In 2023 Latin America begins the final stage of free-to-air TV digitization

Following the growing hurdles faced by Pay TV actors, the universe of free-to-air TV users has increased over time. Dataxis points out that in 2022, FTA channels were the main option to access TV for 50% of households equipped with a TV set in Latin America. Among this audience, 87% had access to the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) option, available in four different standards. From 2023, several countries will complete the migration from analogue to digital; a process that has taken twenty years for the ISDB-T standard, the most popular in the region. This delay may have closed the way to new-generation interactive options. As an unexpected effect, since 2021 DTT is also used as a low-cost option to switch off the analogue cable.

Only a few countries already completed the analogue switch-off: Bermuda (2016), Mexico (2015) and Puerto Rico (2009) are among the most prominent. The FTA digitization process in Latin America has been characterized by delays in its implementation. Although the pandemic lengthened the deadlines, the main obstacle has been the slower pace of TV set replacements. In 2022, Dataxis estimated that almost 64% of TV sets were already digital; an optimistic indicator but which concealed variations between countries. In 2023, the transition should be completed in Brazil, and it would be the first in the region for the ISDB-T family. This will have been a journey of exactly two decades. The rest of the analogue switch-offs (ASO) announced will take place between 2023 and 2028. Dataxis projects that by 2026, 51% of homes will have FTA and 94% will be digital.

Although DTT options can offer interactive solutions, delays in the development of the basic option may have closed that window. The opportunity to have a return channel will be taken by Smart TVs, a device that was already available in 49% of TV sets in Latin America in 2022.

Four DTT standards have been deployed in Latin America and the Caribbean. The ISDB-T standard, of Japanese-Brazilian origin, reached almost 67% of digital homes and was driven by 14 countries. The U.S. ATSC was driven by 9 countries and accounts for 19.5% of DTT households. The European DVB-T standard is present in 10% of the market and available in 7 nations. The Chinese DTMB standard was only deployed in Cuba. At the moment, 12 territories still don't have a clear development framework.

The digitization of FTA TV channels had an impact on Pay TV. In countries where the TV replacement process is well advanced, operators encrypt their signals under the local DTT standard and use their customers' TV receivers as decoders. In addition to being a low-cost digitalization strategy, it leaves free bandwidth in the operators' networks for the access offer. This strategy is widespread in Argentina (ISDB-T) and Colombia (DVB-T2), two markets with a high share of analogue cable reception.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Panama have a network coverage that allows them to serve more than 80% of the population. The Dominican Republic will reach that level in 2023, while the networks in Ecuador and Uruguay reach 65% of the population. The rest of the region still show low levels of availability, reaching between 25% and 40% of residents.

Carlos Blanco | Senior Analyst at Dataxis

This research highlight was inspired by our granular data coverage of Pay TV in Latin America. Please contact us to get a demo and see the depth of our service.

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