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Croatia: Digital TV Rollout Offering New Channels, Better Picture Quality

September 4, 2008

Text of report by Zeljko Rogosic: “Forty new TV channels in Republic of Croatia”, published by privately-owned independent weekly Nacional on 26 August

“Come down from the roof and join the digital age,” that is the basic message of the one-minute video that all three national television houses will begin to air on 1 September 2008. Actor Filip Rados from Split will thus become the important figure who will open the informative and educational campaign of the Central State Office for e-Croatia in the project that, once realized – allowing for more rational use of bandwidth – will create space for about 40 new television channels by the end of 2010. Through its extensive two- year campaign, the Central State Office for e-Croatia as a coordination body will motivate citizens to prepare themselves for the new age of digital television and the funny television video will advise us that the days of climbing roofs to adjust the antenna and improve the reception of the television signal and picture quality are over and should be forgotten. On 1 January 2011 Croatia will discontinue the analogue terrestrial broadcast television and fully switch to digital broadcasting. This July, the RH [Republic of Croatia] government adopted the Strategy of Switching From Analogue to Digital Broadcast. “As of 1 September 2008, the RH government will begin sending HRK135 [Croatian kuna] coupons to all RTV [radio- television] subscribers in order to cover three quarters of the cost, supporting every owner of a television set in the purchase of a special digital receiver, the set top box.

“Those whose sets do not have inbuilt digital receivers – all newer plasma and LCD TVs have them – will place the digital receiver they will have purchased at an affordable price in front of the old television set and it will turn the digital signal into one that the television set will understand. The government will spend HRK162 million out of the state budget to support the purchase of digital receivers. Although the European Commission ordered all EU members to complete the job by 2012, as early as 2010 Croatia will find itself in the company of Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Malta, and Sweden,” Igor Lucic, state secretary of the Central State Office for e-Croatia, who is the most responsible for successful implementation of the government’s ambitious strategy, pointed out.

Although 99 per cent of Croatian households own television sets, Croatia has 1.2 million subscribers, 85 per cent of Croatia is covered by the digital signal at this point, and 95 per cent is needed for complete coverage, only 10 per cent of households own television sets capable of receiving the digital picture, so introducing digital television into Croatian homes is not going to be easy. After a task force in the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport, and Infrastructure had made no progress with the strategy for two and a half years, the Central Office and Igor Lucic got things going and – balancing the interests of the HRT [Croatian Radio-Television] as a public television, the commercial Nova TV and RTL, and the association of regional televisions – found a way to the government’s strategy that now everybody supports. The general consensus and the implementation of the switch to digital television as soon as possible is also endorsed by the state institutions and the regulatory agencies such as the Croatian Telecommunications Agency and the Agency for Electronic Media, public television and commercial publishers, and network service providers such as Odasiljaci i veze [transmitter and telecommunications equipment company, formerly part of the HRT]. Prime Minister Ivo Sanader considers the project to be very important. Other than by pointing out that “the strategy of the conversion from analogue to digital television broadcasting will make the Croatian television channels available to all citizens, enhancing media pluralism in the Croatian society,” Prime Minister Sanader guaranteed that “the conversion from the analogue signal to the digital one will be quick and affordable to all citizens.”

“Conversion to digital broadcasting brings many great advantages and indeed modernizes our media space,” State Secretary Igor Lucic pointed out. “It brings better quality, clearer, and sharper picture without interference. It also brings new services: Faster teletext with more content, an electronic TV guide, and a variety of other interactive services such as various games, shopping, and direct communication of citizens with the public administration, a project that the Central State Office for e-Croatia is developing intensively. With digital broadcasting, high-quality programmes can be aired in HD [high-definition] technology. That is not all, because Croatia will be able to broadcast more national and regional television channels, including specialized ones. By the end of 2009 the market will be opened for new programme content and the offer of specialized theme channels improved while making the market more dynamic. In other words, four more national channels will soon be possible. For the same subscription fee subscribers will have access to twice as many nationwide channels, which is why the existing and new television houses will fight for their share of the market by competing in quality programme content,” State Secretary Igor Lucic believes. Instead of one TV channel, it will soon be possible to broadcast four to five channels in the same frequency band.

More rational use of the frequency band allows for developing television via mobile phone. “We will see what the communications service providers are going to do, as Croatia is among the European leaders in the use of mobile phone technology and services,” Lucic said. The Central State Office for e-Croatia created the project of digitalization of Croatia based on experiences from the European countries and the results of the Digital Istria pilot-project with which the RH government successfully solved persistent problems with the reception of the Croatian TV channels in Istria. In the process of supporting subscribers in purchasing digital receivers, the government spent HRK15 million in Istria as Croatia’s first digital television region. Digital television broadcasting will take place from this September to December 2010 separately by region based on the Plan of Digitalization of RH regions, which is based on the international plan of distribution of radio bandwidth. Croatia has already been divided into nine regions for the purpose of facilitating the technical implementation of introducing digital broadcast and discontinuing the analogue one. The conversion to digital television broadcasting in the transitional period will be simultaneous, and the last region to fully switch to the digital signal, understandably, will be the largest one, Zagreb. In that area both signals will be broadcast at the same time for a year.

Before the day of the switch to digital television Croatia will have two multi-programme channels – or multiplexes – filled. Digital multiplex A is full, because the extant national houses – HRT 1, HRT 2, RTL, and Nova TV – use it for broadcasting. This year Odasiljaci i veze are beginning to instal the second digital multiplex, B, to become operational in 2009 and house four new digital nationwide channels and a regional one.

For the time being, only the HRT has announced the launching of two new specialized channels: HRT 3 for sports and entertainment and HRT 4 for news. The HRT is already prepared to start broadcasting, but is waiting for permission and a nod from the competent state institutions. As a result, two more nationwide channels on digital multiplex B remain free. The Electronic Media Council intends to invite tenders for all available bandwidth in that multiplex this autumn and all houses who meet the criteria can apply. Nova TV and RTL have not hinted for the time being that they might join the race for new channels. Some local TV stations in Zagreb and Rijeka areas are already broadcasting in both analog and digital MPEG-2 standards that digital satellite televisions use. At the same time, the DVB-T system (Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial) has appeared in Croatia, allowing reception of TV stations in the MPEG-2 standard via a decoder that acts like an interface between an analogue external antenna and a TV set. In the future, a third multiplex will house 15 nationwide channels and has not yet been defined. A fourth multiplex will combined regional and nationwide channels. A fifth multiplex will also focus on the DVB-T technology (Handheld) with about 30 TV or radio channels.

Igor Lucic pointed out that every TV subscriber will receive a coupon ensuring the RH government’s financial support of HRK135 kunas for the purchase of a digital receiver. “It has been arranged with the largest stores and supermarkets that the price of a digital receiver should be HRK180. That means that every person purchasing a digital receiver will add HRK45. Of course, the coupon can also be used as a discount for purchasing a new TV set if it contains a digital receiver. In other words, with the arrangement on the price of digital receivers the government prevents traders from making a quick and easy profit on the digitalization of television in Croatia and will help and participate in making that process as cheap and quick for citizens as possible,” Igor Lucic pointed out. The RH government spent HRK15 million on supporting the purchase of digital receivers in 2007 and will spend HRK45 million in 2008 and HRK106 million in 2009. Coupons will begin to arrive by county on 1 September this year in accordance with the plan of switching from analogue to digital broadcasting. For promotion of the new digital TV it is important to change the Law on Electronic Media to allow the introduction of specialized programmes for sports, movies, documentaries, cartoons, and music.

An informational and educational campaign is being launched, assigned by the RH government to the Central State Office for e- Croatia. The well prepared public campaign, along with every form and way of informing the public and citizens about the reasons and advantages and their rights in the process of introduction of digital television, includes a call centre at 0800-11-20-11 offering free user help. As part of the “DTV For Everybody” programme, the Central State Office for e-Croatia has also planned initiatives to inform and educate the elderly, the infirm, the bedridden, and all who are unable to access information on digital TV.

[Box, p 18] Two Years for Adjustment

As 90 per cent of citizens do not have television sets that can receive the digital signal, they will have to purchase separate digital receivers or television sets. The government has arranged with traders that a digital receiver will cost HRK180 and will give every TV subscriber a HRK135 coupon for the purchase so citizens will only have to cover the difference of HRK45.

[Box, p 19] Advantages of Digital TV

According to Igor Lucic, there are five basic advantages of digital broadcasting of the television over the analog one. One of them is the possibility of broadcasting more channels.

1. Better Picture

Clearer and sharper picture free of the interference usual in the analogue reception.

2. More Channels

The possibility of broadcasting many more nationwide and local television channels.

3. HDTV

The possibility of broadcasting high-quality television signal (HDTV).

4. Digital Services

The possibility of introducing new services, such as faster teletext and an electronic TV guide.

5. Interactivity

The possibility of using interactive services such as communication with the public administration.

How informed citizens are about digital television; results of survey by Office for e-Croatia

50 per cent Informed, but not familiar with the concept

22 per cent Informed and familiar with the concept

18 per cent Never heard about it

10 per cent Technologically equipped for digital television

[Box, p 20] Ten Per cent of Croatians Ready To Switch

By switching to digital broadcasting of the television signal, Croatia will find itself in the company of Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Malta, and Sweden as early as late 2010. Although 99 per cent of Croatian households own television sets, although Croatia has 1.2 million subscribers, although at this point 85 per cent of Croatia is covered by digital signal, and 95 per cent will have to be achieved for full coverage, only 10 per cent of households own television sets that can receive the digital image.

Analogue TV 78.9 per cent

CATV [cable TV] 9 per cent

Sat TV [satellite television] 7.8 per cent

IPTV [Internet Protocol Television] 3.3 per cent

Households without television 1 per cent

The survey was carried out as part of the European Commission’s Phare project in 2006.

[Box, p 21] Television Market in Croatia

Croatian population: 4,437,460

Households: 1,477,377

Households with one television set: 1,462,603

Households with two television sets: 245,145

Cable TV users: 132,964

Satellite TV users: 115,235

Internet TV users: 48,753

Terrestrial TV users: 1,165,650

Households without television: 14,774

Originally published by Central State Office for e-Croatia.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Media. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.