China digital licenses OK’d

Country aims to expand network over coming years

SHANGHAI — China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) has issued licenses to four companies to broadcast digital television. Move breaks the monopoly on digital TV held by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).

All four companies — China Broadcast Network, Shanghai TV, CHC Home Cinemas and a consortium of five other companies — are themselves state-owned, though this is a technicality based on the fact that all domestic broadcasters in China are under the control of Sarft.

Foreign broadcasters in China are still restricted to limited cable access permits in a part of Guangdong province and satellite access in high-end hotels and residential compounds.

Expansion plans

China aims to expand its digital network over the coming years, with the ultimate goal of achieving full digital capability by 2010 and shutting down the analog signal by 2015.

Digital pilot schemes — operated by CCTV and local cable channels — have been running in China since 2002, though uptake has been slow. At the end of 2003, there were slightly more than 200,000 digital subscribers in China, though that number was recently boosted when the coastal city of Qingdao (with 600,000 households) was switched to digital.

Sarft has previously stated that it plans for 30 million digital cable and pay TV subscribers by 2005.

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