GMA complains over Sky Cable migration to DTV

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GMA Network Inc. has challenged ABS-CBN Corp.’s subsidiary, SkyCable Corp. (SkyCable), over the manner by which the cable company has been implementing the migration of its cable television service from analog to digital.

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In its letter to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) dated January 10, 2014, GMA, through its legal counsel, cried foul over SkyCable’s exclusive carriage of the analog signal of ABS-CBN on Channel 8, as well as its arbitrary discontinuance of its analog television service while requiring further payment for its digital TV service.

GMA submitted that under the digital regime, SkyCable’s act of “discontinuing its analog service and requiring subscribers to pay an additional sum for the continuation of the TV service necessitates prior notice to and consent of its subscribers, the free TV or free-to-air [FTA] television networks that it is obliged to carry under the Must-Carry Rule in NTC Memorandum Circular 4-8-88 and the public in general,” alongside the NTC’s prior approval.

In its present complaint, GMA underscored that the act of blocking the free TV networks “does not only constitute reassigning of FTA channels, but a total dropping of these channels from the menu of television programs available to the public” as verified by its engineers.

The Gozon-led network noted that such acts “should surely be considered in breach of the 2003 decision, the Must-Carry Rule as well as the mandate of Republic Act 7969 [the legislative franchise of Central CATV Inc.], which requires minimum interference with operations of existing stations.”
Sought for comment, ABS-CBN Corp. did not give its reaction.

Earlier, ABS-CBN said that it is ready to make the switch to the digital television (DTV) format this year or ahead of the 2015, which is the year networks must switch to the new broadcasting protocol.

Miguel Mercado, ABS-CBN DTV head of Marketing, said that viewers need not wait long because ABS-CBN is ready to launch DTV operations within the year. He said that the company is just waiting for the go-signal from the NTC to switch to the new format.

He said that the switch to DTV will improve the viewing experience of the public.

“People do not get clear reception on TV because of the buildings and billboards that create interference in the signal. They don’t have a choice and they think it is because of their old TV sets,” Mercado added.

ABS-CBN conducted DTV trials in more than 1,000 households all over the Philippines. The studies generated very positive feedback.

Since 2007, ABS-CBN has been laying the groundwork for this new technology. The network’s DTV system is now in place and was prepared for rollout within the second half of 2013.

The Lopez-led company has invested close to P2 billion to shift to the digital TV format.

Unlike cable or satellite TV with regular fees, DTV requires only the purchase of the Digibox which costs only as much as a DVD player.

The network’s study also revealed that viewers will definitely buy the box to get new channels for free.

About 80 percent of households in the country today do not have cable television, and majority of these households belong to the D and E socioeconomic class, who could not afford to subscribe to cable TV services to get clearer picture and sound, according to Miguel Mercado.

Of this number, less than 52 percent of households receive only two channels of tolerable quality with the current analog TV transmission, and it is unlikely that they will get better TV reception given the developments in urban cities that are barring TV signal transmission.

Filipino households would have to spend more or less P1,000 to buy the boxes to switch to DTV.

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