Views on the future and frequencies of the terrestrial network and on the development of television
On 28 September 2020, the Finnish newspaper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus published an article discussing the Finnish Broadcasting Company’s letter to the Minister of Transport and Communications, Timo Harakka. The letter urged faster progress in measures regarding communications policy and legislation that would ensure sufficient frequencies and telecom operator investments in 5G networks. This would allow the Finnish Broadcasting Company to transfer television broadcasting entirely to broadband networks in the future.
The article attracted no shortage of attention in the media. It’s no wonder – if implemented, the proposals of the Finnish Broadcasting Company would have a significant effect on how Finns can use television services in the future. There are three main points:
1. The terrestrial network is alive and well, and its content is more diverse than ever
Broadcasting over the terrestrial network is the oldest way of getting television content to viewers. Regular television broadcasts in Finland have been ongoing since 1957.
Many are of the mind that the terrestrial network is antiquated or degraded. This is not the case, as there are more television channels available via the terrestrial network than ever before. A large number of the most popular television channels are available, as are the latest interactive television services. These are services that are still missing in most cable networks. Digita has developed these hybrid TV services that connect terrestrial broadcast and internet services together with television companies. They offer an excellent opportunity for media companies to create new scheduled, also known as linear, or on-demand television service packages.
Terrestrial television is also being constantly developed, as services such as those that are available on demand or that meet personal preferences are important to consumers. This is why, for example, the majority of online television services are already available to terrestrial network users as hybrid services and they can be accessed directly through TV channels. Additionally, terrestrial network features are being developed and piloted, including 5G distribution, 4K/UHD image quality, etc. The way we think of terrestrial television today will not fit the definition of the terrestrial television of tomorrow. What will continue to be present in the future are the availability of linear television, demand for mass distribution of television content and the need to distribute commercial television programmes to consumers independently of (mobile) service providers.
2. Only the terrestrial network can ensure diverse television services that are free of charge for all Finns
From the point of view of Finnish consumers and media companies, it is important that choices are available when it comes to television distribution and reception. At present, terrestrial television stands out from other networks, not only by the virtue of its extremely broad geographic availability, but also by the fact that it is free to use for the recipient. The removal of an option such as this due to content being solely distributed via broadband would change the situation of consumers when it comes to receiving domestic television broadcasts. It would also make the position of commercial media more difficult, as all television users would, in practice, be the customers of one telecom operator or another. It is also worth remembering that, due to its reliability, the terrestrial television network plays a significant role as a form of communication and protector of security of supply in times of crisis.
3. Television channels are a unique competitive advantage for Finnish media companies
On average, Finns spend three hours a week watching linear television – or, more familiarly, “TV channels” – and it reaches 85 per cent of Finns every week. This also benefits the developers of domestic online television services, for whom the presence of television channels offers an excellent way to raise the usage and profile of their services. Netflix, for example, is forced to spend large sums on marketing every year to even approach the user numbers of Yle Areena. Therefore, the more numerous and the better the content services that can be offered as part of services built around television channels, the more the Finnish television industry benefits.
On average, Finns spend three hours a week watching linear television – or, more familiarly, “TV channels” – and it reaches 85 per cent of Finns every week.
At the heart of scheduled or linear television are live broadcasts and large events. Their goal is to gather large numbers of people in front of their television sets – typically hundreds of thousands or millions of users at once. These are precisely the mass-audience events that cause even the Finnish Broadcasting Company to worry when it comes to distributing them over broadband.
This large-scale distribution is precisely the purpose for which the so-called broadcasting networks were designed and they will continue to serve this purpose in the future. It is therefore paradoxical that some believe that the remaining UHF frequencies reserved for terrestrial television should be reappropriated for the use of wireless broadband. It is a move with the intention of enabling the mass distribution of television via broadband, despite the fact that it is already distributed significantly more reliably and cost-effectively by terrestrial television in a way that ensures security of supply.
It is important to have a dialogue regarding the Finnish Broadcasting Company’s proposal. Terrestrial television is, however, a very important part of Finns’ everyday lives and running it into the ground would have a significant effect on the national availability of television services. This is why it is important to secure sufficient frequency resources for terrestrial television when creating future frequency solutions to ensure that its content offering, ever improving image quality and developing services can be secured in the future as well. Finland has excellent wireless broadband networks, and it is also important to ensure they are developed. However, this can be done without harming terrestrial television broadcasting and its continuous development.