The starting gun at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin in August 2009 will also mark the start of high definition television for public service broadcasters in Germany. After this showcase transmission, ZDF and ARD plan to launch regular HD broadcasts with coverage of the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February 2010, writes Fergal Ringrose.
From then on, about a quarter of ZDF programmes will be broadcast daily in the brilliant and sharp quality of high definition digital pictures. Addressing ZDF's governing body, the Television Council, at its meeting in D_sseldorf this week, ZDF Director-General Markus Sch_chter outlined the steps to be taken on the way to the 2010 launch.
"It is sensible to start several months in advance with test runs at showcase events and ensure that all our people are thoroughly prepared for regular HDTV operations," he said. "The ideal starting point is the 2009 World Athletics Championships to be held in Berlin in August. As host broadcasters, ZDF and ARD will provide an HD signal world-wide and also broadcast throughout Germany in HD quality. We are discussing the details of the launch with ARD."
High definition and standard digital television will exist side-by-side for many years. As Markus Sch_chter explained, "We are planning for a long simulcast phase. The experience of recent years has shown a sluggish transition in Germany from analogue to digital television. In pushing for the market-wide introduction of HD television, we shall again have to persevere with a long-term approach."
He also explained the immediate importance of agreeing an obligatory switch-off date for the analogue distribution of television signals. Switching off analogue television without delay was, the Director-General said, in the interest of everybody, including the private television broadcasters, because parallel transmissions of channels in analogue, in standard digital and digital HDTV formats were costing everyone a great deal of money.
Germany's nation-wide digital terrestrial broadcast coverage for aerial reception (DVB-T) is to be completed by the end of this year. ZDF's Director-General noted that this roll-out had been a big success for the public-service broadcasters. They had demonstrated that full transition from analogue to digital television transmission could be achieved within a clear timeframe by putting adequate resources into the operation. "DVB-T in Germany is a success story which has brought us international recognition," said Sch_chter, looking back.
He made it clear that preparing for high definition television would continue to demand a big additional effort on the part of the public service broadcasters. "For several years now, we have been building up our stock of programmes in high definition or easily upgradable formats. And when making any replacement investment we make sure that, wherever economically viable, we're equipped to face the future - including the HDTV future."
Concerned by the sluggish pace of ongoing talks with cable operators, he said they were putting forward enormous financial demands for the future distribution of HD television signals. Sch_chter saw this as unacceptable: "We are helping the cable providers to offer their customers a better picture and we should not pay on top of that