President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has proclaimed that next year will see a complete switchover to high--definition (HD) digital TV in Taiwan. The National Communications Commission (NCC) has started working on the terrestrial digital TV switchover and will be closing all terrestrial analog TV signals on July 1 next year. Once done, that will allow the public to view 16 digital TV stations through terrestrial digital TV set-top boxes.
The NCC has said each terrestrial channel will at most provide three hours of HD programming per week. This is an insubstantial and irresponsible TV digitization policy.
The UK will also be closing down all analog signals next year, but British viewers have long had access to quality terrestrial digital TV services. At the moment, all viewers have to do is install a set-top box costing the equivalent of NT$900 or alternatively use TV sets with built-in digital receivers to view more than 50 channels for free, including 26 entertainment channels, five HD channels, three children’s channels, two music channels, two interactive channels, five news channels (including the BBC Parliament channel and al-Jazeera news channel), 13 lifestyle channels, as well as 25 radio stations.
There is a social consensus in Britain that each person should have the right to be able to view quality terrestrial digital TV services.
Since people in the UK have been able to watch free, quality terrestrial digital TV for years now, it is little wonder they have not felt the need to spend extra money on cable TV subscriptions. As such, the cable TV penetration rate in the UK is a low 23 percent.
Taiwan, by contrast, has 5.8 million cable TV subscribers, or 63 percent of the nation’s total 8.4 million TV viewers. This is likely an underestimate, as it is commonly estimated that this figure is above 80 percent.
Cable TV companies are making plenty of money, but poor quality stations abound and viewers cannot do anything about it.
Instead of reflecting on how to improve inappropriate TV digitization policies, the government has rushed to announce that 50 percent of cable stations must be digitized by 2015 and 75 percent by 2017.
The government is both overtly and covertly allowing one cable TV system operator after another to fall into the hands of big corporations.
Big business is trying to exchange digitization for market share and market concentration and therefore backs up the government’s calls for “digital convergence.”
Given the government’s irresponsible policy, cable TV could become part of the empires of Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠) of the Fubon Group and Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) of the Want Want Group. Both groups own and act as agents for a large number of channels, giving them a monopoly over the domestic television market.
Viewers have to pay to watch TV and there is no chance of fair competition for independent TV stations. Given this virtual monopoly, there is little chance of improving the quality of TV programming.
What’s worse, these two groups could leverage their monopoly of the TV market to gain economic and political advantages, causing Taiwan’s democracy to deteriorate.
In the end, all the business and government talk about digital convergence will only amount to a huge transfer of interests, while the interests of the average viewer and television station, lacking the support of cable TV corporations, could be sacrificed any time.