Back to Earth for terrestrial TV

 

IT’S ALMOST seven months since the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) awarded the three commercial digital terrestrial television (DTT) multiplex contracts to the One Vision consortium, yet little progress has been made in getting it to air.

I’m told that another change to the shareholding structure will be put to the regulator for the approval of its board when it next meets on December 14th.

One Vision comprises Eircom, TV3, Setanta and Arqiva, a specialist DTT operator in Britain. Initially, the partners had 25 per cent each but, in September, the BAI signed off on a change that saw Eircom and Arqiva moving to a 40 per cent shareholding, while TV3 and Setanta took 10 per cent each.

Under the new plan, TV3 will reduce its holding to 5 per cent.

Arqiva is also expected to reduce its holding to about 25 per cent. Eircom, meanwhile, will take a larger stake, possibly even a majority one.

This might all be irrelevant if One Vision cannot secure a transmission agreement with RTÉ, which will operate the terrestrial DTT multiplex, and build and manage the network.

One Vision claims RTÉ wants a €20 million upfront security deposit.

RTÉ is facing a shortfall in revenues this year of €75 million that could leave it nursing a deficit of €15 million.

One Vision hasn’t yet been established as a legal entity and RTÉ, not unreasonably, doesn’t want to build a transmission service without some financial security.

RTÉ is also believed to have cut One Vision’s annual transmission costs from €10 million to €8 million.

Another sticking point for One Vision is whether government funding will be made available to promote the analogue switchover.

In Britain, the government chipped in money for an information campaign, but there are no plans for that here.

With the economy in recession, DTT is no longer as attractive to commercial operators. Denis O’Brien’s Boxer group handed back the licence earlier this year.

The analogue switchoff is pencilled in for the end of 2012, so One Vision needs to get cracking. Otherwise, commercial DTT might be put on standby for some time.