Taiwan Terrestrial HDTV Launching with Presidential Inauguration - New Service Entangling with Policy Rhetoric

HiHD channel offers different programme genres.
PTS launched its HDTV service with live broadcast of Taiwan Presidental Inauguration Ceremony.
A dedicated channel to HDTV (named HiHD, Channel 30) is broadcast terrestrially in Taiwan by Public Television Service (PTS) on May 16, 2008. That was a trial shortly set before its formally promoted done through the live broadcast of Presidential Ma Inauguration Ceremony 2008. On May 20, the twin-mega cities located North and South of Taiwan, Taipei and Kaohsiung, are reached by a free-to-air HDTV channel. Meanwhile, several public gatherings inside those two sites are equipped with large flat-LCD screens to demonstrate the quality of state-of-the-art HDTV. These efforts are to carter the expectation of people around the country to welcome a new presidential politics, hopefully, result in enjoying HDTV service.

Public Sector Initiative
  HiHD channel is broadcast with the support of National Government Grant at US$92 million for technical and programming expenditure within financial year 2007 to 2009. Packaged by a special fund of Expanding Infrastructure Investment, PTS is commissioned by Government Information Office to enact a trial for the domestic desirable market players establishing their new venture. The live broadcast of Presidential Inauguration set sail for HD broadcasting, with later several major sports events, leading the path of implementation in following three years. On May 15, National Communications Commission subsequently issued a TV trial license to PTS at 566-572MHz being valid for one year.

  Based on the consensus of industrial and governmental sectors, PTS adopted 1920x1080/60i format with MPEG-4/H.264 compression technology to broadcast HD. To receive this service, a capable IRD carrying backward compatibility with SD compressed by MPEG-2 is put on shelves of major consumer electronic chain stores in May. The retail price of it is set around US$ 233.

Content and Reach
  HiHD Channel, as dedicated to High-Definition Television, is programmed generally by five genre in drama, documentary, music & infotainment, sports events (including Beijing Olympics), and arts. PTS is scheduling this channel in four-hour program per day of first broadcast (from 20:00-24:00), and rerunning them for the rest of hours within each full day (totally at sixteen-hour).

  This trial, started from the metropolitan areas of North and South, shall be evaluated by the GIO Steering Committee of Expanding Infrastructure Investment Project. Regarding its viewers?satisfaction and indoor reception test result, GIO will decide at when or in which way to implement its second phase to mapping the other part of West Coast, and following the third phase for serving the East Coast of island-nation.

Policy Breakthrough
  However, the ongoing implementation is never being smooth due to the uncertain business model of HDTV. Based on the policy decision of February 2005, PTS has been chosen as the leading force to introduce HDTV financed by public funding. This decision was made reluctantly by being lack of real interest in HDTV content and transmission completely within manufacturers, commercial broadcasters, cable operators, and related trade associations. This dilemmas was struck by the weakness of political will and subscription market saturation of multi-channel TV.

  According to the 2005 report analyzed by Ministry for Culture and Heritage New Zealand, there is a worldwide scheme proposed to set for comparing country-by-country the percentage of public broadcasting quantum divided by its GDP. The lowest ratio is United States at 0.003% (Means: 0.144). However, the sum of Taiwan is even less than the lowest one of OECD country at 0.000078. As a result, public service broadcasting in Taiwan is poor-equipped hardly being ready for any new endeavour, including HDTV. On the other hand, the commercial broadcasting faced no incentive to digitalize itself by winning the 80% of TV household from profitable 100 channels analogy cable package at monthly rate US$16. An enormously depressing situation of digital TV is spreading around the local industry when encountering fiercely competition of advanced TV service from overseas.

  The impending summer Olympics Games was pressing the national government to break the deadlock of digitization two years ago. A first ever multiyear public fund for HDTV project was disbursed in 2007 and government commissioned PTS to programming a free-to-air (FTA) channel by sourcing in-house production and independent one. It seemed that the May inauguration is partially decreased the uncertainty of digital future. However, two questions are brought into policy forum followed a realistic approach to HDTV. The first consideration is the financial sustainability, and the second one is questioning the condition of delivering acceptable reception.

Positioning Debate
  Long before the project deployed, a GIO Steering Committee set the platform solution of HDTV broadcasting. To adapt into the crowded urban setting, the Committee strongly recommended that technical infrastructure must build gradually by proving its indoors and mobile reception capability from one phase to another. As a result, the first trial started to launch only for two metropolitan areas in north and south respectively. The rest of areas are delayed to serve unless the sounding HDTV reception is widely approved by urban dwellers.

  PTS fought for its HD mission for universal service in vain against the above proposal finalized in Sept. 2007. There is looming a great debate on the positioning HDTV. By adopting DVB-T standardization, public service broadcasters generally differentiated its digital service into stationery and mobile reception. Basically, a current sounding proposal for HDTV is conceived as sitting in a living room and viewing through stationery reception with a rooftop or extended indoors antenna. Other than these two options, if the signal could not get through the air, PTS suggested that it should be relayed to cable, satellite platforms, and WiMax, IP network, Joost solution of net for effective spectrum utilizations.

  However, members of Committee represented the interest of telecommunication industry and major market players expected FTA HDTV service should be equivalent with the promising wireless broadband service such as mobile TV and WiMax. If not, subsequent topic is whether asking urban household to equip rooftop aerial is practical or not? One step beyond the current request, Committee set the goal for PTS to put on a trial for mobile HDTV within the urban areas. The technical platform is deployed temporarily followed the cell structure. It forced PTS to search ten sites of trial broadcast in almost congestion enough urban area competed with UMTS and WiMax operators. A big question left for broadcasting industry and public sector is how to balance the universality and differentiation missions within advanced setting like HDTV?

  According to PTS study comparably on HDTV positioning policy, it proved there is no mandatory remit for advancing HD mobile reception within current adopting countries.

  Moreover, for the no reception area of HD signal the solution as recommended by official body is to receive it through other digital TV platforms (including cable, satellite, IPTV). Standing on above relevant policy directives, PTS will pursue a return-path to follow the advanced DVB countries in their ways to adopt and promote HDTV. To question the current Committee's decision on making a mobile trial of it, a governmental audit report also raised the same criticism on those three phases of HD broadcast implementation plan in April.

  Finally, to answer the question about the finance sustainability of HD FTA channel is not an easy task. Free-to-view is a promotion strategy of HD for short period. When this leading force brought the incentives in encouraging commercial operators roll out their pay services for HD across different platforms, it is a right time to ask is HD still belongs to the target of a universal service policy for non-discriminatory access by public with minimum requirement? This is a real public issue worthy debating sincerely and deliberately within broadcasters, manufacturers, audience and government. In Taiwan, a not quite fancy HDTV it has already begun by PTS should be promoted into a healthy discussion about to what extent public interest being sustained with introducing an advanced audiovisual entertainment.

■ Hamilton Cheng
Doctoral Research Fellow of Public Television Service,
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