BACK IN MARCH we detailed how the Brazilian diplomacy started getting involved in its promotion throughout South America of the Japanese-based digital TV standard dubbed "ISDB-T International". Now that it's facing public criticism, even Brazilian ambassadors are coming out to defend it.
After Brazil's initial roll-out of ISDB-T International last December, the attention quickly moved to other neighbouring countries that are yet to decide on their DTV standard.
Next in line was Chile, which was supposed to make a public announcement by last Yuletide. Then they postponed the selection until March. Then they said they would announce it like, right now - late May. Now, they are no longer promising any dates.
And just as the decision date was looming and ISDB-T seemed to be picking up steam, voices in the press and the on-line world started calling the Brazilian ISDB-T implementation a "failure", even locally in Brazil.
Those reports mentioned the high cost of set top boxes, the delay in getting the promised Japanese investments in manufacturing plants in Brazil, and even talked about the digital TV signal leaving "black holes" in some populated areas.
What is news is that under this intense criticism, Brazil's ambassador in Chile decided to step out into the spotlight and publicly defend the standard as the "most advanced", as he defended Brazil's choice and the progress of its roll-out.
In a recent letter to the Chilean paper El Mercurio, ambassador Mario Vilalva said that the STBs pricing as well as the technology adoption rate in Brazil is " progressing according to expectations".
He mentioned the delays in the Japanese investments saying that "industrial investment decisions take a long time in the planning stages", that the Brazilian digital TV market is "making satisfactory advances", and cited the fact that "the first two mobile phones capable of receiving [free over the air] digital TV broadcasts" were launched last month.
Finally, on the issue of the reception quality and reach of the DTV transmissions, he said "Brazil's roll-out is being implemented in stages, starting with Sao Paulo and it will reach the whole of the country by 2014." He added that cities like Rio and Belo Horizonte began experimental transmissions last April. He concluded that the critics' arguments about the service "not reaching everybody" are "at least dishonest, and ignores the digital TV roll-out experiences around the World".
He also said that the Japanese have offered the Chilean government to have ISDB-T set top boxes at a maximum price of 40 US greenbacks by 2009. Critics are not shy to call the Brazilian experience a bad one, making a "public call to government minister Cortazar not to overlook the realities of the Brazilian experience and to re-evaluate that proposal he'll bring to the President". [source].
Depending which standard the Chilean government chooses, it will secure one of the competing camps a multi-billion dollar business for decades to come. And while two on-line polls gave the Brazilian / Japanese ISDB-T the edge with regards to popular choice, several players including associations of regional broadcasters have been incandescent about the prospect of the government following Brazil in embracing ISDB-T.
Such critics cite a study by Philips which says that "from March to this date, there have been technical issues as severe as in Sao Paulo, where in 33 per cent of the land digital TV transmissions is not effective." They then cite the opposition to the free mobile TV scheme by mobile phone manufacturers, cellular network operators and the TV stations.
One such attach on ISDB-T's mobile One-Seg reads: "mobile phone manufacturers cannot ensure that [One-Seg] enabled phones will be popular, despite tax incentives by the government. Mobile operators already offer on-demand video services, a kind of service that the customer must pay for, and that they are unwilling to offer for free, as they must make investments in transmission. Which goes against the argument of the government, that ensured a free mobile TV service." [link]
The populace, however, either ignores the issues at stake or is taking sides, as can be seen in on-line polls. The first on-line poll that clearly gave ISDB-T the popular vote of confidence was jointly arranged by the Digital TV news portal "Chile Television Digital" (.com) and Canal.cl, gave ISDB-T 52 per cent of the preference among surfers, and DVB-T and ATSC with a tie at 23 per cent.
In a second on-line poll, still open and hosted here at the Pais Digital Foundation "Digital Country", ISDB-T has 59 per cent of the votes from the public, followed by the European DVB with 28 per cent and trailing badly, the (North) American ATSC with just 13 per cent.
But this is far from a popular vote. Lobbying is intense and there are tons and tons of paper supporting each of the standards. In the end, it will be a political decision by the Chilean government. One thing is for certain: no matter what standard it chooses it will immediately come under fire by the supporters of the other two standards which were not selected.
Stay tuned, the battle between the US, Euroland and Japan to conquer South America will continue raging for quite some time to come.µ