Digital television to enter Baltics

  • 2001-06-21
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - The Baltics will move closer to the space age later this year when digital television broadcasts begin. At a conference on June 15 in Riga, a presentation was given on the pros and cons of the future of television in the Baltics.

Before year's end a new receiver will be set up in Riga to send and receive information from the SIRIUS satellite system.

Lennart Hallkvist, managing director of Nordic Satellite AB, said he was pleased with the agreement reached with the state-owned television network LTV, which cleared the way for the construction of the receiver to begin.

"Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are our home market," Hallkvist said. "The skyport (receiver) will be a central installation designed to receive and transmit all types of digital TV services for the entire Baltic region."

Digital television offers a vast variety of possibilities for TV viewers, including pay-per view and television-based Internet access.

"In the long term, as a viewer you will have access to a large number of interactive TV and Internet-based services," said Torben Rasmussen, marketing director at Nordic Satellite. "New digital services and new content providers will be able to establish themselves quickly, making the revolution in the field of TV even greater than when color TV was first introduced.

However, individual Internet surfing on the TV set will not be as fast as fiber optic cables. Since the signal is transmitted from the SIRIUS satellite system, which orbits 36,000 kilometers above the earth, there will be a delay of just under a second, which will lead to longer download times.

The advantage of the Internet satellite link is that information may be sent to many receivers at the same time.

Currently, there are 17.3 million digital TV homes in Europe. More than half of those are in the United Kingdom, Ireland and France, where digital television was introduced early.

About 4 percent of homes in the Nordics and Baltics are fitted with digital TV.

The Swedish government made an attempt to introduce digital television in Sweden some years ago, but the project failed because of high costs to consumers.

In the Baltics, Nordic Satellite has chosen a different approach.

"We will first release the satellite packages in Estonia to see if the price level is right," said Charlotta Ridderstrale, sales manager for Nordic Satellite. "If all goes well we intend to keep the price the same throughout the Baltics, but if it doesn't, we may have to subsidize the price."

At the moment the satellite package is $400, which includes the 45-centimeter-wide dish, all necessary cables, the decoder box, installment of the equipment and a one year subscription.

No special television is needed.

The new skyport will have a capacity of up to 30 channels. VIASAT is the first TV company to offer a satellite package, which includes both national and international channels. One of the features of digital TV is the possibility to change both the spoken language and subtitles.

There are areas in Riga where 61 TV channels are available for less than 8 lats ($12.80) per month. Many of these channels are poor quality, however. These areas are where Nordic Satellite is looking for buyers.

"Most of these channels are illegal and these analog signals will be shut down very soon," Rasmussen said.

Nordic Satellite is owned in equal measure by the Swedish Space Corporation and the Luxembourg-based Société Européenne des Satellites S.A., which operates ASTRA, Europe's leading satellite system.