Europe squabbles threaten digital deadline


BRUSSELS -- Europe is in danger of missing its 2012 deadline for switching from analog to digital broadcasts thanks to squabbles over standards, the European Parliament said Wednesday.

In a stiff message to European Union governments attempting to manage the switchover, Euro-MPs said that open standards must be agreed upon if digital and interactive television are to succeed.

They said that a failure to agree to open standards and interoperability will also restrict viewer choice and threaten media pluralism and cultural diversity. The warnings came in a report voted on by the Parliament in Strasbourg, France, which looked at platforms, operating systems and hardware devices for distributing interactive TV. It noted that interactive television was so far less commercially successful than expected, and called on the European Commission -- the EU's executive authority -- to study the reasons for the setback.

The report, drafted by French Socialist Henri Weber, said that consumers face buying lots of receivers with "application program interfaces" to ensure the different broadcast technologies worked with one another.

He also said that concerns about interoperability were turning consumers off. "The debate on interoperability concerns first and foremost the increase in consumer choice with regard to interactive TV services," the report said.

It said that, in the absence of global interoperability options, consumers risked buying several receivers. "For their part, broadcasters may experience some difficulties in supplying and developing interactive services since they are subject to the requirements of the network operators holding proprietary API technologies," it said.

This lack of interoperability and the problems in accessing interactive TV clearly raises issues relating to potential restrictions on users' freedom of choice, potential damage to the free movement of information and a threat to media pluralism, the report said.

But it also acknowledged that the fragmentation of the European television market was not solely the result of a lack of interoperability.

"TV markets are chiefly national: even satellite pay TV is not distributed across borders -- for commercial, cultural and linguistic reasons, but also, of course, for reasons relating to broadcasting rights and different national laws," the report said.