[VIEWPOINT]Realizing promise of satellite TV

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[VIEWPOINT]Realizing promise of satellite TV

As of Friday, 144 television channels are available in Korea through satellite broadcasting. The future of broadcasting has arrived here, giving viewers an enormous selection of channels.

Our first satellite was launched on August 15, 1995, almost seven years ago, and a new chapter in broadcasting and communication has now begun. Korea Digital Broadcasting's SkyLife is operating after the firm was designated as a satellite-broadcasting provider 14 months ago.

The purpose of this digital broadcasting enterprise is to establish the first stage of a broadcasting industry infrastructure that is competitive globally and provides an environment that promotes fair competition. That will lead to the well-balanced development of the industry.

The benefits of digital broadcasting are clear. It offers high- quality pictures and sound and a broad selection of channels, and that is why this business has been in the spotlight. Viewers will get better quality service.

But the high expectations are accompanied by soaring worries. To achieve all these lofty goals in the initial stages of operations is probably asking too much; already, problems are popping up here and there and others are likely to emerge in the near future.

First, there are the problems in supplying the appropriate satellite dishes. One half million people reportedly have signed up for the service, but the number of dishes available is not even half that number, and the number of set-top boxes that make it possible to receive the digital broadcasts hovers around 10,000. Last year, SkyLife had to postpone its launch because the firm wanted to start with at least 50,000 subscribers guaranteed.

Second, the variety of content has not met what was promised. Excluding pay per view channels, 50 of the 74 video channels overlap with cable TV. Channels that show soap operas are just replays of existing programming. Satellite broadcasting has to protect the interests of the viewer, and to do so it has to achieve a level of broadcasting that satisfies all viewers' tastes and cultural desires.

The third concern is the lack of an adequate digital infrastructure. The set-top boxes that are being provided now are supposed to enable programs on par with DVD quality, but this is not the case. The problem is that the digital transmissions must still be converted to an analog signal at the viewer's television set.

The final problem lies in the area of value-added services ?or rather the lack of such services. For instance, a viewer who is watching an actress in a soap opera is attracted by the accessories she is wearing and wants to buy them. She should be able to do so with a few clicks of the remote control, but no such services are available.

To provide other services, such as home banking, e-mail and stock information, concepts and rules about data services must be established. The development of related technology and the production of a standard receiver should proceed expeditiously.

SkyLife is very much a national project, a responsibility that must be taken seriously. During the past year there have been a lot of problems, such as the selection of a company to run the business and the development of receivers.

Now we have to take a look at what lies ahead. Equipment supplies, high-quality content and a service infrastructure are problems that must be addressed. In the future, the government and the broadcasting committee need to formulate a policy that will allow balanced development among media and that fits well with the broadcasting market.

We should do everything within our power to avoid repeating the mistakes that we made in 1995, when we hailed cable TV as the next panacea. Let's hope that this time we can take care of all those problems.


The writer is a professor of mass communications at Kyunghee University.

by Choi Chung-ung

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