PETALING JAYA: The free-to-air TV migration from analogue to digital seems to have hit a snag, with services being suspended in several states over disputes of non-payment between MYTV Broadcasting Sdn Bhd and Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM).
The suspension also puts in jeopardy the “analogue switch-off” planned for the first quarter of 2019. If not resolved soon, it could potentially result in a delay in the release of the 700MHz spectrum meant for the telecoms industry and the regional switch-off with Singapore and Thailand.
Hundreds of viewers in Sabah, Sarawak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Perak are affected, with 20 broadcasting sites having been shut down since Oct 11 and 25.
The remaining 14 sites were slated to be shut down last night, but have been deferred to Nov 6 after last-minute meetings were held yesterday between TM and MYTV requesting for a delay so that the nation can watch the live Budget 2019 speech today.
There are nine broadcasters offering free-to-air services, among them, RTM1, RTM2, TV3, NTV7, 8TV, AlHijrah and TV9.
“MYTV owes TM over RM60mil for services rendered and the former was reminded several times to pay up before the shut-down action was taken,” said an industry executive who requested anonymity.
Amid all this, there is talk of a proposal for TM to take over MYTV so that the digital terrestrial television (DTT) switch-off goes on as planned, but this could not be verified. There was a similar attempt last year, but it did not materialise.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo has also asked MYTV to explain the reason for the suspension of its services.
MYTV did put up a notice on its website about the service disruptions, but did not disclose the reasons for the suspension, or when services would be reinstated.
MYTV is a broadcast service provider and was selected back in 2014 to spearhead the national DTT rollout.
The move is part of the national agenda to transform Malaysia’s broadcasting industry through digitisation.
The “analogue switch-off” simply means that terrestrial TV signals would migrate to digital signals and this ensures the effective use of spectrum and frees up the 700MHz spectrum now occupied by the broadcasters to be used by the cellular industry. The migration is also in line with regional digital broadcasting trends.
MYTV’s role as infrastructure developer and sole provider of myFreeview is for a period of 15 years till 2030.
Last year, it inked an agreement with TM for the use of its telecoms towers, distribution network, installation of transmitters at 60 sites, operation and maintenance.
The contract with TM is said to be worth about RM915mil to be paid over a 15-year period, comprising payments of RM61mil each year after the 60 sites are up and running. Since all the sites are not up, the payment is much lower for now.
Those in the know claim MYTV has thus far spent RM400mil on the project and paid TM about RM33mil for services in 2016 and 2017.
The 34 sites serve 92.7% of populated areas, and with 60 sites, 98% of the population will be covered.
MYTV is supposed to earn rental for use of its digital platform from broadcasters.
Since its launch, it has lowered its prices per channel from RM12mil for standard definition and RM25mil for high definition (HD) to RM6.7mil and RM7.4mil, respectively, industry executives said.
MYTV’s myFreeview service was launched last year and viewers access the service via a decoder that is distributed free to about 4.2 million households.
While the deadline for the analogue switch-off has been changed several times, Gobind is keen to keep the first quarter 2019 timeline intact.
“MYTV has to resolve the issues it is facing pretty soon to meet the analogue switch-off timeline. It also has to address the decoder issue, as it wants to change the decoder and wants to add satellite transmission to speed up the process.
But is this all really necessary when fibre is the way to go, and would broadcasters want the new decoder?” asked an industry executive.
“Satellite broadcast may not be relevant for the 60 sites at this point. Just stick to the original initiative and deliver,” he added.
Free-to-air services are popular in many countries. In Britain, Freeview offers over 70 TV channels, 15 HD channels, and more than 30 radio stations, all with no subscription, and in Auckland alone, there are 40 free-to-air channels offered.