Fabian Demicoli

The Digital Switchover

 Like the rest of Europe, at the end of this year, Malta shall be switching over to Terrestrial Digital Television. This means that all analogue free-to-air terrestrial television broadcasts received via the conventional rooftop antenna will be upgraded to digital. This changeover will effect only Maltese television channels that are received using a roof top antenna and will not affect Italian stations.

There is however no guarantee that Italian television stations will continue to be received once Italy goes through its own changeover. Intrinsically, the Digital Terrestrial Television signal is less powerful and it is unlikely that reception will be good enough all over Malta for the Italian channels.  Furthermore, the government has no control over what the pay TV providers choose to encrypt.

Research has shown that 11.2% of the Maltese population is not subscribed to a pay TV service from any of the local providers. These include people using Satellite systems. Another 7.5% of the population are subscribed to a pay TV service but  also watch free-to-air channels. The same research also shows that the majority of people who watch only free-to-air services are over 65 years of age.

Digital TV will bring a better picture quality for the viewer but will require that the user has a digital television set or a DVB-T digital set top box. The Digital Switchover Committee is going to launch a campaign to inform the public of these changes and to ensure that the changeover proceeds smoothly.

GRTU had, from the very beginning, pledged its support to help in this changeover and a meeting was held earlier this month for members from the affected sectors. The Changeover committee stated that the campaign will include television  advertising, leaflets as well as other adverts in the local media. A hotline is also going to be set up for this purpose. GRTU suggested that this initiative should be backuped up by the involvement of the retailers and traders of these products and suggested that a scheme similar to the FAIR scheme should be set up. The scheme will enroll suppliers of set top boxes and television sets with integrated digital tuners to guarantee that the product will be compatible with the new system and function correctly. During this meeting technical details of the required hardware were explained and discussed. A list of participating retail outlets will be published as part of the media campaign.

To the end user this change will mean that their roof-top antenna would have to be re-aligned and probably face a different direction, the cable from the roof to the TV set would probably also have to be changed and in some cases the antenna itself will have to be changed as well. For people using old TV sets without integrated digital tuners it will also mean having to purchase a inexpensive DVB-T digital set-top box or change their TV altogether.

GRTU feels is trying to urge the government to introduce incentives on the purchase of new flat screen TV sets. The aim is to encourage people to change their TV set to one with an integrated digital tuner rather than buy a set top box which will ultimately be discarded once the TV is changed later on.

The meeting was chaired by Marcel Mizzi (GRTU Vice President – Finance and Administration) and representatives of the Malta Communications Authority.

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