ARD and ZDF defend HDTV schedule

German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF have rejected accusations from the manufacturing and retail industries that their plan to introduce HDTV in 2010 comes too late.

In May, around a quarter of Germany’s TV households already had an HDTV-compatible flat screen television set, said ZDF production director Andreas Bereczky at consumer electronics fair Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) in Berlin. He added, however, that the market share of HDTV-compatible set-top-boxes, which are necessary to receive television images in high definition, is still under two per cent with only around half a million devices in use.

With this background, Bereczky explained, an overly hasty and therefore costly entry into HDTV would make no sense, nor could it be expected that licence fee payers bear the brunt of the expense. “Despite all, HDTV is the future,” he stressed.

ARD and ZDF want to establish a permanent high definition television service on a test channel via Astra (19.2° East) from next year.

“We will jointly commence HDTV tests on an additional satellite channel during the World Championships in Athletics in August 2009 in Berlin,” ZDF director general Markus Schächter told German newspaper Handelsblatt. “This trial service will continue until the beginning of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February 2010, when we will commence regular HDTV transmissions.”

Bereczky stated that the new TV technology would become standard because viewers and advertising clients would no longer accept lower picture quality: “HDTV is the next step in the development of television.”

ARD is transmitting an HDTV test show case during IFA, with another planned at Christmas.

At the same time, Schächter appealed to commercial broadcasters to engage in a round table discussion together with ARD and ZDF to agree on a joint switch-off date for analogue cable and satellite distribution. “I believe that a collectively agreed upon schedule for the analogue switch-off is in the interest of all,” explained Schächter. “The cessation of analogue distribution would free up finances which could be allocated to digital transmissions. The capacity on cable networks would be instantly increased and viewers could prepare for the transition and consequently enjoy all the benefits.”