Strategy basics for transition from analogue to digital broadcasting within an individual region (based on the experience of introduction of DVB-T broadcasting in the Primorsky region of Russia)
Modernization of a regional broadcasting network aims at updating the transmission firmware of the TV and radio broadcasting network in a region, expanding the range and list of services provided by the broadcasting operator to the users, increasing revenue for the operator and effecting a phased transformation of such an operator into an information package provider for the region allowing both commercial and social problems to be solved.
Overall strategy of updating the regional TV and radio transmission network and transition to digital broadcasting in the region
As a rule the degree of wear of analogue transmitters operated in the region is pretty high. The useful life of many transmitters is already over. Replacement of worn-out analogue transmitters by new analogue equipment appears senseless both from the technological and economic point of view, as in the transition to digital broadcasting it will be necessary to replace such new transmitters again with digital ones, this time long before the end of their useful life. Besides, one cannot see any ways of compensating for such replacement costs as analogue broadcasting in principle cannot support the new information services and products that the population would be prepared to buy and that could generate additional revenue for broadcasting operators. In this connection it seems worthwhile making the transition to digital broadcasting in the region without delay.
It is evident that transition to digital broadcasting should be effected within the framework of current frequency arrangements, that is digital TV programmes should be broadcast in the same frequency bands as analogue broadcasting formerly. This means that overnight transition to digital broadcasting should be accompanied by stopping analogue broadcasting of the same programmes within the coverage area where such transition takes place.
It goes without saying that overnight transition to digital broadcasting is not possible without equipping the population with digital receivers, i.e. subscriber set-top boxes (STBs). Transition to digital broadcasting can only be effected provided that every subscriber has such an STB, so that in the transition process no small group's interests suffer. A broadcasting operator is not responsible for the provision of STBs to the population. Without going in detail on the organization of such provision one should mention that this problem must be solved through local funding under a comprehensive target programme implemented by the regional administration with the help of private investments. Thus the financial burden should be distributed between the commercial structures of the region the overwhelming majority of which is interested in new advanced interactive multimedia infocommunication services and products (including e-commerce and ebanking systems) supported by digital broadcasting. Introduction of such systems within a united regional information system (to be described below) may give a powerful impetus to business development in the region with the corresponding growth of commercial structures' turnover and revenues.
As for providing STBs for digital broadcasting to the population, this should be done according to a uniform schedule approved by the administration and coordinated with the broadcasters in one transmitter broadcasting coverage zone after another. Under the schedule, STBs should be provided to all rather than part of the people residing within one coverage zone, then another and so on. This will ensure the possibility of making a final transition to digital broadcasting in the region successfully. The STBs themselves are multipurpose interactive terminals capable of supporting a wide range of modern interactive information services and products besides broadcasting.
It is clear that transmitters replacing the old worn-out analogue ones should be hybrid, i.e. equally capable of operating both in analogue and digital broadcasting mode. At the first stage such a newly installed transmitter will operate in analogue mode. Later on when the population in the coverage zone is 100% equipped with STBs the transmitter will go over to digital mode with the DVB-T modulator switched on and the driver replaced (it is desirable to have both devices supplied in a complete set with the transmitter). It goes without saying that at the first stage the transmitter will broadcast only those programmes that used to be broadcast for the given coverage zone in analogue mode. Thus the next problem that arises is of most importance for urban areas where several TV programmes can be received within one coverage zone. In each broadcasting zone several analogue programmes broadcast by different transmitters may be received. Digital broadcasting is multiprogram, i.e. one digital transmitter will broadcast all those programmes that used to be broadcast by several analogue transmitters. Thus only one “head” analogue transmitter should be chosen out of the group for the coverage zone to be replaced by hybrid equipment. The transmitter should be connected with MPEG-2 signal feeder lines for all the TV programmes broadcast for the given coverage zone. All the signals should be joined together in a multiplexer into an MPEG-2 transport flow and fed into the DVB-T modulator. After this the transmitter may be switched over to the digital broadcasting mode and the analogue broadcasting of other transmitters may be stopped and dismantled.
It is clear that transition to digital broadcasting should entail an increase in the number of programmes provided to the population. As a result the situation should emerge when the regional programme package (i.e. all the programmes that are currently broadcast to at least part of the population of the region) will be accessible to every TV viewer. Of course with time the package should be expanded gradually with new commercial programmes (including pay programmes) and with free regional programmes of social and informational importance. To achieve this it is necessary to solve the problem of constructing a full regional network of TV programmes supply and distribution, i.e. when each programme received in the region via satellite channels or produced in the region itself would be supplied to every transmitter (or a group of transmitters) operated in the region. The problem can be best solved on the basis of a fibre-optic line laid in the region and running through its major populated areas. Fibre-optic line branches, i.e. TV programmes supply lines to other populated areas of the region, should be based on the exiting radio relay lines or MMDS systems. Moreover the radio relay lines must be updated to transmit digital data streams. This can be done through using modems and MUXes ensuring the transmission of digital data streams along the existing radio relay lines at the rate of 51 Mbit/s. The equipment will digitize the radio relay lines and at the same time the UHF equipment installed will remain intact. In many cases MMDS systems can also be used to bring digital broadcasting programmes to home cable networks. Naturally to expand the digital broadcasting programmes package broadcast to the population it is necessary to install some additional digital transmitters. However it is important that reception of digital broadcasting programme packages from several DVB-T transmitters by outdoor antennas in many cases may be ensured without amending the existing home cable networks.
The regional programme package may be expanded both through increasing the number of programmes made up in the region itself and through receiving more programmes via satellite communication channels.
Stages of comprehensive modernization of the regional TV and radio broadcasting network
Thus with the above approaches the following stages of comprehensive modernization of the regional TV and radio broadcasting network for transition to digital broadcasting can be defined:
– distribution of DVB-T STB to the population. STB manufacture funding may be effected within a target programme of the regional administration funded by regional investors. The STBs should be multifunctional interactive terminals supporting a wide range of modern multimedia services and products along with broadcasting;
– choosing a “head” transmitter out of the operating ones in each broadcasting zone to be replaced by a hybrid unit (with analogue broadcasting at the initial stage) with digital signals of all the programmes broadcast in the area fed to the latter;
– starting digital DVB-T broadcasting of those programmes that used to be analogue from the head transmitter, stopping analogue broadcasting and dismantling all the other transmitters in the broadcasting zone with the process going on in one broadcasting zone after another as these are ready for the change;
– constructing a regional TV programmes supply and distribution network on the basis of fibre-optic lines and digital radio relay lines, MMDS and cable lines used in the “last mile” section;
– as the regional distribution network is expanded bringing the regional TV programme package (i.e. all the programmes coming to the region via satellite channels and all the regional programmes) to each populated area in the region, with further expansion of the range of such programmes, including new regional ones (regional TV, commercial programmes); installing new DVB-T transmitters;
– on the basis of digital TV broadcasting, organizing data transmission (including web and web-type multimedia services) from the very beginning of digital TV broadcasting to provide to the population modern infocommunication services and products, both socially-oriented and commercial;
– introducing interactive products from the very beginning of digital TV broadcasting, primarily web and web-type services on TV broadcasting basis;
– constructing in the region a united interactive information multimedia regional network on the basis of subscriber's STB with an interactive platform specially designed to take care of the region's needs and interests and a uniform system of conditional access chosen upon agreement reached between digital broadcasting operators.
Further development of the TV and radio broadcasting transmission network in the region, expansion of the range of services and network functions through interactive servicing and provision of multimedia services
Transition to digital broadcasting is not the end of TV and radio broadcasting transmission network modernization. It goes without saying that more TV broadcasting programmes will bring more revenue for broadcasting operators. However, the largest source of higher revenues is in the sphere of provision of a wide range of modern infocommunication services and products on the broadcasting basis to corporate and individual users. Technologically this can be achieved through encapsulation of multimedia data streams (including web and web-type services data) into TV broadcasting digital flows. Reception of the above services and their data display on the TV screen will be done with the help of digital TV broadcasting STBs. The same STBs with their software and firmware support return channels organized on telephone lines (on the basis of built-in dial-up modems) or with xDSL facilities or, provided there are home cable lines, HFС (hybrid fibre cable) on the basis of the DOCSIS standard (built-in or external DOCSIS modems connected with the STBs by Ethernet interface).
Overall description of information and interactive services and products based on digital TV broadcasting. The initial stage of introduction of the services in the region
Enhanced TV and interactive TV are principally new TV broadcasting services that can only be provided on the basis of digital broadcasting. The concept of enhanced TV envisages pay services with a coded signal that requires using smart cards and conditional access systems. Private companies leasing equipment from the operator may provide such services to the population under subscription for pay packages. Moreover the possibility of free reception of the social programmes package (both national and regional) by the population remains.
Enhanced TV envisages the technology of pseudo-interactive DVB-T services without a return channel. These include various information services and reference materials, such as TV – the press, weather forecasts, ratings, advertisement channels, etc. In transition to digital broadcasting such services may be provided at once in those populated areas of the region where there is a shortage of telephones and where it is yet impossible to organize a return channel for full-scale interactive service.
In the towns of the region with sufficient telephone penetration, interactive systems may be deployed on the basis of a return channel on a telephone line. A return channel can support various e-commerce services, on-line shops as well as rating votes and population polls that are important socially and may be needed by the regional administration. At the same time high-rate access to the Internet on dedicated digital DVB-T channels may be provided. For this a TV viewer will not need a PC as in this case its function will be performed by the STB for digital broadcasting: it will display web pages on the screen after appropriate reformatting and rescaling of text and graphic objects in web pages in a way allowing their display on the screen of a standard definition TV set. The web browser is operated with the help of a cordless keyboard. Connection does not require any additional time, as the Internet channel is permanently available. In fact the service is a factor of new quality of life, as television becomes a powerful information gateway concentrating most advanced information technologies that enable any person regardless of his or her age, education and social status to be a full-scale member of the global information infrastructure without buying a PC, just with the help of a familiar TV set. The digital TV broadcasting STB supports the Internet access and e-mail functions.
At the next stage of deploying a digital TV broadcasting system in the region it becomes possible to extend the interactive services to remote rural areas with insufficient telephone penetration. This becomes possible through using return channel cordless DVB-RCT technology.
Construction of a united interactive multipurpose information system on the basis of digital TV broadcasting in a region
If there are return channels, the following interactive infocommunication services may be provided on the basis of digital TV broadcasting to corporate and individual users:
All together the above-listed information services may form a united interactive multipurpose information system implemented on the basis of a single user's interface (browser) and a uniform interactive platform. Thus a broadcasting operator may become a provider of the service system to corporate and individual users. It makes sense to shape such systems on a regional basis. For this there should be in the region data formation centres for corresponding information services, including specialized servers and devices for encapsulation of the said services in TV broadcasting signals. Server software represents a multifunctional software package including, in particular, billing modules, modules of interoperation with banking payment systems, advertising management, mediametrics collection and processing of return (interactive) channels data, etc. The user part of the software for such a system (browser) is installed in the digital broadcasting STBs.
Without going into detail concerning the construction and functioning of such a system it is possible to point out its major sources of additional revenues for the operator. These include among others subscription fee charged on the basis of a conditional access system (implemented through STB smart cards). However, it is advertisers' payments that constitute the most important source of revenue for the operator of an interactive information system. Advertising in interactive information systems radically differs from traditional linear advertising in analogue broadcasting. Its main distinction lies in its target nature (different groups of users get different advertisements) and in the built-in function of measuring the audience (mediametrics). Actually STBs can support the following functions:
1 Assignment of a consumer index to the subscriber. When a subscriber is switched in the system a questionnaire is displayed on the screen with a number of items referring to the subscriber's social status, age, sex, revenue, interests in various spheres, goods and services of interest, etc. (such a poll may be repeated in certain periods of time, e.g. annually, to identify the changes, if any). The questionnaire aims at establishing what type of advertising should be supplied to the subscriber. The questionnaire is based on multiple choices. A given consumer index is assigned depending on the choice of answers. The index is forwarded to the operator's server and further on is used to identify the advertising materials to be supplied to this subscriber.
2 Mediametrics of TV programmes. An STB registers each switch over from one TV channel to another and certainly the viewing time on each channel. Periodically (say, once a day) the obtained viewing data is forwarded to the operator's server. The function allows calculation of the exact rather than approximate rating of TV programmes.
3 Advertising mediametrics. Each payment for goods and services effected by a subscriber with an STB (supporting the e-payments function) is registered and the information about the type of goods or services bought is transmitted to the operator's server where the connection between the purchase of the goods and services and their advertising supplied to the subscriber earlier is analysed. This function is necessary to appraise the effectiveness of advertising materials.
It is clear that with these functions the operator of an interactive information system obtains data of vital importance both for TV companies (programme ratings) and advertisers (much higher effectiveness of advertising thanks to its target character, information about the effectiveness of advertising materials). This enhances the attractiveness of the system for the TV companies and advertisers and affects the operator's revenues accordingly.
Another important source of revenue for the operator is payments by commercial structures selling goods and services within the framework of the e-trade system, as part of the system as a whole. The e-trade system is in great demand for commercial structures as it enables these to increase significantly their sales. A new market is open to the sellers - electronic retail sales with immediate payment for goods and services in non-cash form via e-banking.
TV viewers may choose the goods via the on-line shops system in which they may view video clips of the goods, order these to be delivered to their homes or not and pay for them with the help of their smart card. Foreign practice confirms great success of such projects as in addition to convenience and time saving the customer pays less for the goods than in traditional shops (thanks to lower seller's overheads and non-cash payments) and due to that fact that e-payment systems in closed digital TV networks are more reliable than those on the Internet.
If the above regional interactive information system based on digital broadcasting is established in a region as a next logical step after overall transition to digital broadcasting in the region, it would also be logical to base the system of subscription fees on a uniform conditional access system. It goes without saying that such a system should have an open (socially oriented) component and a commercial component and subscription fees will be charged only for services provided by the commercial component.