The government's ongoing plan to digitize the nation's television by 2008 got a boost earlier this week, when CEOs of Taiwan's three largest broadband providers announced that they would work together to improve programming in Taiwan and speed up the digitization of Taiwan's television services.
The announcement that China Network Systems (CNS,
"We, as providers, are each looking for a niche market but there's currently a limited number of channels we can offer," said CNS' Simon Lin (
The inclusion of two new digital Discovery channels comes hot on the heels of the inclusion of BBC Prime, which became available on December 1; and several weeks before a new digital National Graphic Network channel is formally announced.
Even with the inception of these four new channels, digital providers in Taiwan are currently only able to provide viewers with an average of 30 channels, less than the 80 analog channels available nationwide. This lack of digital channels is, according to Albert Lin (
"There are just too many [analog channels] in Taiwan that offer too much and [viewers] already have nearly everything they need," he said. "People's viewing habits are difficult to alter. If their favorite programs aren't available on digital then they certainly aren't going to want to change."
At present, 4.2 million households subscribe to analog cable television, but the number of digital subscribers is miniscule. The largest percentage of the digital market is currently divided between the five largest broadband companies, or "the Big 5."
CNS provides 28,000 households with digital programming, TBC feeds 12,000 homes and EMC supplies 20,000 homes. The nation's two other largest digital providers, Pacific Broadband (太平洋聯網科技) and Taiwan Infrastructure Network Provider (台灣礎網路), share an estimated 10,000 customers.
According to EMC Chairman Faizal Syed, one of the most significant disparities between Taiwan and other digitizing nation's is in its sports programming.
Whereas one soccer match can draw millions of viewers in Europe, Taiwan's relatively lackluster audiences has meant that companies have been reluctant to add sports channel packages to current program options.
"We are addressing national pastimes, but the situation in Taiwan is very different to that of Europe or India," Syed said.
While sports programming is not going to appear overnight, an industry insider says that one of the Big 5 broadband companies is currently in talks with leading European sports channels.
The public's reluctance to switch to digital has led to the broadband companies slashing subscription charges in recent months. Rock-bottom installation costs now average NT$500 and monthly fees from between NT$100 and NT$300.
Although some broadband providers remain optimistic regarding complete digitization within the next two to three years, others believe that cost incentives may not be enough to alter Taiwan's viewing habits.