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Nation Tunes in to Digital TV Era

The development of digital TV (DTV) is a central task for China's radio, TV and film industry and private investment is welcome to take part in this process, a senior industry official said yesterday.

"Digitalization must bring a change in our mindset and we should abandon the concepts of the planned economy era. We should seek a win-win model both inside and outside the industry," said Zhang Haitao, vice minister of the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT).

He made the remark in a keynote address at the opening ceremony of the China Cable Broadcasting Network (CCBN) exhibition in Beijing, the industry's largest gathering, which opens today and runs until Wednesday.

While many industries in China have witnessed rapid change as a result of the ongoing process of reform and opening, the radio, film and TV industry has lagged behind them in reforms and is ill-prepared in terms of its mindset, technology and organizational ability.

The industry's resources are highly scattered with every province or city owning their own broadcasting and transmission networks.

However, digitalization is now an urgent requirement, so the industry must adopt a market-oriented attitude in the promotion of DTV and cooperate inside the industry and work with partners in other industries.

Zhang, maybe China's most enthusiastic proponent of DTV, said SARFT is working on a series of policies to achieve digitalization.

The administration will adjust its policies to encourage the consolidation of networks and foster several mega-enterprises.

The vice minister added companies like China Cable Network Co Ltd can play a key role in industrial consolidations.

In January, the China Cable Network, which owns a 70,000-kilometre-long fiber backbone broadcasting network, was founded and it was believed to be a major vehicle in consolidating the nation's broadcasting network resources.

In accordance with the central government's guidelines on furthering the development of the private sector, Zhang said SARFT is also drawing up regulations to allow private investments to enter areas such as the distribution network.

He added private companies may also get a green light to invest in services like program-on-demand and information services, areas currently only open to investment from the radio, film and TV industry.

At the same time, the development of DTV will enter a new stage with the focus shifting to a large-scale deployment at provincial level following the experiences of city-level networks, according to Zhang.

Guangdong, Fujian, Shanxi, Hunan, Shaanxi and Jiangxi provinces, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and Beijing and Shanghai municipalities will all start to switch TV transmissions from analogue to digital platforms this year, through which all cable TV subscribers will be able to watch DTV programs.

The overall transmission model offers free set-top boxes to subscribers and more TV, radio and information content to them to attract them to watch digital programs.

Beijing, which saw little progress in deploying DTV in the past years, will stop analogue TV transmissions by the end of 2007, as the city needs broadcast digital signals during the 2008 Olympic Games.

The capital aims to transfer 500,000 families to DTV this year.

As to the long-awaited standard for the terrestrial transmission of DTV, Zhang said the Chinese standard working group is working hard on that and SARFT will draw up plans and regulations on this issue.

China once intended to use the European DVB standard for the Chinese market, but it later decided to formulate its own standard.

An industry source, close to the standard working group, said the Chinese DMB-T standard is certain to come out this year.

It will be an optimized version of the three proposals by Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, and the Academy of Broadcasting Sciences under SARFT.

However, Zhang said that even if the standard is completed, it may take five years to build a mature and complete industrial chain based on it.

(China Daily March 21, 2005)

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