NORDIC MEDIA NEWS:
DIGITAL CABLE TV–We’ve had digital radio broadcasts in Sweden for something like 2 years. Digital satellite TV to the Nordic region started more than a year ago. And digital cable TV had it’s inauguration here in December. But none of these services has been marketed as yet, until now.
Last week the country’s largest cable operator, Telia Kabel, actually put some full page ads into national newspapers advertising their digital offerings. The necessary digital set top boxes are supposed to be available in ordinary radio and TV stores. And according to reports quoted in “SatNytt”, they’re selling at a rate of 400 a day, and will soon reach 100,000.
I called Sweden’s 3 large consumer electronics chains to find out about the digital decoders. Two of them told me they didn’t have any, and didn’t know when they would. The third said they’d have decoders in stock at the end of this week.
I also called Telia to find out where these decoders are. I never did get through to Customer Service, but I finally tracked down press spokesman Hans G. Larsson. You can hear part of the interview in today’s program. He tells us that Telia wanted to start digital decoder sales slowly, starting with its own chain of Telia (telephone company) stores, plus two other chains (one of which I had called). Because of market and customer interest, they are now planning to expand the retail network.
Frank Östergren, TV columnist for Sweden’s largest newspaper, “Aftonbladet”, has complained about the speed of Telia’s digital network, which he says is like playing a 78 rpm record in the CD age. Specifically, he means the seemingly unending length of time it takes to switch channels, but he also criticizes the electronic program guide as incomplete. On the other hand, there’s praise for the system’s excellent picture and sound quality. Hans G. Larsson agrees the system can be slow, although he says the slow part is not the channel-switching, but changing between different services, like from TV to games. He also says the advantage of a digital system is that upgrades can be directly uploaded into decoders over the network.
Telia is also leasing capacity to relay around 50 digital channels on Sweden’s new Sirius 2 satellite. Initially this is supposed to be for relays to cable headends, and Hans G. Larsson tells us this is primarily to carry programming to Telia’s networks in Denmark and Estonia, but direct to home services might be coming. A number of Telia digital packages have opened up on Sirius 2, on 11.747, 12.130, 12.169, 12.284, 12.360, and 12.399 GHz, relaying around 30 TV channels. Among the radio channels are America One and BBC World Service. (“Satco DX”)
DIGITAL SATELLITE DECODERS–If it tries DTH services, Telia would have to compete with the French-Norwegian Canal Digital, which has been in operation for several months, with around 60 channels. In the long run, the system has a capacity for several hundred channels. So far it hasn’t been marketed, and a spokeswoman tells us they’re waiting to work out various problems before big launch, which ought to be by the Summer.
TERRESTRIAL DIGITAL TV–Terrestrial digital TV is also getting started here. There are currently test transmissions underway in five parts of the country. Initially there will be 8 channels available, two in each area regional. Ultimately, there will be room for 24 digital TV channels over the air here.
Monday was the last day to apply for digital channels, and there were 56 applicants. The existing terrestrial broadcasters, public service Swedish Television and private channel TV4, are assured of spots.
Swedish Television’s two existing SVT1 and SVT2 channels should be available digitally by this Fall. The company also wants two channels in each area for its regional transmissions and a national slot for its new round the clock news channel, which should be on the air by the end of the year.
TV4 wants to start a national channel called TV4 Digital, which would offer extra programming and interactive services over its current analog channel. In addition 4 of the local TV stations that broadcast via TV4 have also applied for regional licences.
Among the other applicants are the new business and documentary channel TV8, entertainment channel Kanal 5 (owned by ABC/Disney), MTV, Canal Plus, several universities and newspapers, a small fundamentalist Christian sect, and the Internet provider Cell, which wants to offer interactive services. Kinnevik has applied on behalf of its TV3 and TV6 entertainment channels, the film channel TV1000, shopping outlet TV-Shop, and its MTV clone ZTV. Swedish Teracom, the public company reponsible for transmitting radio and television in Sweden, has also applied for its own channel. It’s been pointed out that the government might want to licence Kanal 5 and TV3, both of which broadcast by satellite via London, in order to bring them under Sweden’s stricter broadcast laws.
The broadcast licensing authority will release a list of approved applicants in June, and the government will make the final decision in the Fall. (TT, “Elektronikvaerlden”, and “Dagens Nyheter”) (Since there’s an election here in September, it may be important if the final decision is made before or after that date.)
SVT EUROPE–Only Swedes (abroad) and households with a Swedish connection will be allowed to subscribe to the new SVT Europe channel on Sirius 2 (12.380 GHz, SR 27500, FEC 3/4, Viaccess). This has been decided by the royalties agency Copyswede. (“Cable and Satellite” via “SatNytt”) We’ve reported before that the 10,000 Swedish households outside the range of the SVT transmitters, and still forced to pay for TV reception licences, will NOT be allowed to subscribe to SVT Europe.
SCI-FI/CNBC–According to Viasat, Sci-Fi Channel and CNBC Europe will stop their shared transponder transmissions from TV-Sat (1 degree West) sometime during March. Transmissions continue on Sirius 2 (5 degrees East). (Richard Karlsson)
INTELSAT–Denmark’s DR1 is back on Intelsat 605 (27.5 degrees West) on 11.494 GHz in clear MPEG-2 (SR 4340, FEC 7/8). (“SATCO DX”)
COMMUNITY RADIO–Swedish community radio was supposed to be open to small organizations, sharing the same transmitters. Instead, organizations have often surrendered their transmission times to 24 hour mega-channels, broadcasting primarily music and often commercials. Now the Swedish government is easing the Community Radio regulations. Organizations created solely for the purpose of making radio programs will be allowed transmission times, licence fees are being dropped for stations without commercials, transmission areas larger than a single city will be allowed, and the ban on networked programming will be eased for 10 hours a month for information or cultural programming.
The latter means that Community Radio stations would be allowed to carry regular newscasts, for example from the news agency TT. A station in the province of Värmland has sought to broadcast university lectures to the entire province, and this would now be allowed. The new rules go into effect on July 1, 1998. (TT and Ministry of Culture)
WORLD RADIO NETWORK–In the last edition of the program Simon Spanswick of the World Radio Network described their plans for Digital Audio Broadcasting and the Internet. But WRN offers a number of special services as well, and in today’s program Simon describes how WRN put a Voice of America relay to Serbia on the air in record time, and WRN’s relays of two Tamil stations.
NBC–Following the CNBC Europe/EBN merger, the new CNBC is being broadcast on both Astra and Eutelsat’s Hot Bird 1. However, NBC says eventually the channel will broadcast only on Hot Bird. This leaves a prime Astra transponder free. The obvious choice–putting NBC Europe on Astra to give Rupert Murdoch’s Sky One some competition–is unlikely, as NBC seems uninterested in direct-to-home distribution of its channel. Instead, NBC has been promising to introduce new channels to Europe. A prime candidate is the news channel msNBC. Another possiblity is a new channel, based on the network’s archives of drama, comedy, and documentaries. (“What Satellite TV”)
THE WEATHER CHANNEL–The Weather Channel is closing its four European services in English, German, Dutch, and Italian. The rival English-language only Weather Network (which had merged with TWC) is considering taking over some of the European operations. (Curt Swinehart)
FRANCE–The newspaper “Les Echos” says Luxembourg-based CLT (which we thought had merged with Germany’s Bertelsmann) is expected to leave the TPS digital satellite venture and join rival Canal Plus. There have been suggestions that TPS and Canal Plus could merge, but this has been blocked by TF1, the main partner in TPS. (Reuters)
ASTRA–A new package in clear MPEG-2 has opened on Astra on 12.670 GHz (SR 22000, FEC 5/6): Cartoon Network, CNN International, and TNT. (“SATCO DX”)
An Austrian package is testing on 12.692 GHz (SR 22000, FEC 5/6) in clear MPEG-2: ORF1, ORF2, TW1 (Tourism and Weather Channel), SF1 and several radio stations. ORF1 and ORF2 will be encoded. (Richard Karlsson in “Aftonbladet” and “SATCO DX”)
Updating the report last time, Hessen Fernsehen has switched from tests to regular transmissions on transponder 40. (Christian Lyngemark, “SATCO DX”)
The Benelux verison of Hallmark has ceased digital transmissions on Astra 12.344 GHz. (Richard Karlsson, “Aftonbladet”)
Gay TV has begun sharing Astra transponder 34 with Television X and UK Living. It’s on the air at 05:00-06:00 hrs CET and is encoded in Videocrypt. (Richard Karlsson, “Aftonbladet”)
The failure of a Russian rocket over Christmas will trigger the most complex games of musical chairs ever attempted with satellites in space. British Sky Broadcasting was supposed to start its new digital service from the Astra 2A satellite, which was supposed to launch to 28 degrees East in August, 1997. But the launch, via a Russian Proton rocket, is running six months late, and the failure of a Proton during the Christmas period has prompted the Russians to cancel all further launches until they can find the cause.
So Astra, as we’ve reported before might be the case, is moving one of its analog satellites to 28 degrees East, and switching it to digital operation. The remaining satellites at 19 degrees East will take over the transponder channels used by the moved satellite. Astra will announce the details of the move in early February. (Barry Fox in “New Scientist”) So keep on eye on www.astra.lu
BSkyB has confirmed that its digital service will launch in June. Orders for settop boxes are reportedly on track, and initial quantities will be available in June. (Reuters)
MTV and VH-1 have finalized plans to launch 6 new 24 hour channels, which will probably be part of BSkyB’s new digital service when it starts: MTV Rocks (hard rock and heavy metal), MTV Indie, MTV Ritmo (Spanish pop), VH-1 Soul (blues and soul), VH-1 Country, and VH-1 Smooth (Jazz and New Age). (“What Satellite TV”)
EUTELSAT–Bosnia’s BHT has moved from Eutelsat II-F2 (11.080 GHz) to Eutelsat II-F1 (11.658 GHz), at 21:30-23:30 hrs CET in clear PAL. (“SATCO DX”)
Updating the report last time, the Italian adult channel Satisfaction Club TV is now only on Eutelsat II-F2 and has discontinued broadcasts on Hot Bird 2. (Christian Lyngemark, “SATCO DX”)
TNT has replaced NTV on Eutelsat’s new satellite to Russia, TDF 2 at 36 degrees East, on 12.034 GHz. (“SATCO DX”) NTV has begun digital transmissions via Astra on 12.207 GHz. (Richard Karlsson, “Aftonbladet”)
The Iranian IRIB’s Jaam-e-Jam TV Network has began regular transmissions on Hot Bird 3 on 12.437 Ghz on December 6. This offers 21 hours a day in Farsi, plus 3 hours in English or Arabic. (Christian Lyngemark, “SATCO DX”, and “What Satellite TV”)
Eutelsat and Hungarian domestic broadcaster Antenna Hungaria say they are launching Central Europe’s first satellite-based Internet service this Spring, as part of a new Hungarian digital package. The platform can be used to deliver digital TV, radio, multimedia content, and corporate data, as well as Internet access. (Reuters and Eutelsat)
PAS–Fox Sports World has started in clear MPEG-2 on PAS-3R (43 degrees West) on 12.568 GHz (SR 7030, FEC 3/4). (“SATCO DX”)
ARABSAT–Confirming the report last time, the French TV5 Moyen-Orient has started regular transmissions on Arabsat 2A (26 degrees East) on 3.946 GHz, in clear PAL. (“SATCO DX”)
CNBC/ABN–The CNBC/Dow Jones merger finally brought together CNBC Asia and Asia Business News on February 2, several days after CNBC Europe and EBN merged. They may have been waiting for the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. (Martyn Williams and Christian Lyngemark, “SATCO DX”)
JAPAN–Updating the report last time, two of Japan’s digital satellite broadcasters, PerfecTV and Rupert Murdoch’s Japan Sky Broadcasting, have reportedly agreed to merge on April 1. PerfecTV has offered 100 channels to around 500,000 subscribers since the Fall of 1996. JSkyB was scheduled to launch its service this Spring. By merging, the two have a better chance to compete with Hughes’ DirecTV Japan, which started a 90 channel service on December 1. (Kyodo)
Video game giant Nintendo and semiconductor-maker Kyocera have unveiled a plan to start satellite broadcasting together, beginning in 2000. As a first step they are taking a stake in Satellite Digital Audio Broadcasting, which broadcasts digital music and data programs. Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamachi told a news conference that the two firms had not yet decided on the specific content of their satellite broadcasts, but said it would not be dominated by video-game programs. (Reuters)
THE MOUSE VS YOGI BEAR–Disney is launching a cartoon-only channel called Toon Disney, to take on Time Warner’s Cartoon Network. It will start in the US in mid-April before a planned European debut in the Fall. Disney has also confirmed it is working on another channel called ABZ, a children’s news, information, and learning network. (“What Satellite TV”)
(Of course, the only Europeans allowed to watch the Disney Channel are those in the British Isles who subscribe to both of BSkyB’s movie channels. When will Disney wake up and provide its programming to everyone else?)
ARIANE–High winds above French Guiana forced postponement of the scheduled launch of Western Europe’s 105th Ariane rocket for the second day running on January 31. Onboard is Inmarsat-3F5 and Brasilsat B3, which will carry 28 C-band transponders at 65 degrees West. Arianespace will attempt to launch v. 105 today, with a launch window at 23:29 to 00:20 hrs UTC Tuesday/Wednesday. Look for coverage, in North America most likely on Galaxy 6 transponder 11, in Europe on both Telecom 3A and 3B on 3.768 GHz. If unsuccessful, the next attempt will probably be on Friday, February 6. (Reuters, Curt Swinehart, and “SATCO DX”)
AMSAT–On January 20 Amsat Phase 3D Project Leader and Amsat-DL President Dr. Karl Meinzer met with ESA officials in Paris to discuss the possible launch of the Phase 3D satellite on the 3rd test flight of the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. The ESA officials indicated willingness to consider a launch, but made no commitments. (AMSAT News Service via Curt Swinehart) Phase 3D was supposed to launch on the 2nd Ariane 5 test flight. While Amsat has been far too diplomatic to complain (they need a launch), ESA and Arianespace seem to have double-crossed them, moving launch dates in such a way as to make Phase 3D’s inclusion impossible.