by Jean Marc S. Reyes
On July 24th, 2011, an era in Japanese television broadcasting has ended. Analog television transmissions were shut down after 58 years, except in the tsunami-devastated areas Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima were the shut down was delayed until March 2012. As the clock strikes noon, all analog TV sets went blank.
The transition from analog to digital TV has been announced in December 2003. At that time, more than 80 million TV sets have been rendered obsolete. A rush to buy new digital-ready TV sets and tuners swept appliance stores in June. Despite of the rush, an estimated 700,000 households across the nation are still without digital-ready TV sets or tuners.
The Internal Affairs and Communications ministry has set up a 24-hour technical support hotline for inquiries about the technology and how to use it. The bulk of calls the center receives mainly came from elderly people. Currently, the government is also sponsoring the procurement of digital-ready TV sets and tuners for those who can’t afford to buy one.
Japan created its own digital TV system, explicitly unique from its American and European counterparts. ISDB (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting) allows multiple channels of data to be transmitted together in a single broadcast signal in a process called multiplexing. It means that aside from the television signal, streams of information can also be received alongside it.
User interactivity is a key feature of this system. A viewer who wants to know information about the weather, traffic, or market figures can simply press a button on the remote and an information sidebar would appear either on the bottom or side of the screen. In case of emergencies such as a natural disaster, the system broadcasts an emergency signal to all television and radio sets, and mobile phones to alert the public of impending disasters. Warnings for tsunamis, storm surges, or heavy snowfall are broadcast as streams of information immediately available to anyone who access it.
Not only is ISDB helpful for dissemination of news and information, but also found use for television polling systems. The annual NHK Kohaku Utagassen now uses ISDB to encourage the viewers to vote for their favorite singing group by just clicking the remote. Foreigners in Japan can now watch the news and other programs with sublingual audio with much ease since ISDB can broadcast multiple subaudio channels.
ISDB not only caters for television but for digital radio and mobile phones as well. 1-seg is the subsystem used for transmitting television signals to mobile phones with TV.
ISDB is currently adopted by Japan and several Latin American nations. The Philippines is the only country in Asia aside from Japan to adopt the system. The National Telecommunications Commission has officialy adopted ISDB over the European DVB-T2 system last June 11, 2010.
In terms of broadcast technology, the Philippines is fast catching up with its neighbors. There has been a steady advance in the adoption of the latest in broadcasting among our commercial networks. Though we’re still a few years behind than our more advanced neighbors, it is safe enough to say that our broadcast networks are at par with much of the rest of the world in terms of technology.
ISDB can provide TV networks with opportunities to expand their programming and services further. Our existing media ownership laws prohibit commercial networks to have two or more primary channels or own two or more television networks. With ISDB, they can broadcast additional programming on subchannels without adding another primary channel.
The emergence of free-to-air news channels in Filipino have catered the much-overlooked market for news-hungry Filipinos who demand news and information in real time. As said earlier, ISDB can broadcast streams of information for real-time news, weather, traffic, market figues, among others. However, this will not dilute the effectiveness and feasibility of the news channels as viewers mainly have short attention spans and only need to see the most necessary information that they need. News tickers and other updates can be viewed on any channel, in real time, without the need to wait for the top hour newscasts on news channels.
Filipinos are not just news savvy, we are also a starstrucked nation. With the country’s obsession with show business, entertainment programs sell like pancakes. ISDB can also act like web pages providing the latest TV schedules and program guides. An illustrated form of program guides can also be browsed on TV sets much the same as looking at a program’s website on the internet.
ISDB has a lot of potential for the Philippine market. The most likely to benefit from it are the news and public affairs divisions since real time, on-demand news and information can be delivered as soon as it happens. The analog TV transmissions are set to end on December 31, 2015. Test broadcasts are now being carried out by Two of the Big Three networks (ABS-CBN and TV5), the INC-owned Net 25, the state-run network NBN, and a number of smaller networks.
With the current socioeconomic status, most Filipinos can’t afford to buy digital-ready TV sets and tuners because it costs a fortune for the poor. The poor and the elderly who resort to TV for their cheap entertainment will now have to face the problem of procuring new TV sets and tuners so that they can watch television even after the analog signals have faded.
Transmission coverage is also another challenge. The Philippines, like Japan, is 70% mountainous terrain. Digital TV signals travel at a much shorter range than analog signals. Getting the signals to remote regions proves to be a logistical challenge even with the most modern broadcast technology.
Let us hope that the Philippine government will support those who can’t afford to buy new TV sets and tuners and that the communications infrastructure in the country be further improved to blanket the entire archipelago with digital TV.
Jean Marc S. Reyes is a Special Contributor for ZEN Otaku Honbu. He is also a Freelance Journalist.
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