures should be confined to the closure stage, after industry has made all possible efforts to increase consumer uptake. This requires that authorities ensure a favourable and predictable regulatory environment, and intensify their action when the market cannot deliver further. That may be the case when it is considered that digital broadcasting is not progressing quickly enough to achieve policy targets.
Broadcasting has a stronger tradition of policy intervention than other information and communication sectors like telecommunications, where the impact of liberalisation has been greater. This is justified by the political and social relevance of broadcasting content, which calls for the enforcement of minimum quality and pluralism requirements. Policy intervention is even greater in the case of terrestrial broadcasting because of its heavy use of spectrum, a scarce public resource, and the already-cited perception associating terrestrial with universal free-to-air TV services.
However, the contexts surrounding the introduction of analogue and digital broadcasting are very different. When analogue broadcasting was introduced, only the terrestrial option existed; there was no competition and the market was entirely shaped by regulatory intervention. Now, there are various types of networks, high market competition and faster technological change. Under these circumstances, the transition to digital broadcasting represents a big industrial challenge that must be led by the market. Intervention from public authorities to facilitate and supervise the process could be justified insofar as general interests are at stake.
The risks from both public intervention or absence of it must be assessed. Non-intervention can result in market failure and jeopardise general interest goals in the sense explained above. As to the risk from public intervention, it includes policy-driven approaches captured by industrial parties seeking to offset commercial risk, thus reducing competition and pressure to innovate. This could result in perverse effects, like ‘moral hazard’ or market inaction, and ultimately slow the switchover process down. In practice, these parties may exaggerate the advantages from digital broadcasting, mixing private and collective benefits. Then, they might persuade authorities to support them (legally, financially or otherwise) in the name of general interests to gain a competitive edge over rivals. If not transparently justified, this could distort the market.
Moreover, public intervention, or the simple announcement of it, that turns out to be inappropriate for any reason (disproportionate, discriminatory, untimely, etc) can be counterproductive. It can create additional obstacles to digital broadcasting uptake, by stimulating an appetite for more public intervention than would have been necessary otherwise. For instance, if a government announces too early that digital receivers will be offered to all remaining analogue users shortly before analogue switch-off, there will be little incentive for those users to buy receivers. Also, untimely imposition of technical standards that are immature or require costly implementation may discourage investment. Finally, all intervention by national authorities must be compatible with existing law.
126.96.36.199 Policy orientations
As explained, market forces must drive the switchover process focusing on users. The challenge is to stimulate demand so that it is a service-led process rather than a simple infrastructure change with no perceived added-value for citizens. Consequently, the various consumer segments must be offered packages of services and equipment that are attractive to them; that is, stimulating, user-friendly and affordable. This is primarily a task for market players.
There is however also scope for policy intervention considering the social and industrial general interest at stake, and that some key elements of the process are the responsibility of public authorities. Such intervention must be conducted in the first instance by national and/ or regional authorities, which are the most directly responsible for broadcasting content policy and licensing.