Digital TV set to raise the content bar
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) claims the advent of 24 digital television channels into Thailand, which are set to start some time in April, will mean low-quality content will struggle to compete.
The Commission also claims the rise of digital TV will solve the problem of the current raft of political channels which use the present Satellite TV system to broadcast. They speculate that many major satellite TV broadcasters will also set up digital channels as a way of expanding and diversifying their businesses.
Free-to-air broadcasting TV via satellite has been extant for the past two decades, partly due to the poor signals sent out by the terrestrial TV channels, but also as a way for major political parties to promote their brand of local politics to the masses, especially in the outer provinces.
As at the start of 2014, Thailand had about 10 politically-based TV channels airing via satellite. These include Blue Sky TV, Asia Update, and ASTV.
That said, satellite TV did not gain a strong foothold in the country until about 2006. Prior to this, the cost of having a satellite dish installed was prohibitive for many lower and lower-middle class groups, with at least 10,000 baht being required to install a basic setup.
The NBTC says there are 500 satellite TV channels in the country, but a Nielsen Thailand survey suggests 475 of these have a viewership of less than one percent of the population. In other words, they have less than 700,000 viewers nationally. Overwhelmingly, audiences still prefer watching free-to-air TV rather than satellite TV.
This year the NBTC will issue a further 12 licences for public channels to become digital and 12 community-purpose channels, although it admits some of these could well be politically-oriented.
A spokesman for the NBTC believes a number of satellite TV channels will not survive the advent of digital TV because of the low quality of their content. The NBTC feels these channels will disappear. Meanwhile, those satellite channels which h do produce quality content and have viewer-ships above the one percent level will be forced to transition to become pay-TV operators.
A researcher at the German University of Passau has put forward some ideas which he believes may help to reduce the level of the political divide in Thailand. Ruediger Korff believes the NBTC should promote regional-based TV programmes to a national audience. He also thinks the regulator should decentralize the power of the media to the regional and community levels. This would include program production and ensuring there are regional facilities capable of handling these productions.