E VRT: Interactive television pilot in Flanders
2.6. Conclusions and future visions
The E VRT pilot provides an interesting case of multimedia innovation in Flanders
with potential generic implications for the future of broadcasting. The Personal
Digital Videorecorder (PVR) especially might change fundamentally how
broadcasting works today, according to Peter Suetens. Because the PVR is much
user friendlier than the existing VCR, the traditional linear, time based broadcasting
concept will be challenged. It enables viewing on demand because the timeline can
be interrupted whenever you like. It has enormous implications for value chains. The
economic significance of primetime for instance, might disappear and
advertisements can be skipped quite easily.
It is unclear however how viewers will
make use of the system. It is the objective of the test panel to investigate this .
Interactive television is not new however. Media companies have been
experimenting with it during the last decade, with little success, but now it seems,
as Suetens explains, that the time is right for a realistic take off. The technology is
here to deliver it affordably with good quality. Do not forget that today, in Europe,
there are already many millions of subscribers to digital satellite TV and they already
offer some form of interactivity . It remains to be seen, however, whether this will
revolutionize traditional broadcasting or whether it will instead bring a more
gradual, complementary evolution.
Many observers believe it will be the latter, especially when taking into account the
recent failures of digital terrestrial TV platforms ITV Digital in the UK and Quiero TV
But according to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU the largest
professional association of national broadcasters in the world) DBV T has better
prospects than might be suggested by these failures. They believe that by 2005,
almost all European countries will have launched DBV T, but not according to the
previously adopted pay TV models. Public broadcasters are at the forefront of DBV
T and are working to establish it as a major future pan European broadcasting
The EBU liaison with public service broadcasters raises another issue that comes out
of the E VRT case study, i.e. public involvement in stimulating multimedia
innovation. The E VRT case is indeed financed by public money, both directly via the
innovation budget of the Flemish government and indirectly via the VRT budget. Also
the Flemish government has asked the VRT to address the digital divide . Both are
now part of its public service mission. The question is however if governments need
to invest in Digital Terrestrial Television to achieve that. Forrester research recently
argued that market forces should determine the rollout of DDT rather than
governments funding it.
7. This issue was recently discussed in an article in the New York Times (23/05/02). A distinction is
made between zipping and zapping : When people switch channel, they are going from
something to something else. There are losses for one channel but gains for another channel.
With fast forwarding, there are only losses. In the same article, others argue however, that
advertisers will find new ways of addressing this challenge: There is no Santa Clays. If you
don t watch the commercials, someone s going to have to pay for television and it is going to
be you .
8. Quiero TV, launched in May 2000, has attracted only 200.000 subscribers whereas digital satellite
subscribers total 1.8 million. In the UK, ITV digital, before it went broke in May 2002,
numbered 1.2 million subscribers against 5.7 million for BskyB. (Idate News, No 32, 2002)
9. Future Bright for European DTT, www.europemedia.net, 21/05/2002.
10. Forrester Press Release: Forrester s advice to Europe s Governments: Don t force flawed DTT,