Canadian TV to go all-digital in 2011

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A 119 inch home theater projection television screen.
Image: Derek Jensen.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced that it is setting August 31, 2011 as the deadline for over-the-air (OTA) television transmissions to go digital. In Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2007-53, the commission outlines that OTA broadcasts should be digital in all markets, with possible exceptions in northern and remote communities where analog transmissions will not cause interference.

This follows the United States' Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to go all digital in February 17, 2009. Canada had been taking a wait and see approach, and the federal regulator sees a need for more Canadian content in High-definition television (HDTV). The decision to go completely digital should be a catalyst for more Canadian content. The commission expects broadcasters should be able to re-equip their stations within the next four years.

The Commission acknowledges that the digital transition will have a direct impact on Canadian viewers. Consumers will either have to purchase digital TV sets and the necessary equipment to receive digital/HD signals, or a converter box to translate digital signals to analog format for display on their existing sets. In either case, they will be forced to upgrade their television sets at some cost in order to continue to receive the services they currently enjoy. It is noted that a consumer subsidy program is being put in place in the U.S. for households that rely on OTA television reception and that have not upgraded their analog equipment to digital or have not purchased an integrated digital set. That might be an option that will be looked at by another committee.

Canada has had digital OTA broadcasts since Toronto's Citytv started broadcasting in digital ATSC High Definition (HD) in February 2003. In September 2006, Citytv was also the first local OTA station to broadcast its news shows, and most of its original programming, in HD. More stations are expected to follow this direction in light of today's CRTC decision.