RealTime IT News

Spanish Netizens Get Onramp in Digital TV

In a country where Net and PC use lags behind most of Europe, November was the month television stepped in to bridge Spain's digital divide.

The Spanish government granted digital television licenses this month to Veo TV and Net TV, both the property of major national newspaper groups. Quiero TV, which won a license in June of last year, began broadcasting on November 15 amidst a national advertising blitz.

The advent of "terrestrial digital television" puts Spain in the vanguard, along with Sweden and United Kingdom, of a technology offering multichannel news and entertainment programming, Internet access, e-commerce and other multimedia interactive services through television sets.

All of the licensed recipients must begin broadcasting in the second half of 2001. For the time being, the lack of digital television sets means viewer will have to use set-top adaptors or decoders to see the digital signals on their analog sets. The renewable licenses are good for ten years, and the government has given conventional television networks until 2011 to make their own broadcasts entirely digital.

The Spanish government currently oversees the Common Telecommunication Infrastructure, preparing new buildings and retrograding some older ones for new technologies such as Internet and digital television.

"The regulation of this, while technical in nature, also has a social element in that it affects all types of dwellings independently of the buyer's purchasing power," said Spain's Ministry of Science and Technology.

"It contributes, over the short and medium run, to eliminating once and for all the social inequalities linked to access to telecommunications services such as telephony, Internet, cable telecommunications, radio broadcasting, and television--be it analog and digital, terrestrial or by satellite."

Veo TV is part of a consortium led by Recoletos and Unedisa, which publish the daily newspaper El Mundo and several other specialty publications. Other shareholders include Torreal, the electric utility Iberdrola, and other minority shareholders.

Net TV is 25% owned by by Prensa Espaqola, which prints the daily newspaper ABC. Other shareholders include Globomedia, Telson, the tobacco firm Altadis, Europroducciones, the television concerns SIC and TF1, Intereconomia and Dinamia.

Quiero TV is part of the Auna group, which includes the telecom Retevision, the mobile telephony company Amena, and several other communications companies. Consumers currently using the service have access to fourteen channels and a separate keyboard for Internet use.

Left out of the recent license giveaways were Horizonte Digital, Telecomunicaciones Comver, and the Cope radio concern.

"We don't foresee another [license] competition for the time being, but we're not ruling it out," said government spokesman Pio Cabanillas.

The new licensees are not alone in their attempts to provide Spaniards with non-PC interactive services. Alongside the more than 55 firms that appeared after the liberalization of Spain's telecom sector two years ago are the satellite broadcasters Via Digital and Canal Satelite Digital. In October, America Online entered the Spanish market with an alternative of its own: online access by means of a special proprietary device.