The Danish free-to-air DVB-T network

The Danish free-to-air DVB-T network was established March 31, 2006, and upgraded November 1, 2009.

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Photo: DIGI-TV

The Danish DVB-T Network

As of 1 November 2009 the Danish DVB-T Network comprises of five nationwide DVB-T multiplex with two multiplex operated by the public service gatekeeper DIGI-TV and three by the commercial gatekeeper Boxer TV. In total they offer 9 free-to-air channels and 29 pay-tv channels.

 

Digital terrestrial television was first discussed in Denmark in 1995 in relation to a joint Media Committee reporting to the politicians. In 1998 the overall architecture for a DVB-T Network was decided. In 2001 a failed offer based on three multiplex was trashed, and instead a plan for only one public service multiplex was put forward in 2003. On 31 March 2006 the first Danish DVB-T multiplex (MUX1 based on DVB-T/MPEG2) was inaugurated consisting of a parallel digital transmission of the three main public service channels – DR1, DR2 and TV 2|DANMARK.

 

DIGI-TV became the service provider for the digital platform on behalf of the public service broadcasters and is owned jointly by DR and TV 2 (two thirds by DR, one third by TV 2). In addition to the DVB-T network the two public service broadcasters build a fiber optic network to supply signals to the transmitters, and also four new UHF transmitters giving a total of 18 large and 2 smaller main transmitters. Additionally the network was supported by 24 auxiliary transmitters. By 1 November an additional 5 auxiliary transmitters was put in operation. The coverage is equal to the analogue coverage, i.e. 99.8 % based on a 90 % location probability.

 

Denmark attained 8 multiplex in the GE-06 negotiations – 7 in the UHF band and 1 in VHF. In 2007 legislation offered DR an additional multiplex (MUX 2) to be operated by DIGI-TV and conditional to carrying local and regional TV channels (in MUX1) as well as carriage of a new national parliament TV channel (in MUX2). Legislation also stipulated that all new multiplexes were to be in MPEG4 format, whereas MUX1 remained in MPEG2 until 2012 (mainly because of politicians wish for protecting users’ previous investment in consumer equipment). Finally legislation decided on analogue shut off by 1 November 2009. In 2008 a “beauty contest” for three DVB-T multiplex (MUX3-5) and one DVB-H multiplex (MUX6 – to commence in November 2010) was won by Boxer TV Plc. – a subsidiary of Swedish government owned Boxer TV (already operating the Swedish national DVB-T network) over two conglomerates set up for the purpose respectively by Telenor and MTG/Viasat. Legislation stipulated that no major Danish cable or satellite operator, as well as the national public service broadcasters, could participate in the offered 12 year license for commercial digital antenna TV distribution. Legislation set aside the remaining two multiplex (MUX7 and MUX8 (VHF)) for discussion of further use to reserve purposes, e.g. wireless broadband or HDTV (and mainly because these multiplexes would not be fully available until 2014-2015 due to ongoing bilateral negotiations with neighboring countries).

 

Boxer TV was granted the license permission in 2008 in which demands of channel variety was part of the offer to get the license – as were demands for coordinating technology and information with DIGI-TV. Legislation also put up DKK 50m to a public information campaign preparing citizens and antenna users for the digital switchover. This offering was won in bidding by two Danish advertising agencies (Advice and Metaphor) that established a campaign secretariat “The New TV Signal” mid-2008. All parties – the secretariat, Boxer TV, the public service broadcasters and the industry was to collaborate and coordinate the effort of a smooth shut off and switchover. The industry had been one of the bidders for the public information campaign and was set up back in 2005/2006 by the whole media industry to achieve the public funding for information. This forum instead supported and coordinated the information on behalf of the industry – in particular the manufacturers and the retailers.

 

Since the shut off and switchover effort was directed towards antenna TV, its main purpose was to identify who would be affected and what should they do about it. The distribution market in Denmark (of 2.5 million households) for main television reception is roughly 20 % antenna-only installations, 65 % cable, master antenna installations (and including a few percent broadband), and 15 % satellite. DR made a survey late 2008 showing that Denmark have approximately 6 million TV sets of which 2.5 million is used for antenna TV reception (i.e. summer houses, bedrooms, kitchens, etc.). Most cable and satellite (and obviously broadband) was already digital, but the majority of cable and master antenna installations convert digital to analogue. Though the public campaign mainly focused on antenna-only, it became clear that quite a number of smaller master antenna installations were affected as well. In Denmark the main public service channels are must carry in cable and master antenna (both analogue and digital), whereas the new digital channels in MUX2 are not. Boxer TV was not allowed marketing toward master antenna even though any master antenna installation could receive all multiplexes in a transparent mode using UHF.

 

The major issue on information became relatively fast antenna reception quality and choice of MPEG 2 and MPEG4 – and the latter with or without CA module for pay-tv. Boxer TV quickly established a list of “Boxer approved” equipment – digital set top boxes as well as IDTV’s – and promoted a smaller test-package in February 2009 in certain parts of Denmark (including the message that free-to-air channels were included). DIGI-TV, on behalf of the public service broadcasters, specified NorDig including DVB Subtitles but do not approve any consumer equipment. From April 2006 to the beginning of 2009 the industry estimated that between half a million to one million STB’s and IDTV’s were sold – i.e. MPEG2. There are no estimates or numbers available for MPEG4, with or without CA, and Boxer TV has not yet offered any sales figures after commencing nationwide DVB-T distribution.

 

Since 2006 DIGI-TV established a close relationship to the industry mainly communicating via its home page and offering detailed maps of coverage and other relevant specifications on the Danish DVB-T network. A voluntary listing of providers and suppliers of equipment and retailers etc. was put up for the benefit of users seeking information of a more technical nature. In 2009 these services were upgraded with interactive maps of coverage, i.e. the average user could type in his or hers address and find out the quality of outdoor and indoor coverage and seek additional advice on installation of consumer equipment. These services was mirrored on DR’s homepage and linked to the public information campaign as well. All in all the mutual support of DR, DIGI-TV and “The New TV Signal” was well orchestrated in terms of information to the public and the industry.

 

Since DR had two tasks in both shut off of analogue DR1 and marketing of three brand new digital channels – DR Ramasjang (a children’s channel), DR K (an in-depth cultural thematic channel) and DR HD (the first national wide antenna TV based High Definition channel) – two task forces was set up. One to handle analogue shut off and another to promote the new channels, and obviously both coordinating the efforts. DR used on air spots for both and eventually used crawl texting on the analogue signal in the last month. TV 2 analog did similar crawls on screen.

 

“The New TV signal” had four major campaigns including several nationwide postal circulations and offered in-store material to retailers as well as running a detailed website and a call center. The secretariat had close scrutiny by legislation and several criteria’s for success based on Gallup survey. They succeeded quite well during the campaigns and on “the last day” where Gallup announced that only 1.8 % of the population “missed out” on analogue shut off. This is significantly better than e.g. Sweden with 4 % and Finland with 6 %. Over the weekend between 31 October and 1 November the secretariat received only 4,000 telephone calls to their call center that had anticipated up till 15,000 callers. DR also had a call center set up for emergency and contingency to help viewers that lost their signal and not able to tune in the new digital channels. DR received a mere 75 calls around midnight and most of these regarding cable and master antenna. In total for the weekend DR received 800 calls. The general trend in questions both to “The New TV Signal” and DR was about retuning channels and missing sound, which turned out to be a few specific models and mainly due to problems with updating software in the set top boxes.

 

DIGI-TV offered the industry a special service of providing real-time information on when specific transmitters were ready after shifting frequencies for the new combined DVB-T network. After closing down both the analogue network and the digital network (MUX1) at midnight the main transmitters were up and running just little over one hour so that master antenna installations could work on the frequency positions. After rebooting the DVB-T system with new software (SI information for new EPG positions, etc.) all 40 TV channels were on air shortly before 4 o’clock Sunday morning. All auxiliary transmitters were functional again around 06:30 – almost six hours ahead of promised final delivery. Fully successful, after a minutely prepared manuscript, Broadcast Service Denmark completed the transition with no faults and no problems. Broadcast Service Denmark Plc. is the engineering part and the maintenance provider for the DVB-T network for both public service broadcasters and Boxer TV. The company is owned by DR and TV 2 jointly 50:50.

 

In conclusion the overall analogue shut off and the digital switchover was a joint effort between many parties and successful because of precise and detailed planning both concerning technical coordination as well as consistent information effort. Obviously the success also builds on looking to projects by the countries that already switched off.

 

And obviously the media had field days in the month and weeks up till the switchover by contemplating “hundreds of thousands of blackened screens”. In reality Gallup reported that 43,000 households missed it – and of these only 6,000 were totally unprepared - 15,000 were related to master antenna installations; 12,000 said they didn’t had the time to prepare, and 12,000 had bought new equipment, but was not able to get it to function.

 

By Carsten Corneliussen

Spokesperson for DIGI-TV, and head of the information task force in Danish Broadcasting Corporation

 

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