News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.
By Darren M. Popik —
At long last, Mexico is getting closer to turning off the switch on analog television broadcasts, joining its neighbors to the north in the U.S. and Canada where TV broadcasters have been in digital, high-definition mode for some time.
On April 16, Tijuana will become the first city in Mexico to become 100% digital-only, when analog signals will be switched off for good in the border city.
(UPDATE: Surprise, surprise, another delay … a new shut-off date has been announced — now it’s May 28, not April 16. Honestly, it’s like “Amateur Hour” watching Mexico’s authorities try to figure out how to shut down analog TV. — ed.)
And late this fall (November 26), stations in Mexicali, Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, Matamoros, and Monterrey will follow suit.
This means that those who receive their TV via over-the-air signals (about half of television households in Mexico) will either require a high definition (HD) television set, or a digital converter for older TV sets.
At present, about 13 million households in Mexico subscribe to either satellite or cable television. (And of those with pay TV service, only a smaller number actually subscribe to HD packages.)
Mexico had been lagging behind in digital conversion, generally based on concerns about the cost of the change.
Mexico’s federal communications department, the Comisión Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Cofetel) had required that the 90% of households in the Tijuana market be capable of receiving digital TV before it would authorize shutting down the analog signals, a goal which has now been met.
In Tijuana, 48% of households receive their TV programming via free over-the-air signals.
But in this border city, HD is nothing new. San Diego over-the-air HD signals have been penetrating the airwaves of Baja California for a number of years (and they’ve been digital-only since 2009), including stations broadcasting in Spanish. And among the Tijuana-licensed stations, digital signals have been available going back as far as 2000, when XETV first began transmitting in digital format, in addition to its analog signal.
So, viewers in the market have had a considerable amount of time to adapt.
The Border Markets
The news is similar in other border markets. U.S. stations in El Paso, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley have been beaming their all-HD content into Mexican territory for a number of years.
And in fact, in these markets, the number of Spanish-language stations outnumbers the English. Mexican television viewers in Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros don’t have to rely solely on the over-the-air fare from Televisa and TV Azteca — they’ve also got the U.S. Spanish networks Univisión, Telemundo, Azteca America, Estrella TV, and UniMás (formerly Telefutura).
To see these stations, viewers have already had to make the change to digital.
But in fact, stations licensed to the Mexican bordertowns have also been broadcasting in the new digital format as well, albeit for varying lengths of time. If they wanted to target the large Spanish-speaking population on the U.S. side of the border (aside from viewers in Mexico itself), earlier digital conversion was a must, given that U.S. analog signals came to a halt in 2009.
And in some instances, Mexican-licensed stations are used as affiliates for the U.S. broadcast networks (notably XETV and XHDTV in Tijuana, and XHRIO in Matamoros). So for them to compete with the other English stations in their markets, they had to be ahead of the pack in Mexico when it came to conversion to the new format.
Beyond the Border
TV viewers outside these norther markets will still see analog, non-HD signals for some time. The analog cut-off is scheduled to occur in Mexico City and Guadalajara in November of next year (2014), and it won’t be until December 31, 2015 that all analog signals disappear for good across the entire country — assuming that authorities adhere to the latest conversion timetable.
If you live in Mexico City, however, and have an HD television — but don’t have cable or satellite — you can already watch digital HD programming (though the actual amount of HD content varies on each channel).
Televisa and Azteca are both beaming out digital signals on all of their respective stations, as are Once TV, Canal 22, and Cadena Tres.
In Monterrey, only two channels are not yet available in digital format: TV Nuevo León and Canal 54 (UANL). Televisa, Azteca, Canal 12 (Multimedios), and Once TV are already transmitting on their new digital channels.
The Advantages of Digital
In addition to the superior picture quality and the larger format of an HD signal (16:9 picture ratio, vs. 4:3 in the analog system), digital also allows broadcasters to offer “subchannels” within their allotted channel, with different programming.
In Monterrey, for example, Canal 12’s two subchannels offer Milenio TV and Teleritmo — so you actually get three channels in the space of one. Of course, not all broadcasters will offer this additional content, but at least under the digital system, they have this option.
Pay TV or Antenna/Internet?
With more content available under the digital system, there’s more reason to leave behind cable or satellite TV in favor of a pair of traditional rabbit ears or simple antenna connected to your high definition TV set.
And the Internet is another factor putting a damper on pay TV services. Increasing numbers of viewers are doing their TV watching online. In fact, the combination of free over-the-air HD channels plus the “watch anytime” option via the Internet has lead to more and more households in the US and Canada abandoning their pay TV subscriptions.
And in Mexico? With the digital conversion at hand (finally), we’re about to find out if this trend will play out here as well.