Brazil has been broadcasting digital TV signals since 2007, in an effort to bring quality and rearrange the current television system in the country. In this article, we explain how the transition between the analog and digital system is going to work and its operation in Brazil.
Digital signal has been available in the country since December 2007, when broadcasters still offered reduced content in the format. It is important to note that after the analog TV switches off, digital TV will be the only signal available, and you will be no longer able to watch free to air TV without the proper device, which consists of a UHF antenna and digital receiver. Currently, the digital signal is already available in 700 cities in the country.
The system used for the digital signal is the ISDB-T, a Japanese standard with modifications adapted to Brazilian TV. One of the main modifications was the interactivity support with the middleware Ginga. Ginga allows the broadcasters to send applications with interactive content to the audience facilitating integration with the internet, expanding its usage possibilities. It is estimated that more than 15 million televisions already support Ginga.
The Analog TV Switch Off in Brazil
The switch off of Brazilian analog TV is expected to take effect in April 2016 in the Distrito Federal and municipalities in the surrounding areas. The metropolitan regions of São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Goiânia and Rio de Janeiro will go through the same process later that year. The process is expected to end in November 2018, covering all the cities outside metropolitan regions in the country. GIRED, the Group for the Deployment of the Process of Redistribution and Digitising of TV Channels, is the entity responsible for the switch off, whose members were chosen by ANATEL.
The city of Rio Verde was expected to be the first city to stop receiving analog TV signals as part of a pilot project, with the switch off scheduled for November 30th 2015. However, the government settled that the process will only happen if 93% of the households are in compliance with the new system. At that time Rio Verde had only 69%. The new dates will soon be published by the Ministry of Communications, with possible changes in the entire schedule and the final date may even be postponed to 2023.
The TV channel providers must broadcast during programming correct information regarding the switch off and the modifications required for the viewer, such as its dates and the new channel number. However, this does not happen in practice. Only a few actually display information about the service during the programming.
How Does the Digital Transmission Work?
Any TV, either tube or flat-screen, can receive digital signals as long as it has a proper receiver and an UHF antenna, which must be acquired separately if the TV does not have the built-in device. ANATEL is responsible for setting specific regulations regarding the operation of the receivers. The minimum requirements include a remote control, USB interface, interactive applications and accessibility features.
All the participants of the Bolsa Família programme will get a free antenna and digital receiver, both distributed by ANATEL. The Federal government expects to distribute 14 million receivers by the end of the deployment of the digital signal. Those that do not benefit from the programme will not receive any help from the government as it does not have plans to distribute or even facilitate access to digital receivers or any other equipment necessary to decode the digital signal.
The digital signal came to Brazil with the possibility of multicasting, which allows the broadcaster to show different content simultaneously in 4 parallel channels to the main one. Multicasting has been available since the deployment of digital TV in Brazil. However, several broadcasters criticised the format stating that it could imply additional costs, which they would not be able to handle. In 2009, the Ministry of Communications published a directive that forbids the use of multicasting by broadcasters. According to the government, the prohibition of multicasting was also a way to avoid the misuse of the additional channels for TV shopping and paid broadcasting of religious and faith content. The Ministry of Communications did not discard the idea of making the multicasting available in the future. The colocation of such channels is also forbidden by law, being the entire responsibility of the main broadcaster.
For that, the multicasting is now permitted for only governmental entities and organisms, such as TV Brasil (EBC), TV Justiça, TV Senado, TV Câmara, TV Escola and Canal da Cidadania. TV Cultura, which is a public concession, got permission for operating the multicasting of non-profit experimental educational content only for the city of São Paulo.
Because of the possibility of multicasting, the channel number had some modifications following the model X.1, where “X” is the broadcaster code. This model is applied either if the channel has multicasting or not. For example, TV Globo in the São Paulo metropolitan region is channel 5, so the digital channel becomes 5.1. Before the switch off, the user can still choose between analog and digital quality. In the same region, TV Cultura has the 2.2 and 2.3 options with different content, due to the multicasting additional channels.
Concerns on the Adoption of the Digital Signal
The president of Abratel, the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television, has concerns about the switch off, since a large share of the population still do not have the receiver or even know what digital television is. The population with lower incomes will be the ones with most difficulty during the process, since they cannot afford the receivers or a new television set. If this scenario continues, it could result in thousands without free to air TV in their homes after their region goes through the switch off.
Interactive applications, such as Ginga, may face several limitations in the future. As Brazil is a huge country in area, it becomes necessary for major broadcasters to partner with affiliate networks to retransmit the signal to farther regions. The problem is that most of these affiliates do not have proper technology to broadcast such applications. And even the major broadcasters are not yet using these applications as they are intended to be used.
The digital receivers are also a target of criticism since most models do not have internet support for Wi-Fi, for example. The receivers only have support for cable and 3G/4G network, which would require the viewer to subscribe to data plans, resulting in additional costs which most of the population cannot afford.