Digital interactive TV a success in Taiwan

MUMBAI: One of the sessions for the seminar of technology for information, media and the entertainment industry saw a presentation on Total TV. It is Asia's first interactive digital television service in Taiwan. This is being done through the digital cable platform China Network Systems (CNS) which is a JV between Star and the Koos Group.

VP Distribution and encryption project CNS May Oh addressed the gathering. She said," Taiwan has the maximum level of cable penetration in Asia - 80 per cent. However there is chaos on the infrastructure front. There are analogue headends and Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) networks. Providing analogue service is bandwidth intensive. There is very limited use of analogue STBs. In most homes subscribers receive pay TV service through a direct connection between the HFC networks and their TVs. There are 6.66 million households out of which 20 per cent pirate the service. Much like India subscribers receive 90 channels and pay $15 US a month."

Oh continued saying that, later on the cable industry formed CBIT an industry body which works closely with the Taiwan government to take the country into the next step of television evolution. The cable players were looking to get to the next stage and thus CNS rolled out enhanced digital interactive services last September.

Total TV is being introduced by CNS to over one million cable households. The Total TV set top box incorporates technology that allows for enhanced television and interactive services. Total TV relies on NDS for CAS the box is supplied by Advanced Digital Broadcast. The digital headend and compression equipment is supplied by Scientific Atlanta. Each STB has a smart card which is the CA system's active security device at the customer end. CNS also specified that Middleware be included in all STB's.

To bill digital subscribers CNC now needed a Customer care and subscriber management system. One of the requirements was that the system should support Chinese characters.

CNS built a digital master headend facility in Keelung. The headend distributes digitally encrypted channels including Interactive Programme Guide (IPG) and audio channels to all CNS operators. This served as the backbone for the launch of Total TV. CNS invested over $ 20 US million and it took over a year to complete the facility.

The advantages now are that the worry about lost revenue on account of piracy will decline. Pay per vies and NVOD services can be offered. On interactive services revenue sources include banner advertising, management fees from interactive content partners. Subscribers can now be charged transactional fees from applications like home shopping, I-mail, bandwidth fees. The two way functionality wherein all this is made possible is being developed by CNS.

CNS initially launched the service with the one way system. The subscriber enters by pressing the interactive button on the remote control. He is then presented with categories like games, leisure, culture. The technology allows CNS to tier services. CNS also launched with 30 digital audio channels covering Jazz, classical, Chinese Operas. The operator is now adding specialised tiers to bolster the existing channel line up.

As far as creating awareness is concerned Oh said," There was no precedent. To enter we realised that we needed to educate the market as to what enhanced television is and how it is implemented in other parts of the world. So we used BSkyB in the UK as an example. We handed out easy to use guides and manuals."

The results show that over 60 per cent of subscribers use the one way services including traffic, news, weather. 66 per cent of subscribers use the IPG regularly while 43 per cent use the audio services.

Besides CNS the other MSOs are UPM, Taiwan Broadband and Eastern Multimedia. They control the last mile. 20 independent system operators across the country control around 25 per cent of the subscribers while the rest are handled by the major operators, Oh said.

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