New Report Outlines the Future of DTV

For businesses wanting to learn more about the digital TV future, a new report from Phillips Business Information (not to be confused with Philips Electronics) is stuffed full of juicy information. The report, entitled Digital Television Broadcasting, predicts that DTV "is likely to involve a profound transformation in the consumer's use of the TV set, changing him from a passive receiver of a small number of scheduled programs to an active chooser from a massive range of programming and services, many increasingly available on demand."

The broadcast spectrum is a finite resource, and digital approaches have been able to squeeze far more out of the area reserved for TV than analog techniques. Currently, four to six digital channels can occupy the space of a lone analog signal, and the report states that up to 24 channels could be squeezed in with new compression schemes.

DTV is forecast to expand worldwide from the current installed base of 12 million decoders and DTV sets to 64 million by 2000 and 295 million by 2005. The majority of digital decoders (58%) is currently in the US, but this gap will shrink as Latin America, Asia, and Europe come on line. By 2005, only 32 percent of the digital signals will be received in America.

Currently, the majority of DTV deployment is via subscription satellite services such as DirecTV and Primestar. At this stage, the report points out, these companies merely rebroadcast analog programs in the space-efficient digital form. Digital transmission via cable involved a paltry 250,000 decoders in the US in 1997.

Little mention is made of HDTV or quality-driven technologies; the big opportunity is projected to be more channels and the ability to provide interactive programming. The report asks: "If Coca-Cola, Levi, Adidas, French Railways, Virgin (Airlines and retail), or the Swiss Tourist Office can successfully create and present interesting Web sites, is there any reason why they should not also be broadcasters?

"There are many types of organizations that could exploit their brand and franchise---just as some already do online---through the creation of new digital TV 'channels,' including magazine publishers, retailers, travel-related organizations, book publishers, and associations, many with subscribing memberships that exceed one million. The consumer-magazine sector, in particular, is well-placed to enter this new market, exploiting well-known brands such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan . . . but few have even considered broadcasting."

Why not panic now and avoid the rush?