Latvian Independent television (LNT) says it will launch two new digital television channels, one for Latvian music, the other for news, to be broadcast exclusively over cable operator Baltkom TV's digital network. TV5, a free to air broadcast channel said to be affiliated with LNT will also be carried by Baltkom, which distributes its digital signal by optical cable and MMDS in a 50 kilometer radius around the main television broadcast tower in Riga. TV5, which carries local talk programs and reality shows, is also planning to launch a digital 24 hour reality show channel.
LNT, founded in the mid 1990s as a private company, is presently a terrestrial broadcast channel offering entertainment, news and some reality shows in a mixture of locally produced and dubbed foreign programming.
Baltkom TV says it is the first digital terrestrial TV broadcaster in Latvia, a claim which is technically true considering that the signal broadcast over the MMDS network is encoded by the DVB-T standard. However, reception of the MMDS broadcast requires specialized antennas and decoders, while DVB-T as broadcast in other countries can be received with conventional TV antennas and a decoder.
For Baltkom, the start of digital broadcasting, however one defines it, was also the launch of its "triple play" strategy offering a package of digital cable, voice and internet at different prices and configurations. Next year, Baltkom says it will offer video on demand, pay per view, and a greater variety of channel packages for various prices and tastes.
Baltkom claims that its optical cable footprint reaches around 180 000 households in metropolitan Riga, while the MMDS signal reaches up to 360 000 households or more than 1 million potential individual viewers.
Currently, around 2 000 households subscribe to the 49 channel digital service, a number expected to rise to 5 000 by the end of the year and 15 000 next year, or a little more than 10 % of the 120 000 customers Baltkom now has across Latvia. The service costs LVL 10.50 per month, a sum Baltkom director general Peteris Smidre says is less than is charged for comparable services in other countries. Latvia, however, has significantly lower purchasing power than Sweden, where cable and digital cable cost upward of SEK 300 or LVL 20 per month.
LNT didn't give details of its planned news channel, but sources told this blogger much content will be provided by the Latvian news agency LETA. Even though LETA has been technologically innovative (it uses the web extensively), moving into what amounts to a joint venture in TV (especially with a hitherto very small audience) is a major risk for the wire service. Unlike rival Baltic News Service (BNS), LETA does not operate regionally as an alliance of five language services (Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, English and Russian) as does BNS.
The news channel will tilt heavily toward business news, LNT director-general Andrejs Ekis hinted at a September 29 press conference. This could heat up competition with print media, such as the Latvian-language Dienas bizness (where this blogger works) as well as Russian-language business publications (most younger business decision makers are tri-lingual in Latvian, Russian and English).
And so this blog has drifted from telecoms into electronic media.
After all, why not?