What is hindering take up of newer TV technologies in the Caribbean?

A discussion on some of the factors that might be hindering take up of some of the newer television technologies, such as Digital TV and IPTV, in the Caribbean

Old TV digital picture frame, Jonas’ Design (flikr)Yesterday, 21 November, was World Television Day, which according to the United Nations has been established:

… in recognition of the increasing impact television has on decision-making by bringing world attention to conflicts and threats to peace and security and its potential role in sharpening the focus on other major issues, including economic and social issues…

Due to the significant technological developments that have occurred over the past 20 or so years, currently there is a global shift from analogue TV to digital TV, and a changing emphasis on Internet Protocol TV (IPTV). According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in its latest output, Measuring the information Society (2013), some key findings, as of 2012 included:

  • globally, about 1.4 billion households had at least one TV set
  • approximately 98% of households in developed countries and 72% in developing countries had a TV
  • over 55% of households globally have a TV receiving a digital signal
  • approximately 81% of total households in developed countries, and 42% of total households in developing countries, have a TV that receives a digital signal
  • traditional multichannel TV platforms, such as cable and direct-to-home (DTH) satellite, are facing increasing competition from IPTV service providers and even digital terrestrial TV (DTT) channels
  • TV delivery over the Internet is becoming increasingly popular, and especially content providers such as YouTube and Netflix.
Digital TV broadcasting trends-1 (Source: ITU)

 As part of the developing world, the Caribbean, generally, would still be behind in the take up and use of digital TV, IPTV and some of the other newer TV/video technologies. Below are four factors that are contributing to the limited use of those technologies in the Caribbean.

Policy and implementation challenges

To varying degrees, countries across the region have been readying themselves to undertake the switch over from analogue to digital TV. Although most of the large TV content providers already have digital TV capabilities, implementation of national plans to realise a complete switch over to digital TV – and an abandonment of analogue systems – is yet to occur in many countries. Issues that might still need to be resolved include determining who would, and perhaps also, to what extent to, pay for the transitioning costs on the consumer side.

Broadband transmission speeds

Broadband bandwidth, or transmission speed, becomes critical when attempting to view content over the Internet, in order to reduce the amount of buffering that might be needed and improve the overall viewing experience. According to Netflix, it recommends an Internet download speeds of at least 1.5 Mbps for general viewing and at least 5 Mbps to view High Definition content.

Based on our Snapshot: Internet speeds and pricing update 2013, many countries across the region offer data plans with advertised download speeds of at least 1.5 Mbps. However, in practice, the transmission channel is shared by a number of users, hence the actual download speed experienced might be up to a half or two-thirds of that advertised, and could be lower depending on how congested the channel is. As a result, in order to have a reasonable download speed to ensure a favourable viewing experience, household viewers may need to subscribe to plans with a much higher download speeds, e.g. 6 or 8 Mbps, to increase their chances of consistently having adequate bandwidth to successful stream the desired video content.

Broadband transmission costs

In tandem with securing adequate broadband transmissions speeds, consumers must also consider the associated subscriptions prices, which according to our most recent Snapshot: How affordable is Internet service in 2013?, might be beyond what most people can afford. Into the foreseeable future and considering current economic stresses, it is unlikely that incomes in the Caribbean will increase appreciably thus improving consumers’ ability to afford what is increasingly becoming a basic service.

 Policy makers across the region have been calling for a lowering of broadband prices, although to varying degrees, they might be as competitive as those in developed countries. Furthermore, it ought to be appreciated that the telcos have made considerable investment upfront to deploy the infrastructure; hence there must be adequate return on investment to make the exercise worthwhile. Additionally, any significant decrease in returns for the companies might cause trade-offs to be instituted, such as lower data caps, which could make the overall service as (or even more) costly in the long run.

Content restrictions

Finally, there are still restrictions on the video content that can be viewed in the Caribbean. As was noted in How could Netflix affect TV and movie watching in the region?, although the English-speaking Caribbean might have an affinity for North American programming, the content that can be accessed is frequently geared towards Latin American markets. This factor could be contributing to limited take up of Netflix in the region, along with other IPTV channels that might be prohibited from sharing content, for North America, with the Caribbean.

In summary, in order to realise meaningful take up of some of the newer digital content technologies available, the region will need to overcome some significant challenges, a few of which are outlined above.  Unfortunately, due to the limited resources, plus relatively small populations of individual Caribbean countries and the slate of other issues that should be addressed, improving access to newer TV/video technologies is unlikely to be a priority into the foreseeable future.

Image credits:  Jonas’ Design (flickr)