According to the latest estimates at the end of May 2008 the number of DTT households (with at least one DTT receiver in the main family home) has risen to 5.912.000, with a net growth of 130 thousand (+2.2%) units in April (“Digital TV Monitor” survey by Makno).
Between April and May the overall number of DTT receivers increased from 6.288.000 to 6.427.196 implying a monthly growth of 140 thousand units.
7.8 40% DTT Capacity
The 2001 law n. 66 obliges Rai, Mediaset and Telecom Italia Media to handover 40% of transmission capacity to third parties. Thanks to this law in august 2008 AGCOM has received 25 programme applications from 17 different companies wishing to gain access to DTT. A special commission has to draw-up the list of channels to which AGCOM will allocate transmission capacity.
Airplus with six requests; ESPN; Turner Entertainment Networks; the English Top Up TV, and Qvc, specialized in teleshopping. There are also regional TV networks such as Telelombardia and Antenna 3 Nord Est as well as other national broadcasters: Sitcom, Class Editori, AnicaFlash (Coming Soon) and Rete Blu. Other national applicants include Infront Italy (with two requests), Archimede and finally Consorzio Alphabet, which will only be officially set-up if their application is successful.
7.9 The Italian DTT Offer
Italian DTT offer includes 28 FTA national channels (including 9 terrestrial analogues) as well as Pay services. There are 6 all-news channels; 3 channels each for the entertainment, music and sports areas; kids’ programmes have two thematic channels: Boing and Rai Gulp. Pay offers, including PPV, generally cover the areas of film, fiction, sports and kids (with Disney Channel’s recent entry).
Moreover since June 2008 Rai has been broadcasting HD programs in the areas of Rome, Turin, Milan, Sardinia and Valle d’Aosta. The European Football Cup and the Peking Olympics were broadcasted through DTT in high quality 16:9 format on RAI 2 and on RAI Sport Più.
The Italian DTT offer (source: e-Media Institute)
7.10 Historical Considerations
Digital Terrestrial Television in Italy existed only in project plans and in technical laboratories until late 2003. Scheduled DTT services were started in December 2003. Six multiplexes at national level are in operation, conveying in excess more than 42 TV channels. At the moment this report is being written, tens of interactive services are already available on top of audio-video services. Tens of local digital channels have become progressively available. The current coverage of population, in terms of reach of digital signals, is more than 70% in complex. Pay-per-view services, via prepaid (possibly rechargeable) smart-cards have been introduced one year after the start-up of the system, with virtually no breaking of the free-to-air, interoperability characteristics of the set top box. Four millions set top boxes are installed in the Italian households as of end of year 2006. This means that 20% of Italian households are provided of digital TV boxes. By all benchmarks this appears as a major success story, so far.
This contribution aims at describing some key factors of the Italian way to Digital Terrestrial Television:
The new value chain and the new stakeholders
Deployment of digital networks
The spread of set top boxes
The availability of audio-video contents
The challenge of interactivity, as a means to achieve t-government
The challenge of interactivity, as a means to attract revenue into the new DTT market
Cooperation and coordination of actors at national level.
The challenges at stake
The go-ahead to digital terrestrial television has given a decisive jolt to the reorganisation of television broadcasting by designing new scenarios that are modelling attractive business opportunities, new content and technological innovation on the part of all the players involved in the transition from analogue to digital.
A variety of problems have yet to be confronted and solved, as may well be imagined for an experimentation of a profoundly structural nature both in terms of the investment needed and the numbers involved. But there is great enthusiasm for the new challenge and a desire to find ample space for sharing experiences and comparing notes, as long as the switch-off date, year 2012 is reached with everything in order.
The stakes in digital are high, ranging from content to the technological capacity to create infrastructures able to sustain the change.
The passage to digital and the abandonment of analogue broadcasts will transform the traditional television set into a new, practical, interactive consumer appliance in which traditional TV functions will converge with computing and the latest applications of remote communication technologies. Remote medical consultation and distance teaching, T-government are just some examples of what digital television will be able to offer ordinary citizens. And all this will allow Italians direct access to new services directly from their own homes, instead of having to suffer long queues in public and private offices.
While television consumption used to be passive, with digital TV public interaction will become more dynamic. With analogue TV the user has to use the remote control and change programmes, while digital TV will shift the user towards a higher, more complete composition of genres.
Digital terrestrial television is therefore set for integration with new forms of social globalisation, creating new codes for the time consumed in front of the TV set. It will take on the appearance of a new medium able to guarantee connection to information and interactivity.
Feedback from viewers will become an integral part of content planning, development and organisation. And the commercial spin-off, expected to be substantial, should not be forgotten if the packaging of more complex products, with its effect on the production system, changes distribution as well.
With the introduction of digital TV also the traditional professional figures will be caused to change, such as the installers, who will tend rather to become sellers of entertainment and bits. But the broadcasters will also change, and will have the opportunity to choose whether to become just a seller of band and megabytes or to keep also the role of producers of content, which will have a knock-on effect on the entire industrial fabric and on its potential for development.
Brief history before start of scheduled DTT services
The history of DTT in Italy starts in the early Nineties, with active participation of technical experts from Italian broadcasting operators and industry in the works of the international DVB group, since the time of its formation. Digital techniques are first applied on satellite systems, where there is a more dramatic needs of optimising spectrum use, given the cost of satellite payload and the need to definitely improve quality of reception. Along the Nineties the transition from analogue to digital satellite TV takes place. Similar needs, for a more rational use of spectrum and for better quality of reception, arise for terrestrial television, leading to studying the feasibility of introduction of DTT in Italy.
In 1997, the Parliament act 249/97 establishes the Authority on communications (AGCOM), which is given the task – among others – of drafting a national frequency assignment plan. For the first time in Italian legislation, DTT is mentioned, by foreseeing an ad hoc frequency reservation for trials of this new technique. Such plan is actually issued in 1998.
In 1999 the AGCOM sets up a DTT National Committee, i.e. a Forum bringing together broadcasters, network operators, industry, universities and R&D institutes. The results of the work, carried out by four Study Groups on service requirements, network and frequency planning, architectural and costs evaluation, planning of the launching phase, are reported in the White Book published in September 2000 and submitted by the AGCOM to the Parliament. The White Book also suggests the opportunity of financial incentives for local broadcasters to free up frequencies.
In 2001 the Italian Parliament approved act n. 66/01, which, in conjunction with subsequent Acts and amendments, envisages the complete transition from analogue to digital terrestrial television (switch-off) after a predefined period of coexistence of both systems. According to this law the AGCOM elaborates and publishes at beginning of February 2003 the plan for digital television broadcasting named planning of first level.
During the following years, under the co-ordination of the Ministry of Communications, a number of pre-operating activities are undertaken by the public and some private Italian broadcasters in all Italian territory. Concertation activities and joint demonstrative trials are carried out to ascertain the feasibility of transition from several viewpoints: technical, economical, regulatory and marketing.
It is during this time that the Italian Administration, in agreement with major players in the broadcasting arena, gives a strong push to go for fully interactive digital terrestrial television (see specific paragraphs in the sequel). Interactivity has since then become a major watermark of the Italian way to digital terrestrial television.
The value chain of DTT
The analogue terrestrial television market is vertically structured, i.e. one single stakeholder, owner of the licence to transmit, covers the entire chain of production, transport, distribution and broadcasting.
In the Italian DTT market, a single stakeholder role is replaced by three roles:
− content provider, which is responsible for the production of audio/video services;
− network operator, which uses a set of frequencies to operate a network of transmission sites, through which a set of audio/video services and multimedia/data services is broadcast on a national or local level;
− service provider, which provides conditional access services or information services (data services).
Content providers and service providers need an authorization from the State in order to operate. Network operators need a licence.
In Italy, special emphasis has been given to interactive services, which foresee communication, through connection of the set top box to a telecom network, with servers belonging to service providers (possibly third-parties with respect to the network operator and the content provider), to exchange data of specific, personal or private interest upon request by the user. Therefore, the value chain of DTT completes with the role of telecom operator, as the provider of the so-called return channel. Interactive service provision requires the set up of a (possibly distributed) system called service center, relaying information among the broadcaster playout center, the application and data repositories in the domain of the service provider and the user set top box.
The above described value chain revolutionises the traditional television business model and opens up the market place to a number of newcomers, not only broadcasters, but also third-party service providers like public administrations, public utilities, healthcare establishments, schools, and so on.
The transition from analogue to digital terrestrial
Since year 2000, it was understood in Italy that an orderly and effective transition process from the analogue to the digital system could only be possible by coordinated effort of a number of stakeholder roles. In fact the process involves the following phases, to be achieved concurrently and in parallel: deployment of digital networks with progressive coverage of the population; adaptation of existing receiving antennas whenever necessary; provisioning of digital receivers in all households, availability of audio-video, multimedia and interactive contents.
Deployment of digital networks
The overcrowded Italian analogue system (the result of several stratified provisions, across more than twenty years, often introduced as patches to intricate problems) did not allow to have a given number of VHF and/or UHF channels consistently reserved in all transmission sites for implementation of as much Single Frequency Networks (SFN) as needed to broadcast DTT services. Therefore, a pragmatic approach was taken: digital broadcasting was allowed from transmission sites where frequencies would be available or could be made available by reclaiming them from the analogue domain. To this purpose, i.e. for the sake of converting usage of frequencies from analogue to digital, legal provisions have been made for frequency trading. Otherwise said, to build a digital network (multiplex) the broadcasters have two options: (a) buy licensed frequencies from other broadcasters; (b) convert to digital operations the so-called redundant frequencies, i.e. channels used in several areas just for little improvement of the analogue coverage.
The Parliament Act n. 66/2001 and the related regulatory package 435/01/CONS of AGCOM, plus the Parliament Act n. 112/2004 do provide the legal framework for fair trade of frequencies in the evolution towards an “all digital” scene. In this perspective, and according to the orientation of the other Member Countries of the European Union (at the moment this report is being written the furthest term for the transition from analogue to digital transmissions in Europe is established in year 2012), that legal framework is still evolving.
The situation of digital networks as of end of year 2006
By following the approach described above, national broadcasters have been able to set up digital networks, covering more than 70% of the population. By visiting the website www.dgtvi.it TV viewers can check whether their town is covered by digital signals and find out which multiplexes and from which transmission sites are available in their area. In major areas even 5 or 6 multiplexes are available.
From the side of RAI, only six months after the starting date of the digital transmissions, 80 DVB-T transmitters were already operating in the greatest Italian cities. At the moment this report is being written, more than 150 DVB-T transmitters have been achieved by RAI and are operating, for a coverage of more than 70% of the population. Two multiplexes are radiated.
Mediaset is strongly committed in experiments on DVB-T systems to accelerate the introduction of digital terrestrial television. Mediaset has 93 DVB-T transmitters operating and covers a significant percentage of the Italian population with one multiplex. All these transmitters are obtained from conversion from existing analogue ones. A similar number of digital transmitters is also planned in the near future, to further enlarge the coverage. The existing multiplex includes MHP interactive applications.
As regards other broadcasters, Home Shopping Europe is using 17 DVB-T transmitters, Rete A is using
163 DVB-T transmitters, LA7 is using 121 DVB-T transmitters and Prima TV is using 58 DVB-T transmitters.
A significant number of local broadcasters have been able to trade frequencies to be devoted to the digital exercise. Those that could not purchase such frequencies, have only one option: keep analogue broadcasting, until availability of set top boxes in their area of coverage guarantees a digital audience greater than the analogue one. Since transition regulations impose that actual digital emissions do take place, for an analogue broadcaster be enabled to apply for a long-term licence in the DTT market, the most common solution for minor local broadcasters is to reserve some lowest-audience hours of the 24hour-day for digital trials. It must be said, that the most recent transmission systems are dual, i.e. are able to toggle from analogue to digital mode.
It is obvious that for any analogue broadcasting station that closes down, the system will be able to activate at least five DTT channels. Therefore, at some stage, there should be a landslide effect in the availability of frequencies.
Adaptation of receiving antenna installations
On-field experience has shown that receiving antenna installations are, in most cases (70-80% according to different sources), directly reusable to receive the digital signals. Most interventions are related to re-adaptation of centralised installations (one single antenna serving a number of apartments), where some VHF-UHF channels may have been filtered out (to avoid interference) or ad-hoc selections of channels have been designed (like for instance in hotel installations).
Provisioning of set top boxes for the households
By encouragement from the Ministry of communications and voluntary concertation and commitment by all major stakeholders, the Italian DTT STB:
is broadcaster-independent: no hard pre-setting or customisation in the STB by any particular broadcaster;
accommodates CA for pay-services, while remaining interoperable. CA is embedded in smart cards and in ad-hoc software add-on’s that can be downloaded as OTA upgrades.
The STB model selected in Italy, by concerted voluntary agreement among all market players, is conformant to the “interactive broadcasting profile” of DVB-MHP specification version 1.0.3 (endorsed as
ETSI TS 101 812). This standard defines a hardware-independent middleware for digital broadcast services, allowing the consumer to choose their own MHP device (set-top box, digital TV set, multimedia PC, etc) and plug it in to work with their preferred digital video service operators. The conformance to the MHP platform allows users to purchase any MHP-compliant device (STB or iDTV, from any manufacturer) and receive TV programmes and interactive services from any MHP-compliant broadcaster.
Interactive services are implemented via software applications that are delivered to the client MHP-compliant device via the broadcast DVB-T channel, and they run on the middleware. Interactivity is supported through an interactive TCP/IP-based channel; the presence and the support of this auxiliary channel, at present implemented mostly as a PSTN modem, is mandatory for interactive decoders in the Italian market.
Significant is the “new” usage introduced for the remote control, since in this new context it allows the user to make with a single touch operations that actually requires the involvement of a plurality of tools and means: phones, PCs, mail, etc. The convergence over a single device opens new and interesting scenarios, since it makes more simple and intuitive for the TV user to interact at various levels and in real-time with the TV programme: it allows the TV user to navigate across an enriched and interactive TV content.
Navigation is also expedited by the association between contexts which the user can move across and related standardized colours of buttons of the remote control. Common actions are associated to standardized colours too.
Finally, the MHP platform enables the user to navigate without loosing contact with the current TV programme: this feature is provided by overlapping A/V content and graphics.
Availability of digital contents
Current availability of digital contents (audio-video services and interactive services) is reported at the www.dgtvi.it site. At the time of writing, almost 42 TV channels are available on a national basis (11 of them are simulcast of analogue ones, but most often enhanced with multimedia and interactive services; 20 are brand-new channels not available in any other platform; others are re-broadcast of satellite channels). Among these 42 TV channels, 31 are Free-To-Air channels, while 11 are for payment (usually a pre-paid event-based purchase model is applied).
Some tens of superteletext services are already available. The development of EPG, super-teletext and interactive advertising applications is ongoing, based on the DVB-MHP open API platform. Each major broadcaster has his own EPG, although there are plans for a system-wide EPG service.
Some interactive services with exchange of personal data are in place. Transactive services are in the focus of several t-government projects (see below): worth of note are some trials of t-banking services.
T-government applications (information regarding Public Administrations, payment of taxes, retirement funds) are being developed in the framework of the DTT Commission, under the auspices of the Communication Ministry.
The challenge of interactivity
Since the year 2000 the European Council has introduced the concept of e-government, as inclusion of public administrations and citizens in the information society. The digital terrestrial platform, powered with interactivity, has been seen as a new candidate access path to services for citizens, in addition and in complement to Internet browsing via pc and via cellular phones. The Italian government has promoted interactive digital terrestrial television as a means to overcome the divide between citizens endowed with digital multimedia devices and computers for Internet access and citizens that can only rely on traditional appliances (among which, the TV set virtually available in every household).
At the moment of writing, the Italian government is strongly committed to support the spread of connectivity and interactivity nationwide, through different media: broad band access and digital terrestrial television infrastructures are in the focus of public investments.
Services of the information society were classified in three categories:
− informative services, conveying information along with audio-video programs (just like in teletext). Obviously, the only information that can be conveyed in this way, is that of general interest for the viewers. The user can “browse” through pages, by interacting by means of the remote control.
− interactive services, enabling users to access and manipulate data of their own specific interest, although neither private nor sensitive. Access to such data requires connecting, through a return path, to a service center, which in turn accesses data repositories of service providers to fetch (deliver) data requested (supplied) by users.
− transactive services, enabling users to access and manipulate data of their own specific interest that should be protected from unauthorised viewing and usage, either for the sake of privacy or for financial security.
Examples of informative services are Superteletext, the natural multimedia evolution of plain old teletext, and the Electronic Program Guide (EPG). Another category of informative services is broadcast by some network operators under agreement with some Public Administrations, regions or municipalities, wishing to offer portals with news of relevance for the local communities, announcement on available facilities, useful contacts and addresses, charities, etc.
An example of an interactive service is retrieving data related to a motor vehicle, from the public registrar of ACI (Automobil Club Italia): users input a plate number via the remote control and the system replies with public data such as the owner, his/her address, power of the engine, annual payable traffic fee, etc.
Speaking of transactive services, we can refer to the reservation of a medical visit, or the reading of a medical diagnose. In this case, the user should not only input his/her health insurance number but also be authenticated and authorised by the system. We can also refer to financial transactions, like in the case of on-line purchases or operations on one’s own bank account. Not only for immediate and safe input of personal data, but also for the sake of data protection and security a smart-card could be used. The ability to use transactive services will enable the decoder to be a simple but powerful terminal for on-line reservations, purchase of theatre tickets, air-tickets, delivery of administrative documents, tax payment and e-commerce.
Business models for interactivity
Interactivity can boost considerable turn-over, if proper charging model and revenue sharing models (among the different stakeholders roles contributing the provision of interactive services) are devised.
As regards charging models, the prevailing attitude of service consumers in Italy is clear: services should be convenient to use and should be payable on a mere per-use base (no scheduled bills, possibly). The huge success of prepaid rechargeable SIM cards in cellular telephony is a clear proof of this statement. The success of the SMS is another example: users’ willingness to pay is related to the perceived usefulness of a service in front of a nominal (micro)payment requested (although price is very high compared with the real cost of providing the service). Considering, by instance, that in 2003, the total revenue from SMS collected by Italian mobile operators was in the order of a few billion euro, it is reasonable to foresee that a comparable pattern (in frequency of usage and in the charging model) for interactive services over the DTT platform might generate a revenue figure that can compare with the current annual amount of investment on advertising through TV. Interactivity becomes then a means to inject definitely more significant resources on the new DTT system, compared with the analogue system. Even for t-government services the payment of nominal fees (in the order of a few tens of cents) for each usage might generate a cash-flow that would probably make service provision self-sustainable.
As regards revenue sharing models, one could think of the sharing model used in relation with premium-rate numbers in telephony or other similar schemes. In this case the sharing of revenue should involve the service provider, the content provider (hosting pointers to the service from within its audio-video programs), the network operator and the telecom operator.
Digital terrestrial television comes along in a special historical moment. Just after the success of GSM and SMS, just when Internet services are taking up, just when pre-paid models for charging are more and more acceptable to people. Interactive DTT inherits several assets from its analogue predecessor: user friendliness, easy of use, amount of time the average viewer spends in watching TV. It can also inherit some assets from the usage of internet, micropayment and prepaid cards.
Opportunities for local broadcasters
Local broadcasters will keep their role of providers of TV contents of local or topical interest. They can evolve into network operators at local level. The can also “go aboard” a multiplex operated by other parties and become mere content providers.
However, the area where most opportunities are offered to local broadcasters is the area of interactive services, for several reasons.
Most services are intrinsically of local scope. Imagine, e.g., reservations of museum, shows and restaurants and administrative operations with the municipalities or with the utility companies.
Local broadcasters, when operating a multiplex, are not likely to fill it with audio-video contents. They will have a huge percentage of available bandwidth in the multiplex that can be used for data services.
Interactive services already on air
According to the above framework, new services have been designed and realized to exploit the potentials of DTT based on the MHP platform. A first range of services is:
− enrichments of news services;
− more versatile animation and graphics;
− polling applications;
− games and quiz;
− interactive advertising.
These services, that keep a strong relationship with the TV content, are called content-related services. In Fig. 44 some shots from real TV screens are provided as examples.
Examples of content-related (left picture, courtesy from RAI; courtesy from Mediaset)
In Fig. 45, an example of a non content-related service is reported. It is an Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) service, that provides the user with information over the whole TV offer.
Example of EPG (Courtesy from RAI)
The EPG designed for DTT allows the operator to unify the presentation layout of its offer at the bouquet level, and to customize it in respect to the other operators. It enables also the enrichment with enhanced graphics and images, and the adoption of specific creative solutions for each class of users.
Of course, in the non content-related range of services T-Government services are included (examples
of screen shots are provided in Figs. 46 and 47). This new level of interactive enables the user to gain
access to services provided by a plenty of public institutions (hospitals, schools, local and central administration, …) while staying at home. Private entities, like banks, travel agencies, … are also reachable.
Examples of T-Government services offered through DTT (courtesy from RAI )
Examples of T-Government services offered through DTT (left picture: courtesy from La7.
Right picture: courtesy from Mediaset)
Interactive services of the near future
The Research Centre of RAI has developed a prototype portal for T-government services to be offered through the DTT infrastructure, based on MHP platform. In particular, the present effort is focused on the user interface and on a user assistance service, including audio and video, that shall help the user in using the “new” digital TV and shall provide her information and interactivity.
In the effective MHP implementation of this application, A/V clips shall be delivered to the receiver through the broadcast channel, together with application code. Timing and bandwidth considerations strictly suggest to investigate the possibility of caching data on the STB, reducing consequently bandwidth allocation for this service. Present memory availability of commercial STB is not appropriate for this kind of demand, neither it’s envisaged future implementation will meet the requirements whether not equipped with large capacity devices like Hard Disks.
User assistance services with a set of predefined A/V clips (courtesy from RAI)
Another interesting perspective for the evolution of DTT is offered by its integration in the context of digital home networks. A new scenario the Research Centre of RAI is exploring in the scope of some international research project is the integration of the MHP STB with the home automation network. Thus, the TV set offers a very intuitive, easy-to-use interface for handling and interacting with domestic devices while staying on the sofa. This kind of service is particularly targeted to senior citizens or people with special needs.
Still open, in particular from the point of view of mass feasibility, is the problem of interfacing MHP STBs and commercial available home automation systems. There is a lack of standardization that must be fulfilled before a mass deployment of this solution be possible, but lot of efforts are currently spent in this directions.
An important part of the Italian project for DTT is the use of DTT receivers to provide T-Government services to the citizens. For that purpose, the receivers will need to be able to interact with different smart cards issued or to be issued by the Authorities, such as:
− national electronic ID card;
− national local government service cards;
− health service cards.
The level of access to the contents of those cards is determined by:
− the security of the reader terminal (in this case the receiver);
− the security of the circumstances in which the terminal is used;
− the security of the interaction channel when a distant interaction is expected;
− the exact level of service that will be provided to the citizen.
Furthermore it is envisioned that the receiver shall also be used as a banking terminal for program acquisitions, e-commerce transactions and financial/banking transactions. The security requirements for those services are evolving, and the European Union – to foster trust in e-services - is supporting different projects to produce unified recommendations and solutions.
National level recommendations for smart cards
The protocols for those cards, and the exact security requirements for the services, are not yet fully defined. Different solutions exist at European and International levels, some standardized and other proprietary.
As a minimum, the receiver shall be compatible with:
− citizen’s service cards;
− conditional access smart cards.
This compatibility can be reached by different means:
a single smart card reader (ISO 7816) with the different protocol stacks implemented;
a smart card reader and a Common Interface slot;
a Common Interface slot populated with a smart card reader module.
In case A, switching between service card and conditional access card shall not require rebooting of the receiver or a multi-menu navigation Selection of the active conditional access may be done through the set-up menu. In case C, the smart card reader shall be provided as a default. In all cases mentioned above (A, B and C), it is recommended that the smart card reader be compatible with the EMV specification for banking terminals.
For non-CA services, the receiver shall implement the SATSA proposal by Sun Microsystems Inc., which is supported by the current MHP specification.
Public promotion of T-government projects
To encourage the uptake of T-government, the Ministry of communications and the Ministry for Innovation Technologies have launched a funding scheme for projects presented by public administration, as well as service and utility providers. Financing, overall management and supervision of projects have been assigned to Fondazione Ugo Bordoni and CNIPA. Two categories of projects are funded: (a) those privileging simplicity and effectiveness of use, by as many citizens as possible; (b) those targeting innovative solutions like authentication, authorisation of users, on-line payments (based on use of smart-cards) and always-on return path (xDSL, GPRS, UMTS). Projects are entitled to funding after passing an evaluation procedure. Real-time broadcast of developed services with real user panels is required as a working commitment for successful projects.
At the moment of writing, more than 34 millions of Euros of public funds have been assigned as
co-financing to projects enforced by local administrations in cooperation with broadcasters and third parties.
RAI is actively participating, in cooperation with local administrations (Regione Emilia Romagna, Comune di Roma, Regione Lombardia and Comune di Reggio Calabria), to four projects that received a very high ranking in the evaluation procedure from the Public Authority, and for which the planned total investments (from partners and from the Government) amounts to about 6 millions of Euros.
Cooperating while competing
A key factor for the success of DTT in Italy so far has been close cooperation among all stakeholders, from the same and from different categories (service providers, content providers, network operators, telecom operators).
Cooperation has been strongly encouraged by the Government, by mandating Fondazione Ugo Bordoni (an independent research and consultancy institute closely cooperating with the Ministry of Communications for several decades), to set up the following collaborative initiatives:
− DGTVi, the association of digital terrestrial broadcasters;
− Ambiente Digitale, the association of interactive content providers and interactive application developers;
− Sistema Digitale, the association of equipment manufacturers, of middleware providers and system integrators.
It is worth noting that the above initiatives put together in excess of 100 stakeholders, thus showing that Interactive Digital Terrestrial Television has got the focus of the entire ICT sector and is considered a good business potential by a high number of enterprises in Italy.
This association includes four national digital broadcasters (RAI, Mediaset, Telecom Italia, DFree), a long-established association of national and local analogue broadcasters (FRT) and Fondazione Ugo Bordoni. The main mission of the association is to promote the uptake of DTT in Italy by harmonising potentially diverging approaches, by ensuring interoperability of decoders, conformance to standards and security of OTA applications/services, and by communicating with all stakeholders of the value chain and with final users. The activity of the association results in the publication of technical specs (like for instance, the
D-Book, a localised consolidation of DVB and MHP specifications for set top boxes) and in the organisation of communication events of major impact for policy makers and opinion leaders.
Ambiente Digitale (www.ambientedigitale.it)
This association includes network and telecom operators, CE manufacturers, software corporations and public bodies; and its network relies on more than 160 companies active in the digital weaving factory.
The goals of the association include the development of an application service market, new ways of interacting and browsing, the definition of best practices in DTT service design, development and offering. The association is also willing to harmonise services, applications and software platforms and user interfaces to services for better usability. Stressing the specificity of interactive DTT with respect to the WEB (too complex for most citizens) is also within the goals of the association.
Sistema Digitale (www.sistemadigitale.it)
The association aims at promoting the development of DTT devices and equipment, in the interest of the users and in respect of competition and fair interest of stakeholders. Monitoring evolution of technology, planning roll-out of new technologies, interacting with public institutions and monitoring the ICT multimedia and interactive market are also activities within the scope of the association.
Boosting the switch-over process
To boost the switch-over process, anticipated switch-off is being planned in selected areas of the country (Sardinia, March 2008, and Aosta Valley, October 2008), identified in regions that are “islands” from a geographical or an e.m. viewpoint. In these areas, named also “all digital zones” all broadcasters (national and local) will use their best endeavour to show that digital TV is within everybody’s reach and users are not going to regret analogue TV. In January 2007, the active operators in the main towns of these regions are going to definitely and simultaneously turn into digital one of their analogue TV channel each. Complete switch-off will be synchronously applied by all stakeholders. At the moment of writing, the purchase of STBs by residents of these areas is being encouraged with special provisions.
Technological evolution and perspectives beyond switch-off
High definition TV. This is no longer a dream, thank to digital encoding and transmission technology and to flat display technology. In digital technology and with MPEG-2 an HDTV channel will use 10-15 Mbit/s, thus saturating between 50 and 75% of the capacity of a multiplex. Obviously, in Italy, where there is already trouble in claiming frequencies to be converted to the digital mode, there is little chance for adoption of HDTV before switch-off. Thereafter, there should be enough bandwidth available for HDTV services.At the moment of writing, at least an HDTV trial has started on a local basis (at RAI labs in Torino, for Winter Olympics in 2006). Meanwhile, the introduction of MPEG-4/H.264 will make it possible to fit an HDTV signal in the same bandwidth that is nowadays necessary for an MPEG-2 encode SDTV signal. High definition may then become “the television” of tomorrow.
Mobile TV in handheld devices. Mobile TV via IP streaming not in GPRS/EDGE/UMTS mode, but in DVB-H mode, appears an attractive solution.With the adoption of DVB-H a major step towards full convergence of TV, mobile telephony and Internet will be achieved. The terminal has two radio interfaces, in the GPRS/EDGE/UMTS spectrum range and in the DVB-H range. Reception of broadcast audio-video programs occur through DVB-H, while reception of video on demand and specific and private data exchange occur through UMTS. DVB-H experiments have been launched in late 2004 in Italy (primarily, at RAI research labs in Torino). At the moment of writing, DVB-H technology-based consumer services have been made commercially available from major mobile phones operators.
From the viewpoint of business we will experience a further widening of the value chain. Video content providers will not intervene only in the broadcast chain, but also in the return channel. Mobile operators may become content providers on the DVB-H interface too. Digital right management will become a major issue, in order to preserve motivation in the production of contents of good quality.