Broadcasters from 15 Caribbean countries gathered in Guyana for an unprecedented opportunity to find out which way the wind was blowing in terms of digital TV switchover and how to gain economic advantage from extra channels and social media. The networks had a chance to hear from international experts as well as exchange knowledge within the region.
Attending the two-day CBA/CBU #DigitalCaribbean workshop, the Business of Broadcasting in the Digital Age, were station staff from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
The event provided broadcasters from the entire region a real and rare opportunity to openly talk with and quiz digital TV standards representatives. Dr Peter Siebert from the DVB Project and Skip Pizzi representing the ATSC Technology group were on hand to answer a host of questions from the broadcasters, as well as sparking a lively debate between each other and the room over the relative merits of each standard. For example, many TVs bought from the US in the last few years were ready for ATSC without the need for set-top boxes, but DVB-T2 was arguably further evolved from technical point of view.
Rainbow of standards
With digital TV standards being decided at governmental level, and enmeshed with politics, such as influence from powerful neighbours or old colonial ties, broadcasters are too often outsiders in this process. This event gave them the chance to be armed with more technical information and understanding about the different standards, enabling them to have a more powerful voice in decision-making.
Digital transition is a real opportunity for all of the countries of the Caribbean to agree on adopting a single standard, making it easier to share content and to operate as a regional bloc, with accompanying economies of scale. But Guyana’s head of frequency management, Valmiki Singh commented: “We’ve been trying to get one standard in the Caribbean, that may not necessarily be possible,” however he added there was much scope for co-operation in the region, “one of the things we should try to do is get the channel spacing or the channel bandwidth the same.”
The discussions over the two days were timely – many of the countries are still considering which standard to choose. In other regions, there is often a dominant standard, but it was clear that the Caribbean is set to be a rainbow of the four main standards: ATSC reflecting proximity to US markets, DVB-T2 – a strong global standard because of European ties, ISDB-T due to being adopted by nearby Brazil, and DTMB because of the links between China and some countries in the region.
Content, not distribution
Guest speakers from networks in the US, Canada and India presented examples of how they had managed digital transition or capitalised on digital platforms. It was clear that this wasn’t all about technology, but that broadcasters would need to shift how and what they produced to stay relevant and viable in the future. Michael Boylan, from a public broadcaster in Florida now transmitting digitally and working with local charities on content said: “We’re all going to be getting out of the distribution sooner or later, our focus really needs to be on content creation and focusing on how we serve our communities.”
Another observation over the two days was the diversity of approaches to online media among the Caribbean countries present, and again, it was a rare opportunity for broadcasters to come together and compare notes. Issues and opportunities raised included how to better reach and monetise Caribbean diaspora audiences and how social media could be harnessed to improve the measurement of viewer ratings.
The room was divided over how fast technological change was happening and how it was affecting audience viewing habits. But if there was any kind of consensus over the course of the workshop, it was that digital transition, both in terms of digital TV and online media was a certainty, that in many ways it would be expensive, and it was clearer that there were many opportunities for the countries of the Caribbean to work together – more closely, and more often, to get dividends from the change.