Regulatory Implications of the Adoption of Digital Television in Chile

By Etcheverry, Sergio Godoy | Communication Research Trends, June 2010 | Go to article overview
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Regulatory Implications of the Adoption of Digital Television in Chile

Etcheverry, Sergio Godoy, Communication Research Trends


The present study offers an assessment of the regulatory implications of the adoption in Chile of digital terrestrial television (DTTV, i.e., open digital television), particularly following the November, 2008 submission in Congress of the draft presidential reform law to regulate all television (No. 18,838) and after the adoption of the Japanese ISDB standard in September, 2009 in line with Brazil, Argentina, and Peru. This study applies to this vision of the entire television system, including its public policy, economic, industrial, technological, and social dimensions. In addition I will give priority to the public's perspective as to how digitization may enable them to access (or not) more and better television, at a reasonable cost, with more and better content developed locally.

This work has three parts. The first outlines the context of television in Chile, in terms of its social relevance and the changes in the business and production models due to digitization. The second part presents three models of analysis that help manage the regulatory discussion: liberalism/restrictions (Curran & Seaton, 1997), public service television, and parameters of quality television for the various social actors and analytic levels. Each of these applies to the present as well as the historical reality of the legal frameworks of Chilean TV. This section also refers to the British system of DTTV--Freeview--whose success has much to do with a consistent and updated regulatory framework, one of which targets the common good. The third part analyzes and assesses, based on the models and detailed background in the previous sections, the legal reform project of the government to allow DTTV.

1. The Context

A. The importance of television

Along with the radio in 2008, almost 100% of Chilean households receive broadcast televison (TVAin its Spanish acronym, referring to terrestrial broadcasting, not to be confused with satellite distribution), com pared with only 90% of Chileans with mobile telephones. In contrast, an estimated 48% of people access the Internet (one of the highest rates in Latin America) and 30% of households receive pay TV. At the rate of an average of about three hours of viewing per capita per day, TVA provides the foundation of the notions of "reality" in the minds of the average Chilean. This occurs not only through news programs, but in the models and stereotypes in the genres of entertainment, as well as the advertising messages that finance the entire package. Because of its massiveness and immediacy (which makes it very effective), TVAhas attracted more advertising for decades: according to the Chilean Association of Advertising Agencies (ACHAP), in 2008, it captured half of the advertising pie ($933 million), one of the highest ratios in history.

TVA is "open" because of the characteristics of its transmission medium, the electromagnetic spectrum. First, the spectrum as a natural resource is freely available. The sender needs only an antenna to transmit and, before digital technology, could not charge people who had receivers; they, in turn, are accustomed to receiving television content for free. Thus, broadcasters had to find finance by third parties: advertisers, governments, or sponsors. Second, the spectrum is finite: there is no room for an unlimited number of broadcasters, unlike what happens with other media, like print. Third, when not regulated, the use of the spectrum leads broadcasters to interfere with each other (McQuail, 1998; Wood, 1992).

For all these reasons, the received wisdom holds that the electromagnetic spectrum serves as a national asset for public use, franchised by specific criteria to individuals or organizations selected by some mechanism, hopefully (but not always) unbiased. Countries often require certain compensations to the concessionaire in return for this privilege, which vary from country to country (McQuail, 1998).

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