E VRT: Interactive television pilot in Flanders
2. E VRT: Interactive television pilot in Flanders
2.1. Introduction: The digital home platform
Broadcasting in Belgium follows the political structure and traditions of the country,
in that broadcasting policy has become a  regional  competence. The two main
communities, i.e. the Dutch and French speaking ones, have their own broadcasting
institutions and their own broadcasting/media policies. The Flemish public
broadcaster VRT (Vlaamse Radio & Televisie) lost its television broadcasting
monopoly in 1989 with the advent of the commercial station VTM (Vlaamse Televisie
Maatschappij). The rapid success of the latter initiated a fundamental reform of
Flemish public broadcasting. Political influence on the VRT was reduced, a private
general director was brought in and competitiveness and audience ratings became
part of the management objectives. Today, Flemish public broadcasting has re 
established its position in a competitive television market with two public channels,
several commercial ones and about a dozen local stations. 
VRT s objectives are agreed upon in a management contract between the Flemish
government and the VRT. Its public service mission, performance criteria and
financing are specified. Additional to its traditional public service obligations, the
2002 2006 Management Agreement also includes a chapter on  innovative media
projects . The  E VRT  (VRT s research and development forum), is supposed to
organize, develop, stimulate and diffuse new media activities in Flanders. It aims to
develop universal access to quality e services in the Flemish community. 
The Flemish government has also allocated to the E VRT the development of a pilot
project called  Digitaal Thuisplatform  (Digital Home Platform) to test the use of
digital television as an alternative means to accessing new interactive media
services (enriched content, Internet, chat, e mail, e banking, e government, etc.).
A research programme has also been started which will implement a competence
center in Flanders for MPEG technologies (in collaboration with the academic world,
media  and ICT businesses). Another future objective for the E VRT is to develop an
ASP service platform for the Flemish audiovisual sector (e.g. broadband access to
video archives).
The  Digital Home Platform  (DHP) uses the DVB T technology (Digital Video
Broadcast   Terrestrial), i.e. a standard for digital aerial transmission. It has a lower
transmission capacity compared to cable and satellite but it is available anywhere,
i.e. indoors and outdoors, and it enables mobile reception. It also allows new
interactive services to be provided. 
A representative test panel of 100 households was selected and set up in the area
of Antwerp. By the end of February 2002, all the households had received a free set 
top box and were able to start experimenting with interactive, digital television. The
pilot is planned to run for one year, after which it will be evaluated and a decision
taken as to whether and how it should be continued.
The DHP project consists of the following features:
Before casting principle implying that VRT content is pushed via DVB T to the
local hard disk of the set top box. The user can view this content whenever
he/she likes. The content is renewed at least ones a week (daily for
news/sport/cultural items).
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