Free-to-air digital TV could cost RTÉ €70m


RTÉ now expects to spend €70 million to provide a free-to-air digital terrestrial television (DTT) service to 1.6 million homes here by December 31st, 2012, the date when the existing analogue system will be switched off.

This is down from the original estimate of €150 million, when it was envisaged that a commercial operator would run five DTT multiplexes along with RTÉ’s terrestrial service.

The broadcaster has also proposed to Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan that it offer DTT through satellite dishes to the 2 per cent of homes in the Republic who cannot currently receive an analogue signal because of their remote location.

In addition, RTÉ wants to bundle broadband with the satellite product, thereby offering the possibility that these rural blackspots would be able to receive high-speed internet services.

RTÉ executive Conor Hayes yesterday told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications that this would enable every household in Ireland to receive terrestrial television for the first time.

At present, 98 per cent of homes in the Republic can get some form of free-to-air programming, mostly via roof-top aerials.

Mr Hayes said the annual cost of the satellite services would be about €1.5 million.

Set-top boxes, costing up to €100 each, will be used by the vast majority of homes to receive the signal.

Mr Hayes said RTÉ was “currently in discussions with lenders for a loan of €30 to €35 million” to complete the rollout of infrastructure necessary for the successful launch of DTT at the end of 2012.

RTÉ had already spent €40 million to date, he added. It was building a DTT transmission network across 51 sites.

RTÉ is proposing to launch two public-service DTT multiplexes. The first will be operational by the third quarter of 2011 and will carry nine television stations and 12 digital radio stations.

It is proposed that RTÉ 1, RTÉ 2, TV3, TG4, RTÉ News (currently available online) and 3e (owned by TV3) would have their own dedicated channels.

A seventh channel would be shared by RTÉ Children, Euronews and RTÉ+1 and run from about 7am to midnight.

The second multiplex is likely to carry high definition versions of these stations and possibly an Irish film channel and an Oireachtas channel.

Mr Hayes said RTÉ was supportive of both a film and Oireachtas channel but no funding had currently been allocated for either.

He said there were no plans to broadcast British terrestrial channels on its multiplexes.

These were originally to have been carried on commercial multiplexes but the three applicants – Boxer, OneVision and EasyTV – withdrew their interest from the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BAI).

Commission chairman Bob Collins told the committee that these groups had been unable to agree a deal with RTÉ NL, a subsidiary of the State broadcaster that manages the transmission network.

Mr Collins said the legislation governing DTT did not give the BAI the right to mediate between the two sides and suggested this be changed if it was to secure a commercial operator in the future.