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Is Digital TV Exclusive Channels Fair for Filipino Viewers?

For the past 5 years, Broadcasting Companies in the Philippines were busy with the switch-over from analog broadcast to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTTV) and we have observed the shift may compromise by the implementation of exclusive Conditional Access System (CAS).

What is Digital Terrestrial Television?

DTTV is a technology for broadcast television in which land-based (terrestrial) television stations broadcast television content by radio waves to televisions in consumers' residences in a digital format. DTTV is a major technological advance over the previous analog television, and is replacing analog to become the new television broadcasting standard. 

Why Shift to Digital Television beneficial?

1.    1. It aims to give viewers the benefits of watching Television with clear audio and video.
2.    2.To have the benefits of instant information through datacasting and emergency warning broadcast system.
3.   3. It gives broadcaster and content providers the opportunity to offer a diverse range of programming through the use of sub-channels and high-definition broadcast.
4.   4. To save operational expenses compared to operating with analog transmission.

What is Conditional Access System?

Conditional Access System is the protection of content by requiring certain criteria to be met before granting access to the content. The term is commonly used in relation to digital television systems.

Two Kinds of Conditional Access System

1.    Unified CAS – this is implemented by a consortium composed of broadcasters. They are responsible for setting up the encryption standards for broadcasters and device manufacturer to comply and they also have the responsibility of setting up accounts and collecting payments.

2.    Exclusive CAS – the broadcaster uses a proprietary encryption system that has a capability of locking their own channels and it can only be unlocked if it is viewed through set-up box that they own. This is normally implemented by pay cables and satellite TV companies.

In Japan, unified CAS is being used as a form of Digital Rights Management to protect copyright content for recording using DVR. In all the countries using ISDB-T, only the Philippines adapted the use of exclusive CAS.

In the Philippines, there are broadcasting companies that took advantage of the recent technology to include exclusive channel that are being used by Pay TV industry like cable and satellite transmission providers.

The implementation of DTTV can greatly affect the low-income consumers that form part of free-TV market since the broadcasting companies have capability to lock channels to their viewers unless they opt to buy their own brand of digital box or set-up device to unlock the exclusive channels. Scrambled channels usually have “$” sign, meaning you are tuned in to a channel with CAS.

Providing more options for the viewers are good but forcing people to purchase network-branded DTTV device or set-up box to establish loyalty only shows that the network is not playing fair.

Currently there are 19 scrambled channels with “$” sign in Television with ISDB-T Tuner or non-network branded digital boxes. Most of these channels are under ABS-CBN and SOLAR exclusive channels. Sometimes it gets annoying while you navigate channels because these scrambled channels are causing delays.

When these network companies started to produce their own digital box, consumers might end-up having several digital boxes filed-up just to watch different network’s exclusive channels.

The digital or HD channels programming should be a part of our progress and should not create consumer confusion and later division. Adherence to Public Service should always be the broadcaster’s priority and not always profitability.

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