On the night of October 31 a new chapter will written in the history of Maltese broadcasting with the complete switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial TV.
Almost 50 years from the launch of the first Maltese analogue terrestrial TV station, all analogue terrestrial TV signal originating in Malta will, on November 1, be switched off forever and only digital signals will be transmitted.
This is part of an EU-wide exercise to free frequencies for modern wireless communication services and to provide better picture and sound quality. Digital TV also provides an electronic programme guide (EPG) which viewers may access to read programme schedules and other related information from the stations.
This event, known as the digital switchover (DSO) will take place 10 months later than the original December 31, 2010 deadline, provoked by delays in the updating of the necessary legislation and reaching agreements with the Maltese TV stations. The second deadline, June 1, had also been missed.
In late August the six Maltese TV stations allotted a spot on the new digital platform, namely TVM, Education 22, Favourite Channel, Net TV, One TV, and Smash were all transmitting. The first two had an automatic place as public service stations while the other four were chosen after submitting an application and being verified with programming that is of general interest to Maltese viewers.
The six TV channels are transmitting in an unencrypted form (i.e. free-to-air) over UHF channel 66 (834 MHz) using the DVB-T transmission standard and MPEG-2 coding technology.
Viewers need a digital set-top box or a TV set with in-built DVB-T functions to view these channels which are available free of charge. Viewers who still rely on analogue transmissions and don’t have a digitally-enabled TV set will see a blank screen on November 1 if they try to watch Maltese stations. These set-top boxes or decoders are available from most shops selling electronics.
Subscribers to Go’s digital TV service and Melita’s cable TV service are not affected at all.
Since this is an EU-wide initiative, Italian TV channels are also switching to digital terrestrial. The digital signal coming from Sicily is weaker than the analogue signal that Maltese TV viewers have been enjoying for decades. This will likely result in problems for some Maltese viewers trying to catch Italian free-to-air digital channels with their roof antennas, depending on their location in the Maltese Islands.
A Digital Switchover Committee, with representatives from local authorities, was set-up to handle the transition. PBS was tasked to launch the new digital terrestrial TV platform, which it did with the support of Go, in turn an established provider of pay-TV digital terrestrial TV services.
According to a survey carried out by the Digital Switchover Committee in summer some 4,760 households were still relying on free-to-air transmissions received via rooftop aerials.
A different survey, this time by the Malta Communications Authority, revealed how 99 per cent of Maltese households have at least one TV set, while 84 per cent have two or three sets. However only 28 per cent of households have at least one high-definition TV set. Nineteen per cent of households interviewed said they watched TV programmes via the internet, the content being mostly entertainment.
The National Statistics Office reports there were 147,54 pay-TV subscriptions (Go and Melita) at the end of last June, while according to the Broadcasting Authority, around 30 per cent of Maltese households watch TV over satellite, which could be aided by so-called card-sharing over internet to watch foreign channels.
Further information on the digital TV switchover is available on freephone number 153 or at www.dso.org.mt.