The Romanian government has approved the strategy for the country's transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting. Analogue switch-off (ASO) is set for 17 June 2015 and DVB-T2 has been chosen as the broadcasting standard. After ASO, a pay DTT service will launch. An information campaign will start from 1 August this year.
According to the strategy, there will be five national multiplexes in total, including one for regional stations. Only one of the four national multiplexes will launch before ASO. It will be dedicated to the public and private channels currently broadcasting free-to-air on analogue terrestrial. The multiplex operator will be selected in a tender called by the telecommunications regulator, ANCOM. The multiplex will have to cover at least 90 per cent of population and 80 per cent of the territory by the end of 2016.
The other three national multiplexes will launch after ASO and may be used for commercial services, with their operator to be chosen by ANCOM in a tender procedure.
To reduce the negative effects of transition and ensure the continuity of public channels, the existing network of Romania's transmission company, Radiocom, will be used. The current experimental DVB-T broadcast will be extended (with the use of analogue frequencies allocated for public channel TVR 2) to provide public TV channels in the DVB-T2 standard with a coverage of minimum 40 per cent of population by 1 July 2014, and 70 per cent by the ASO deadline. The broadcast of TVR 2 in analogue format will gradually shut down, with a maximum 20 days allowed for the interruption of the channel's transmissions. In order to run the project, Radiocom will be given a temporary DTT licence. The operator will simulcast TVR 1 until ASO.
Multichannel is already in 90 per cent of Romanian homes, with pay TV watched by about 85 per cent of total households. Primary pay satellite is in 30 per cent of homes (up from less than 10 per cent in 2006), although its rapid growth came to a halt in 2010. Many subscribers migrated to cable, with some cable TV players starting to roll out networks in rural areas to provide low-budget TV services. A recently launched free satellite project, Freesat srl, has also benefited from the delay in DTT to launch in Romania.
Due to its late launch, Romania will apply a newer transmission standard standard, T2, which will allows more channels to be broadcast than DVB-T. Viewers will have to purchase T2-enabled boxes, which are typically more expensive than DVB-T boxes, and most importantly are practically unavailable on the Romanian market. Also, the way in which analogue terrestrial will be switched off, which will leave some areas for a relatively long time without some major channels, can be hardly be counted as advantageous. Finally, it remains uncertain whether there will be any subsidies for low-income households to buy the T2-enabled boxes.
Romania is likely to become the last EU market to switch off analogue terrestrial broadcasts. Currently, the only EU countries which have not yet made the transition are Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. Poland is planning to do so at the end of July this year, followed by Bulgaria in September. Hungary has scheduled ASO for 2014. The European Commission wanted all EU members to have the process of transition to digital accomplished by the end of 2012 and may penalise the EU countries which have missed the deadline.