|Asia-Pacific I 2007
|China’s migration to digital broadcasting
|Country Manager, China
Alex Zhou is Irdeto’s Country Manager for China. Previously, Alex Zhou worked for Cisco China in product sales, programme management and business development. Earlier, Mr Zhou served as technical manager for Digital Equipment Corporation’s (DEC) Guangzhou Office responsible for post-sales technical support. Mr Zhou graduated from South China University of Technology with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Currently, Mr Zhou is attending the EMBA programme at Guanghua School of Management, Beijing University.
The Chinese Government, after experimenting with digital TV for several years, is now promoting the rapid expansion of digital cable systems in entire cities across China. The goal is to provide widespread digital access in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics hosted by China. In parallel, government, media, film and television figures have a five-year master plan to transform China into a ‘nation of innovation’ and to produce video, music, Web and information content for the burgeoning digital broadcasting networks.
A global spotlight has been sporadically focused on China’s hyper-speed march towards urbanization, with projections that the country’s current city-based population could double, from roughly 500 million to one billion urbanites, by the year 2020. Yet another mass movement is in the works that could transform Chinese society and culture even more quickly; as government leaders, television titans and cable operators are steering China through a great ‘digital migration’ in broadcasting. Chinese political visionaries have called for this massive move toward digital broadcasting in the name of the common good. Yet to the technology companies that have already recognized the rapidly evolving Chinese market, the push to crisscross cities with digital broadcasting cable networks is laying the foundation for a new era of pay TV operations. As each Chinese city or province completes the passage into digital broadcasting, cable network operators will begin offering such value-added services as interactive television and video on demand. The incumbent Chinese Ministry, the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television, SARFT, initially supervised 49 pilot broadcasting districts that in 2003 began experiments to introduce digital video, audio and Web services to cable subscribers. In March of 2006, China’s television administrators called for the rapid expansion of digital cable systems across urban China. One of the leading proponents of the Digital Migration programme, SARFT Vice Minister Zhang Haitao, stated during the China Cable and Broadcasting Network Exhibition 2006 that while only limited districts had originally taken part in the pilot digital cable programme, the broadcasting authorities had begun pushing for entire cities and provinces to take the leap from analogue to digital, from static to dynamic offerings, via cable. While declaring the overwhelming success of the pilot programme and unveiling plans to promote digital cable operations from the east to the west of China, Vice Minister Zhang Haitao stated: “Digital TV is our biggest opportunity and the most important task, so every party involved should work hard.” China’s television technocrats aim to provide access to digital broadcasts, via cable, satellite, terrestrial, Internet or mobile networks, to many urban viewers in time for them to watch China’s first staging of the Olympic Games in the summer of 2008. Ideally, it is going to be in everyone’s home. Source: CMP Consulting Access to digital broadcasts via cable is set to ripple out, like ever-widening waves, across eastern, central and, finally, western Chinese cities by 2010. All analogue networks are marked to become extinct, and replaced by next-generation digital networks, by the year 2015. Government, media, film and television figures are likewise rushing to foster an emerging ‘creative class’, along with centres of creativity in major cities, as part of a five-year masterplan to transform China into a ‘nation of innovation’ and to produce video, music, Web and information content for the burgeoning digital broadcasting networks. Broadcasters in Beijing, Shanghai and other major Chinese cities have begun to form multimedia alliances with traditional publishers, and new-century Web-based firms, in another strategy aimed at satisfying the country’s growing appetite and infrastructure for digital culture. So far this will be only local content. Foreign content is still largely restricted, and will have no impact on digitalization. While everyone is clear that the basic situation of China decides that digitalization should evolve using the CATV, cable TV, infrastructure, little has been said about how to start implementing the principle, while at the same time building up a healthy and profitable foundation upon which future development of Pay-TV services can be built. Various operators are recovering from earlier Pay-TV experiments with mixed results, and are still looking for a suitable formula, which can combine digitalization and pay TV, paving the way to a deployment of millions of STBs, set-top boxes. China’s leading content providers are not immune to the current challenges associated with digitalization, and have been proactively working with their existing and potential customers looking for what seems a suitable content protection solution, which fits China’s digitalization efforts. Many operators seem still confused by the basic concepts of digital TV and Pay TV. While both concepts embrace the digitalization, their objectives are different. The objective of basic digital TVs is merely to provide a utility service – like your water, electricity, telephone – and collect a pre-determined viewing fee. The objective of Pay-TV is to meet your personalized, diversified and multi-layered content demands and, accordingly, collect a service-based fee that corresponds to the requested package or level of service and content. Providers of comprehensive security for the protection of digital media, culture and data stored or broadcast across digital TV, IPTV and mobile networks, have been enlisted by the major Chinese players in the expanding digital television sector. A company, which provides software- and hardware-based solutions for digital broadcasters, was handpicked in August of 2006 by Shaanxi Broadcasting & TV Information Network to supply one million next-generation smart cards to help secure the migration of the country’s first unified provincial cable television network to digital TV. Shaanxi Broadcasting’s selection of a foreign company, instead of a domestic start-up, to provide digital content protection was a striking indication of China’s progress in creating, under World Trade Organization rules, a level playing field for all companies – local and international, state-run and private – to compete freely and fairly. The provincial cable broadcaster chose its partner carefully to provide the highest level of security for the storage and transmission of high-value media content. At the same time, by working with leading manufacturers of set-top boxes domestically and around the world, China has crafted an array of broadcasting protection systems. These range from those specially aimed at smaller operators with simpler conditional access needs to systems for massive pay TV companies that require a wide matrix of applications for pay-per-view, pre-paid pay TV, video on demand and personal video recorders. Full-spectrum, mutually compatible digital TV protection schemes let small-scale cable operators morph into gigantic interactive outfits without needing to swap a single smart card or set-top device. China’s digital vanguard is working to defend the sector against attacks and seeking ways to protect all content, sent over any network, to any device. In this way, they are trying to help pave the country’s passage, via digital migration, into a renaissance-like expansion of culture in the new millennium.