RTL plans MPEG-4 pay-DTT

German commercial broadcaster RTL wants to transmit its channels via DTT in Stuttgart from mid-2009. As well as free-to-air channels RTL, RTL II, VOX and Super RTL, the package will include pay-TV services Passion and RTL Crime, marking the first time pay-TV channels will be available via DTT in Germany.

So far, only 12 public TV channels have been available via DTT in Stuttgart. To enable all six channels to fit into the RTL capacity, compression system MPEG-4 will be used, which requires less bandwidth than its predecessor MPEG-2. With MPEG-4, which will be deployed for the first time for DTT transmissions in Germany, 50% more channels can fit into a DTT slot.

However, the channels cannot be received using DTT receivers currently in the market. From mid-2009, RTL wants to distribute combined MPEG-2/MPEG-4 boxes through retailers which are suitable both for RTL’s package and existing MPEG-2 channels.

The whole RTL bouquet will be encrypted in Conax. The purchasers of DTT boxes, which will be priced at around €100, will receive pay-TV channels Passion and RTL Crime at no charge for one year. Basic encryption will be used for the free-TV channels, but they will be accessible without subscription fees by using RTL’s DTT receivers and smartcards.

The marketing of the products, subscriber management services, smartcard activation and customer service via telephone hotlines will be handled by Eutelsat VisAvision. The German subsidiary of satellite operator Eutelsat will make use of the experience it gained in these areas with its direct-to-cable package KabelKiosk.

Via DTT, RTL can reach a total of around 1.6 million households in Stuttgart. In December 2008 it became known that the Cologne-based broadcaster was considering a DTT engagement in the capital city of regional state Baden-Württemberg and had commenced the necessary administrative proceedings.

RTL’s free-TV channels are currently only available via DTT in metropolitan areas of Berlin/Brandenburg, northern Germany, North-Rhine Westphalia, the Rhine-Main region around Frankfurt and Bavaria. According to the broadcaster, no changes are planned in these regions. It is speculated in the industry that eastern German cities Halle and Leipzig could be the next picked by RTL to launch a DTT package.

RTL’s engagement could further accelerate DTT market penetration. The experiences in other regional states have shown that commercial channels significantly boost the attractiveness of digital terrestrial television as a reception method.

In regions with a mixed offer of public and commercial channels, DTT reaches a market share of 10%-20% while in regions solely served by public broadcasters, less than 5% of households have opted for DTT.