June 15 2015 is the day when analogue signal will be turned off in Europe and broadcasting will only conducted by digital signal. Neighboring countries will not be obliged any more to protect the frequencies at which Georgian TV-radio companies are broadcasting in analogue format. The given agreement was signed in 2006 in Geneva. Changing to digital broadcasting is an international obligation. In some countries the process has already been completed while in Georgia there is not even a State strategy for digital broadcasting.
Georgian TV broadcasters are working in analogue format now and as set by international obligations the precise date of turning off the analogue signal must be decided by the government. The State must also select the digital broadcasting model which must be accepted by the broadcasters. Management of the given process in Georgia is the obligation of the Ministry of Economics and Sustainable Development. National Commission for Communications also participates in the process to a certain extent. Still none of these State bodies have even selected a model of broadcasting; the public is not informed about the given issue and population does not know that in three years with the TV-sets they have, they will not be able to receive any channels without special decoders.
Ministry of Economics and Sustainable Development announced at the beginning of this year that it would present the precise action plan to the public this July, but the promise has not been kept. Deputy Head of the Department of Communication, Information Technologies and Innovations of the Ministry Jemal Vashakidze told media.ge that the strategy would not be worked out until the end of the year.
“This is a very complicated process; we should not miss a single detail and must consider the interests of all the sides. That is why the completion of the strategy has been delayed. Our main concern is for the population not to face a digital vacuum,” Vashakidze said and stressed that the main thing is to work out this document; its implementation is far simpler. Vashakidze claims that international experts have already studied Georgian relief and have given certain recommendations to the Ministry of Economics and Sustainable Development. Georgian side has asked assistance for changing to digital broadcasting from the European Bank for Development. The agreement has already been achieved and the final document will be prepared soon.
Due to the fact that the government has so far failed to work out the strategy for changing to digital broadcasting the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters (GARB) presented its vision of changing to digital broadcasting platform to the GNCC and the Ministry of Economics and Sustainable Development on October 11. The model worked out by GARB is based on international experience in changing to digital broadcasting which has been analyzed by specialist of media law Alexander Baramidze by order from the Georgian Young Lawyers Association.
GARB requests formation of an inter-body coordination council by participation of different State bodies, experts, international organizations and other interested persons.
“All the countries have formed such Councils when changing to digital broadcasting. Georgia must take decisive steps timely for starting the given process,” GARB executive director Natia Kuprashvili said.
Jemal Vashakidze claims such a Council will be created only after the strategy will be worked out.
Changing to digital broadcasting has several advantages the main from which is the increased quantity of frequencies. It will be possible to transmit from 4 to 16 program channels in each of the frequency lines, which will mean more broadcasters; it also improves video and audio quality. Still changing from analogue to digital technologies is a complicated process, which needs a lot of time and finances. Many of the European countries have spent 5-7 years on the given process. In some of the countries the process still continues. For example the Great Britain started changing to digital broadcasting in 1990 and the process is still underway. Georgia must manage to start and finish the process in three years.
During that period of time Georgia must work out the strategy, replace equipment at transmission towers and stations, broadcasters must cover broadcasting zones determined for them, the public must receive coinciding information, in order for integrated digital TV-sets to appear at the market and for the population to be able to purchase digital signal receivers (decoders). The function of the so called “multiplex operator” is also very important. “Multiplex” is the so called frequency line, uniting up to 16 digital channels. Any TV Company or any business company may become a multiplex operator. Operator Company does not need the broadcasting license. Its function is to admit certain programs, or services in framework of the frequency line it operates.
GARB believes that the government must support the formation of at least one multiplex and allow the free market to develop the rest. Additionally the broadcasters must receive digital channels by modernizing their licenses not allowing the process to result in increasing the cost licenses and decreasing of license periods.
For the moment only the broadcasting zones have been decided upon. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has allocated 10 digital broadcasting zones to Georgia (see the photo) and the total quantity of digital channels is 175. According to the existing legislation a broadcaster is obliged to cover minimum 90% of the zone allocated to it. Head of the Legal Protection Department of the National Commission for Communications Kakhi Kurashvili says that the given norm will also relate to digital broadcasting zones “if nothing changes.”
“This does not mean forests, mountains and unsettled territories; it means 90% of population living at a taken geographic area,” Kurashvili explained to media.ge.
Regional broadcasters faced certain problems due to the division of the country into digital broadcasting zones. For example Guria has been divided into two so Ozurgeti TV Company Guria must broadcast in the 253rd zone, which covers the “far” Svaneti (Mestia, Lentekhi), but will not be able to broadcast in neighboring Lanchkhuti, which calls into the 252nd zone. “We are losing Chokhatauri and Lanchkuti audience which means the ‘Guria’ will not broadcast in Guria any more. Additionally we will not be able to broadcast in Tsageri and Lentekhi; we do not have enough finances to organize necessary infrastructure in the very complicated relief of Svaneti,” Head of ‘Guria’ Avtandil Gvelebiani says.
By the new zones the Akhalkalaki TV Company (Javakheti) will have to broadcast in Khulo territory (mountainous Adjara) while Batumi TV Companies will not be able to broadcast there. For example in case of changing to digital broadcasting Telavi TV Company ‘Tanamgzavri’ will have to cover Tbilisi, but will not be able to broadcast for Gurjaani audience. Marneuli and Rustavi broadcasters will also be obliged to cover Tbilisi area. The 257th zone (Stepantsminda and Barisakho) is left without a regional TV Company. Natia Kuprashvili says that “such channels must be included in bordering zones as an exception.”
Despite the fact that several regional broadcasters face problems because of zone division Jemal Vashakidze claims that this was the most optimal option and position of the Georgian side was maximally considered during negotiations with the ITU.
This will also result in closing down, or uniting of several small TV Companies. For example the ‘Imervision’ of Chiatura plans cooperation with another broadcaster.
We do not have enough recourses, neither financial, nor human, to cover the extended zones so we will either unite with another Company, or will just manufacture the content and turn into kind of a studio,” Imervision Head Ramaz Gamezardashvili stressed.
GARB requests possible financial assistance to TV Companies in process of changing to digital broadcasting. Additionally the Association believes that the government must immediately limit selling of TV-sets in the country that do not have an option of receiving digital signal (along with the analogue) and to start promoting import/distribution of digital TV-sets. GARB model considers presenting of the so called transitional period, when analogue and digital signals will be transmitted simultaneously.
“At the given stage it is the most important to understand to which standard we are changing to; if a broadcaster decides to change equipment now they will not be able to do it, as they do not know were and what to buy,” Kuprashvili stressed. According to her, there will also be problems with TV projects, as it is only possible to turn in applications to donors for short-term projects.
Jemal Vashakidze believes that changing to digital broadcasting will activate competition between the TV Company, which will finally result in improvement of the final product.