MRTV Begins Digital TV Broadcasts, Expects to Reach Nationwide Coverage by 2020

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 14 October 2013

RANGOON — Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV), the national TV and radio broadcaster, is implementing a major upgrade of its broadcasting system and will start digital TV broadcasts in the country’s three major cities this week, MRTV director general Tint Swe said.

MRTV plans to switch from an analogue to digital broadcasting system that provides nationwide coverage, Tint Swe said, adding that digital TV broadcasts will begin in Rangoon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay on Tuesday.

“We’re expecting such a digital system to provide coverage in the whole nation by 2020,” he said, adding that MRTV plans to build 77 digital TV broadcasting stations by 2015 and increase this number to 253 stations by 2017.

MRTV will use the Asean-standard Digital Video Broadcasting Terrestrial-2 (DVBT-2), according to Tint Swe, who headed the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department, Burma’s censorship department, until August 2012.

Viewers much have a digital TV that has a DVB-T2 or MPEG-4 tuner in order to be able to receive the broadcast, or users can buy a digital receiver, a MPEG-4 set-top box. A digital TV currently cost about US $300 in Burma, while a digital receiver costs about $40.

“Though we’re going to change the system from analogue to digital, the analogue users can continue to view as usual the next three years. Until 2016, it’s optional for them,” Tint Swe said.

The MRTV channels will sell commercial advertisement broadcast time in order to gain revenues, in addition to receiving government funding.

Tint Swe declined to comment on the costs of upgrading the broadcast system, and refused to disclose the name of the company awarded the government contract to build the new broadcasting infrastructure.

MRTV currently has five public television channels, such as the Myanmar International Channel, the Farmers Channel and the recently started National Races Channel, which aims to serve the country’s various ethnic minorities.

The military-owned Myawaddy company broadcasts seven television channels, such a news, sports and entertainment channel. Myawaddy’s broadcasts will also be made available through MRTV’s digital broadcasting system, along with four pay-per-view TV channels of Forever Group.

Forever Group, run by Chief Executive Officer Win Maw, was the first private media company to set up a joint-venture with the Burmese state-run broadcaster in 2005, when MRTV was firmly under control of the military regime.

The Forever Group consortium reportedly had close ties with the junta’s Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, who stepped down from his post in August 2012.

MRTV was set up 1979 and for decades it has been used a propaganda unit by the repressive regime. President Thein Sein’s reformist government has lifted numerous restrictions on the media in Burma since assuming office in 2011.

The Ministry of Information is currently drafting a law that would reform MRTV into a public broadcast service media that receives government support to produce informative, independent programs, as is common in many other countries.