Germany's largest commercial TV group RTL has announced that it is withdrawing from digital terrestrial television in the coming years. It's the equivalent of ITV withdrawing from Freeview in the UK, although far fewer households rely on digital terrestrial television (DTT) in Germany, where cable and satellite offerings are the most popular. RTL states it only gets 4.2% of its viewers from digital terrestrial broadcasts.
Explaining its decision, RTL stated it costs 30 times more to broadcast terrestrially than it does to broadcast via satellite. The broadcaster cited uncertainties over the future use of frequencies for mobile services across Germany beyond 2020 and the lack of a plan for DTT involving a future migration across to the DVB-T2 standard as further reasons why it would not be participating in DTT in the future.
Before digital switchover, RTL was available in numerous states on analogue. RTL and its sister channels such as RTL2 and Super RTL launched on digital terrestrial over a decade ago when DTT was being rolled out in urban areas. Areas that weren't among the first to get the service missed out on RTL and other commercial stations, who stopped their expansion on digital terrestrial. RTL did however in later years begin to offer an encrypted multiplex of channels in Stuttgart and in Leipzig, which did not acquire many subscribers.
Following the withdrawal of services in Nuremberg last year, RTL will begin switching off its DTT signal in Munich in the spring and everywhere else where it still broadcasts terrestrially by the end of 2014.
The move indicates that in the long-term, RTL will no longer be a free-to-air broadcaster. On satellite, it's HD service is encrypted and in Austria, the broadcaster is participating in a project to broadcast an encrypted signal terrestrially via a DVB-T2 based platform.
Over on digitalfernsehen.de, the forums are full of speculation as to how it will affect the long term viability of the digital terrestrial platform in the country, with concerns that Germany's other main commercial broadcaster, Pro7Sat1 Group will opt-out of digital terrestrial television broadcasting later on down the line. Others speculate that the move will ultimately be the death-knell for DTT in Germany.
The above map shows the parts of Germany where both public and commercial channels are available on DVB-T or digital terrestrial television (DTT). Large parts of the country can only receive public service channels, see the map below and note the greater coverage for the public service channels:
This article was updated with additional images 21/01/2013 22:00