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Germany's RTL pulls free-to-air channels off terrestrial TV

It's like ITV leaving Freeview

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Germany's largest commercial broadcaster is getting out of broadcasting, on Earth at least, citing spiralling costs and an uncertain future as mobile phone operators grab all the good spectrum.

Broadcasting on Germany's terrestrial platform apparently costs "many times" what satellite transmissions do, and with satellite and cable so dominant, the terrestrial system accounts for less than 5 per cent of RTL's viewers. But it's uncertainty about the future that has pushed the company out as mobile operators keep pushing TV around, the firm says.

"Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland currently sees no economically reasonable option for continuing digital terrestrial television based on DVB-T, the digital terrestrial television offered in Germany," says the company's statement, pointing out that terrestrial broadcasting hasn't enough space for high-def channels and therefore "is not a future-proof method of transmission compared to the existing ones".

Analogue TV has already been squeezed to make space for telephony, permitting the "digital-dividend" sell-off for 4G telephone networks, which took place in Germany last year and kicks off in the UK this week. But even before that auction starts here in Blighty, Ofcom has announced plans to shove TV down the dial again to make more space for the mobile operators.

The UK's regulator has even envisioned a world without terrestrial broadcasting at all, though not before 2030, but such a future may arrive ahead of time in Germany now that RTL is abandoning the platform.

RTL's plan, detailed by the a516digital blog, is to shut down transmissions in Munich this spring and stop terrestrial broadcasting entirely by the end of next year, continuing to deliver content to viewers over cable and broadband but primarily broadcast from satellite.

Satellite broadcasts in a much higher frequency, as most of the journey is in the vacuum of space, and it can depend on having an unobstructed line of sight, but terrestrial TV is right in the sweet spot so desired by mobile network operators.

The UK's terrestrial broadcast platform, Freeview, is far more ubiquitous, and we won't see ITV leaving it any time soon, but there will come a time when the commercial value of the low-frequency airwaves will prove irresistible, even in Britain and certainly across the rest of the world. ®

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