Surviving the digital TV broadcast competition 

Thailand's television industry has entered a new era when it is turning from analogue to digital broadcast.

The first digital trial broadcast was first launched four months ago or in April, stiffening the already competitive broadcast TV business.

But the talk of the industry at this point is  of concern that smaller cable TV broadcasters may not survive this transition as more and more channels appear to try to grab a slice of the lucrative commercial business.

The launch of digital TV transmissions in late April this year and with the standard free TV channels gradually digitizing its transmission, the local broadcasting scene has become more interesting.

According to industry survey an average increase of audience  for cable TV stations stands at  15% while  the traditional free TV stations like Channel  3, 5, 7 and 9 still has a 70% market share.

Market evaluation also revealed that 70% of the nation’s viewers are now able to view digital channels via local cable networks and satellite dishes while the remaining 30% of viewers stick to transmissions via standard analog TV antennas.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) handing out of 690-baht  discount vouchers to 22 million  households is expected to convert these remaining numbers to digital transmissions soon.

The change in government due to the coup d’état did however affect the digital revolution in the kingdom which delayed the official launch date for a couple of months.

For the smaller operators,  the delayed launch did affect their revenues and some operators are not expected to survive this change.

Bright Digital TV Network director Somchai Rangsithananon said the lack of proper support from the government and ensuing delays for the past few years will affect small operators and they were certainly slowly dying out.

He indicated that the various networks have not really kicked start competing with each other aggressively as some have not officially launched or marketed their programming to the public.

Most operators will budget for initial losses as advertising rates on digital channels are still very low and are within the thousand and ten thousand mark unlike analog TV rates.

Viewership ratings are also still not very high, he said.

He said the advertising rates start at about 1,000 baht per minute, moving up to 3,000, 4,000 and at the very most 10,000 baht. The ratings survey has revealed that these are realistic figures chargeable per minute. The prices don’t vary very much.

The launch of digital TV transmission resulted in a large number of operators to purchase foreign shows as they rush to fill programming hours as quickly and cost effectively as possible.

Korean series seem to be the most popular programming right now, including re-runs of popular shows.

Media Agency Association of Thailand (MAAT) chairperson Wannee Rattanapon. said  attempt  to obtain advertising revenue through Korean programming is difficult because most Thais have access to these series via DVDs.

At least two small operators may indeed fold  up business soon as their viewership is only 7% of the total audience in addition to the low advertising rates they carry, she said.

Now the challenge is to develop interesting programming that will draw viewers which will then draw in advertising revenue, she said.

Nielson Media’s  recent survey on digital TV viewing stated  that its research measured accumulated weekly viewership for all networks to compare viewership numbers against the standard free channels such as 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The digital networks such as 8RS, Work Point, Thairath TV and True4U managed to maintain an average hold of 10% of total audience.

However Amarin TV, part of the local Thai publishing giant, and BIG, which recently re-branded itself to GMM Channel, have a total viewership of below 7% each.

She said she was surprised by GMM’s lack of growth. They have a lot of contents in their programming but their movement is too slow.

It is interesting to note that viewership rating for cable networks soared immediately before the trial transmission period as operators competed to draw viewer attention by adding attractive contents.

The main contention to the digital TV landscape at the moment is Channel 3’s analog programming which is one the country’s most popular channels.

Should Channel 3 be forced to close down its analogue transmission, this will mean that its huge advertising revenue will run off to its rivals, especially cable operators.

The question now is whether the digital TV business will prosper or not will ultimately depend on viewers, and  also cheap entertainment made readily available be able to challenge the big analogue players that have now turned digital?