Boxer pulls out of digital TV service

 

BOXER DTT, the consortium that is 50 per cent owned by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp group, has abandoned its plans to provide digital terrestrial television (DTT) under the contracts it was awarded by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) last July.

Its decision to pull out means that a consortium comprising TV3, Eircom and Setanta Sports will be offered the licences for the three commercial DTT multiplexes. The BCI said it has asked the One Vision consortium, the second placed applicant in the licensing competition, if it is still interested in the licences and still in a financial position to offer DTT services in time for the switch-off of analogue services in 2012.

A spokeswoman for TV3 said the broadcaster would not comment until the consortium had the opportunity to look at the feasibility of launching a commercial DTT service.

BCI chairman Conor Maguire said the commission was “disappointed” by Boxer’s decision, but “cognisant of the significant endeavours of all the parties involved to date”.

In a statement, Boxer cited the “prevailing and anticipated economic circumstances” for its withdrawal, saying that the introduction of DTT was “no longer viable under Boxer’s proposed business model” and that a contract for transmission services with RTÉ Networks could no longer be achieved.

Boxer, which was a joint venture between Communicorp and Swedish DTT operator Boxer TV Access, said in July 2008 that it would invest €115 million to offer a commercial service that was to run alongside the free-to-air public service multiplex, which will be operated by RTÉ.

At the time, Boxer said its shareholders had already invested €43 million, but the contract to piggy-back on RTÉ’s transmission network was never signed.

DTT will replace the analogue television signal from the end of 2012, obliging households who rely on the signal for their television channels to upgrade to DTT using a set-top box and smart cards.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan said she expected the BCI to continue with the DTT process as it has set out, despite the setback posed by the Boxer withdrawal.

“The Minister expects RTÉ to push ahead with the launch of the public service channels on DTT by the end of this year; 2012 remains the target for analogue switch- off.”

Labour Party communications spokeswoman Liz McManus described Boxer’s pullout as “shocking” and said it would have a significant impact on the introduction of DTT in Ireland.

“Currently the Broadcasting Bill is going through the Dáil to allow for the management of DTT, yet, at present, there is no company to deliver it,” she said. “Ireland is lagging behind yet again in the area of technological development.”

RTÉ has spent €40 million to date on equipment for the DTT transmission network, over which it will broadcast the four existing free-to-air channels – RTÉ 1, RTÉ 2, TV3 and TG4. This public service multiplex will eventually transmit up to eight channels.

Switch-off: Boxer presses the button

Aerial-dependent television viewers might not be too happy with the prospect of having to upgrade to digital terrestrial television (DTT) to stop their screens going all snowy.

Their reluctance though to embrace DTT may yet pale in comparison to that of the media consortiums that were once eager to snap up the three commercial multiplexes on offer from the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI).

Last July, chairwoman of Boxer DTT Lucy Gaffney was promising to bring “a new dimension in television viewing” to Ireland. Yesterday, Boxer pressed the off button on its DTT ambitions. Now the BCI is depending on the One Vision consortium to gallantly step into the breach. That this consortium comprises a job-shedding TV3, a football rights-losing Setanta Sports and a cost-cutting Eircom does not bode well.

Faced with transmission charges from RTÉ and the possibility that multi-channel-seeking consumers are already Sky-plussed to the max, the revenues no longer stacked up.

Most of Boxer’s potential subscribers would have arrived after the great switch-off planned for the end of 2012 and they would have come from those households that currently live on the aerial diet of free-to-air channels. But free-to- air services will still be available after 2012 through RTÉ’s public service DTT multiplex.

Why, having withstood the onslaught of digital cable and satellite marketeers, would four- channel land bother to pay more?