Based on the decision made by International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and European Union (EU) digitalization of European TV stations must be finished by 2015; however, some of the European countries moved from analogue TV broadcasting to digital one some years ago. Georgia also plans to move to digital television broadcasting; therefore Georgian government as well as broadcasters are learning the experiences of other countries. On November 29-30 Tbilisi hosted a conference during which representatives from Sweden, Germany, Slovenia, Lithuania and Finland talked about the stages of digitalization in their countries with the managers and directors of regional Georgian TV stations. The meeting was organized by Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia.
In the beginning of 2005 as a result of preliminary distribution of channels by ITU Georgia received only 72 digital channels. In 2007 as a result of efforts made by Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), through negotiations with neighboring countries and signing corresponding agreements the number of digital channels on the territory of Georgia increased up to 175 channels.
Several models are used for moving from analogue television broadcasting to digital one; in Europe the most widespread method for TV stations is DVB - T (Digital Video Broadcasting - Terrestrial), for mobile broadcasting - DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld). Use of those methods enables TV stations to squeeze much more TV programs in a standard digital channel than in the case of analogue broadcasting. The main advantage of digital broadcasting is high capacity of frequencies.
"During the analogue television broadcasting a certain number of frequencies are needed for putting a program on air, in the case of digital television, much less number of frequencies is needed to fill in the air. The country can use the remaining frequencies for various means, for example they can be sold to a company that provides its customers with 4th generation of mobile service" - Irakli Kashibadze, Head of Telecommunications, Informational Technologies and Innovations Department of Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia was telling the representatives of regional TV stations taking part in the conference.
Digital television transition is a long process that requires years. According to President of South-East European Media Organization Boris Bergant, the most important thing in this matter is for the state to select a long-term and correct strategy.
"You must develop your telecommunications infrastructure. Besides, the public should be informed about the changes that it may experience during the digital television transition. Discussions and informing the public about the positive aspects of the transition are necessary. Whether or not the digital television transition is painful depends on close and effective cooperation between various structures" - Boris Bergant said during the conference.
In order for a TV station to be able to make the transition to the digital television broadcasting it must have a special transmitter and viewers will need to have digital TV set or a special receiver connected to their TV sets. Those special transmitters are quite expensive and many TV stations don't have such financial means.
"Those transmitters are expensive; I don't think we'll be able to purchase them. The best solution would be production of those transmitters and receivers in Georgia, which would lower their prices dramatically" - Technical Director of Kvemo Kartli TV and Radio Broadcasting Temur Shapatava said during the conference.
A TV station that can't broadcast its own programming in the digital era will most probably remain just producers of content and its products will be rebroadcast by providers. This and other issues remained quite vague for the representatives of the regional TV stations.
"How will the relations between the provider and producers of the programming be regulated? Maybe the providers decide to stop transmitting a TV station's content, which will in effect mean the end of free information? We must adopt legislation that will ensure independence of the regional TV stations. It's also unclear how expensive or cheap will be the creation of our own network and who will fund it or whether there will be any subsidies at all. These are the issues that need to be discussed in the near future" - Representative of Gurjaani TV station Leval Aleksishvili said.
According to Director General of TV station Rioni Tamar Ghvinianidze, if one provider will broadcast the programming of several TV stations it won't have any effect on the quality of freedom of TV stations.
"Providers will only rebroadcast our programs and they will not have any leverage on us. They will only have the right to demand quality products. But the problem is that production of a quality program requires a lot of money, whereas finances are tight in the regions" - Tamar Ghvinianidze said.
"It took United States 10 years to make the transition, while we have only five years and the Ministry of Economy hasn't even elaborated a strategy. We don't even know whether the government plans to subsidize viewers and broadcasters for digital television transition. I personally doubt the government will do it" - Tamar Ghvinianidze added.
According to Irakli Kashibadze, government will assist socially vulnerable stratum of population.
"We'll do our best to make sure that socially vulnerable stratum of society can watch television. We'll continue consultations with experts during 2011 and establish a concept that will enable us to make digital television transition as painless as possible" - Irakli Kashibadze said.
Georgian government will select the model of broadcasting next year, that will be followed by corresponding legislation regulating the licensing of TV station and defining what will be the cost of digital television transition for TV stations and viewers.