Market Watch

New Channel for Local UK DTT Multiplex

May 23, 2011

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Movies4Men channel owner, Dolphin Broadcast Services, has secured carriage rights on one of the UK's local digital terrestrial multiplexes.

This channel will be broadcast from the Winter Hill transmitter site in the Granada region on a local multiplex owned by the Guardian Media Group covering 1.2 million homes in the Manchester area.

The UK has one other local multiplex, a joint venture between Republic of Ireland broadcaster RTÉ and Irish-language broadcaster TG4. The local multiplex operates from a single transmitter site in Northern Ireland, delivering TG4 content to around 60 per cent of Northern Irish homes.

This local carriage deal provides an opportunity to assess different approaches taken to local content within digital terrestrial television (DTT) networks. In particular, the contrast between local multiplexes and local content insertion.

In the UK at present, the vast majority of local content is delivered via national multiplexes. For instance, all 18 regions on the BBC 1 multiplex have regional content inserted and encoded centrally before being broadcast on the DTT network.  As a consequence, there are over 600 encoding streams in the UK DTT network. The main advantage of this method is that, unlike a local multiplex, it does not require additional spectrum allocation (a potentially expensive and lengthy process).

By contrast, a local multiplex requires its own spectrum allocation and does not take a national feed. In Europe, local and regional multiplexes are still relatively uncommon. Notable exceptions include Italy, with over 500 local multiplexes, and Spain, which has 38 regional multiplexes and 291 local multiplexes. In Spain and Italy there is political pressure to provision for local broadcasting autonomy, hence the large number of local and regional multiplexes. In the rest of Europe, where regional autonomy is less of an issue, local multiplexes are uncommon due to the complexity and cost associated with allocating spectrum.

However, as countries move towards analogue switch off (and the additional spectrum this provides) we can expect greater interest in local and regional multiplexes. This certainly appears to be the case in the UK, with this local carriage deal on the Guardian Media Group multiplex demonstrating at least some appetite for local delivery. Additionally, the Ukrainian DTT regulator has recently recommended that each region support four local TV stations, citing local multiplexes as a possible option.

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