Hey public broadcaster, internet should not be the default.

by Dries De Roeck on May 21, 2018

Over the weekend I heard that VRT, the belgian public broadcaster, is cancelling its DVB-t offering. That means it won’t be possible to receive free over the air television in Belgium. Although that I can understand the reasoning behind this, there are quite some issues that raise serious questions in my head.

Before moving on, the argument that VRT gives is that their online offering though VRT.NU is the way forward and replaces the DVB-t offering. The core issue I have with this relates to the prerequisite of “the internet” compared to being able to tune in to a free DVB-t signal.

Some thoughts …

  1. In the governmental agreement between the Flemish government and the public broadcaster (VRT) it is stated as one of the core values that that “VRT is for everyone”. By removing DVB-t I believe VRT makes their offering not necessarily more inclusive or ‘for everyone’. They now require people to have internet, make an account on their platform and have a device to access the internet.
  2. A counter argument to the above could be that public spaces like libraries offer free internet and computers for everyone to access. That for sure is true, but I believe there is a big difference between having access to the internet and having the internet available at the space you call home. My children watch quite some of the VRT children’s content, no way that such media can be consumed in a public space.
  3. No, it is not just seniors that don’t have internet access. I have been a crisis foster parent for over 3 years now, and I can very surely say that there are many ‘facades of wealth’ put up by people that hide extremely poignant stories and situations. In most of these situations, however, a TV screen is present – the internet … not necessarily. I could probably get some numbers on internet access in Belgium from somewhere, but I think it’s better to share my own story.
  4. Another something I considered is that everyone, across all slices of society has a smartphone or tablet. What they don’t have, and I see this around me all the time, is unlimited access to data. The smartphone might act as a status symbol, but I very much doubt that everyone has an unlimited data bundle. Large telco and broadband players are rolling out wifi solutions allover the country, 4G coverage is probably excellent in most places – but still, when my children stream a youtube video over 4G … my data bundle drains quickly.

My request or call to action to our public broadcaster is to help people in understanding that there is a freely accessible DVB-t offering instead of blaming it on the decreasing number of viewers for that platform. There is no way you can expect people to have permanent access to the internet anno 2018 to consume your content. TV screens are still omnipresent, legacy support is still essential. In the meantime, invest more in digital literacy to move people to other forms of media consumption. Do not rely on other television solution providers (broadband providers, telco’s or other related private companies).

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