Executive Summary

Introduction

This is a study into the "Development of Satellite and Terrestrial Digital Broadcasting Systems and Services and Implications for Education and Training". It covers issues that will need to be addressed by all organisations involved in education and training concerning the developments of satellite, terrestrial and cable digital broadcasting systems and services. The main focus of study is on the development of interactive TV learning services to the home via consumer or low cost receivers. It primarily covers developments within the European Union but also considers developments in other parts of the world.

Up until a few years ago most radio and television broadcasts made use of analogue technologies. This has now changed and there are now over 1000 TV channels accessible to homes in Europe via satellite using digital technologies. Using suitable equipment it is also possible to broadcast data via satellite directly to a computer. In addition, it is increasingly possible for digital broadcasts to be sent via cable networks and also in a digital format "over the air" - terrestrial broadcasting using an existing aerial that was used for receiving analogue broadcasts.

As Europe along with the rest of the world is moving to an era of lifelong learning a key issue for those offering learning services is to find the most effective way of reaching their target audiences. This study reviews these technology developments and explores the potential use of interactive digital TV learning services reaching people in their homes. Interactivity can enable a passive viewer to become an active learner - thus increasing the potential for more in-depth learning to take place.

Digital broadcasting technologies -state of the art

The study looked at the developments concerning data broadcasting, digital radio and in particular it focused on interactive digital TV. (Chapter 2)

Data broadcasting

It was found that data broadcasting services primarily use a satellite to broadcast multimedia data directly to a computer via a satellite dish at high speed. Although it is possible for a home user to receive such a service at a relatively low cost, uptake has mainly been by institutions and companies who subscribe to a specialist service. A few educational applications are beginning to emerge focused towards schools or medical centres.

Technically the technology is mature and a number of commercial suppliers offer various delivery services.

Digital Radio

The study found that although a number of broadcasters are broadcasting in a digital audio format across a number of countries within the EU, there are very few listeners utilising this format. This is mainly due to the high cost of digital radios. It was also noted that some limited multimedia facility could be made available with the audio signal which, some people see as having a potential usage for education and training (Chapter 2).

Digital TV

Digital TV is now in its third year in some parts of the European Union. However, in some countries it has only just become available during the later part of 1998. A few countries do not have any digital TV channels that originate from within the country.

The overall uptake of digital TV services across the European Union is still very low. The latest figures available indicate that only about 2.2% of EU TV households were accessing digital TV services in mid 1998. As Digital TV has started to take off in many European countries from mid 1998 there will certainly have been an increase by mid 1999 but it is still likely to be low.

Digital TV is now available via satellite, cable networks and digital terrestrial networks. However, access to any one of these services is not evenly spread across the European Union. Most households within Europe are able to receive digital TV broadcasts via either satellite cable or digital terrestrial delivery methods. Some households are capable of receiving more than one of these services.

All these methods of reception require a digital set-top box that converts the digital signal into a suitable format for using with an existing TV set. Or it is possible to buy a new TV which has the set-top box integrated within the system.

Early set-top boxes had no capability for interactivity except for changing channels. Later versions of set-top boxes will have increased levels of interactivity utilising a connection to a normal telephone line or a cable network as the return channel. This means that interactivity is possible in the form of: -

Interactive services in various formats are only just beginning to emerge and consequently are only used by a very small number of users across Europe. However, market analysts predict a significant increase in interactive services via TV in Europe and the US over the next four years with 25% of households having access to them.

However, residential uptake of interactive services via computer will still be greater due to the larger number of households having all the equipment to access such online services.

The study explores in detail the technical issues relating to the development of interactive digital TV including key players and developments of other competitive technologies (Chapter 2).

State of developments in Europe and other parts of the World

The study includes a country by country status report (Chapter 3) on the state of developments of digital TV in Europe and the other parts of the World. It has been found that there are wide variations in the state of implication for receiving the different digital broadcasting technologies - satellite, cable and digital terrestrial across the EU. The historical development of analogue reception technologies, methods of paying for the channels resulting in the number of free-to-air channels is influencing the development of digital broadcasting.

The European Union is more diverse in terms of the technologies used for digital TV than the United States. However, Japan seems to be following a similar pattern to the EU but is lagging behind in digital TV developments. The interactive digital TV market in the EU appears to be slightly more developed than the US, but is likely to be overtaken by the US over the next few years. With the exception of Poland generally Central and Eastern Europe is lagging behind the EU. Poland appears to have approximately 6% of households subscribing to digital TV services.

Currently, the EU may just have the edge on the United States by leading developments towards interactive digital TV learning services. But, strategies in the US will lead to continent-wide developments and could enable the US to take the lead if digital TV uptake is rapid. There is little evidence that there is much activity in Japan or Central and Eastern Europe.

Examples of digital broadcasting learning services

The study includes twelve case studies of current and planned learning services using digital broadcasting technologies (Chapter 4). They can be categorised as: -

Traditional educational channels who enhance their services by: -

Data broadcasting services that provide: -

New Interactive TV Services that can be either: -

Understanding the market for interactive digital TV services to the home

The development of the market for digital TV interactive learning services in Europe is very much dependent upon the development of the broader market for interactive services to the home. The study (Chapter 5) provides some observations and trends for the development of this broader market in terms of: -

There is likely to be continuous growth in interactive TV enabled households over the next decade. This second platform for interactive services to the home is becoming a serious contender with the possibility of a quarter of European households capable of receiving interactive TV services within four or five years. However, online-enabled computer households will dominate for the foreseeable future providing another means to enable interactivity to the home. (Figure 1)

Figure 1

 

Figure 2

There will also be variations across Europe as to whether various interactive services via the TV will take off or not. In some countries access to online services using a computer will be the most appropriate means. Whereas in other countries with a lower penetration of computers to the home the TV may be more appropriate. The delivery mechanisms used - satellite, cable or digital terrestrial - will also vary across Europe (Figure 2). There is also likely to be a demand for video-on-demand services.

Implications for Education and Training

The study looked at what implications this has for education and training (Chapter 6) in terms of: -

It provides an: -

Where there is an awareness of interactive services via TV, there is some evidence to show that there is interest in educational services and some indication that households would be prepared to pay for such services.

Conclusions

Data broadcasting

  1. The further development of learning services utilising data broadcasting technologies is primarily dependent on content providers identifying this technology as an appropriate means of delivering the service they wish to offer. Therefore commercial technology suppliers need to make learning service suppliers more aware of their offerings.
  2. Digital Audio

  3. This study was unable to identify any potentially unique digital audio application that could be utilised by education and training.
  4. However, as with all technologies, the development of digital audio broadcasting should be monitored in case any technical breakthrough offers new opportunities for the delivery of education and training.
  5. Digital TV

    Interactive TV Services

  6. Generally, there is currently little demand from home consumers for interactive services via TV so a demand will need to be created before consumers will buy the appropriate equipment needed.
  7. However, where public awareness has been raised, there is some interest in interactive services and even a willingness to pay for such services.
  8. Development of Interactive TV learning services

  9. The uptake of interactive TV learning services across the EU will be very uneven. Prospects for the development of such services is high in only three countries and prospects will be low in another six countries as indicated in the table below (Figure 3).
  10. Figure 3 Prospects for development of interactive digital TV
    learning services with EU Countries
    (shaded area indicates the level of prospect)

    Country

     

    Prospects

     

     

    High

    Medium

    Low

    Austria

     

     

    x

    Belgium

     

     

    x

    Denmark

     

     

    x

    Finland

     

    x

     

    France

     

    x

     

    Germany

     

    x

     

    Greece

     

     

    x

    Ireland

     

    x

     

    Italy

    x

     

     

    Luxembourg

     

     

    x

    Netherlands

     

    x

     

    Portugal

     

     

    x

    Spain

     

    x

     

    Sweden

    x

     

     

    United Kingdom

    x

     

     

  11. However, this may not necessarily put some European countries at a disadvantage to others because other competitive technologies may be more appropriate and have a more dominant role.
  12. Most of these interactive TV learning services are likely to be in an informal or "edutainment" format.
  13. Early developers of interactive TV learning services are likely be public service educational broadcasters and commercial operators who may wish to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals like sports channels.
  14. However, there does appear to be a demand for language learning, which may encourage the uptake of interactive digital TV.
  15. Interactive TV may offer some innovative approaches to tackling the problems of basic skills in an informal and entertaining way.
  16. Separate "TV channel independent" interactive services utilising the return channel are starting to emerge in the form of: -
  1. Until a critical mass of households are "interactive TV enabled", traditional education and training providers will be reluctant to consider offering interactive learning services.
  2. Broadcasters will continue to be the prime gatekeepers of interactive TV services to the home. As they have done with television they will control what the user has access to as well as the quality of the services on offer and the development of these services. Compared to the World Wide Web this may act as a barrier for traditional education and training providers to offer interactive TV learning services.
  3. Therefore it seems unlikely that interactive TV learning services will be dominated by traditional education and training providers. However, they may find new market opportunities for offering their learning services through local cable networks once they are able to offer broadband accessibility.
  4. In some parts of Europe there is a strong affinity for a regional or national identity linked closely with culture and education. If these areas have access to their own digital TV channel there could be opportunities for developing interactive TV learning services closely with local traditional educational and training providers, as is happening in Wales. However, they must be part of an education and training strategy funded from mainstream public sector funding.
  5. Internet-based learning services to the home

  6. Most education and training providers will find it easier to utilise the Internet for interactive learning services than for using interactive digital TV.
  7. There will also be new opportunities for accessing good quality full screen video and audio with further improvements to increasing speed of access via ADSL technologies, which would increase usage.
  8. However, these technologies could still be used to access the Internet through a TV set.
  9. Low cost set-top boxes linked to a TV for accessing only online services could provide an alternative means of accessing such services without the need for a computer. This may meet a socially important need to offer online learning services to people who cannot afford to buy a home computer.
  10. Digital TV Technology issues

  11. The technologies to support interactive TV services are developing fast. Incompatibility issues relating to hardware and software are beginning to be addressed by the industry, which is aware that these issues need to be solved.
  12. Therefore, over the next few years the industry is likely to resolve problems like different conditional access systems and different interactive software, through a mixture of mutual co-operation and competition.
  13. As most households would generally only subscribe to one type of digital TV service with its bouquet of channels and interactive services, these incompatibility issues are not really a problem to them.
  14. But it can create additional costs for broadcasts that make their services available on a number of different platforms. This would be due to the cost of adapting the interactive software for the different platforms.
  15. Other Competitive Technologies

  16. As the Internet is now relatively easily accessible from the home it will continue to develop as the main technology for utilisation by remote learning services.
  17. As ADSL technologies develop it will be increasingly possible to distribute full screen video with interactivity via the telephone to a computer or to a TV.
  18. There are also developments towards personal TV where the viewer is able to decide what programmes they want view and when they want to view them. They could access them from a remote server or they could be stored in a high-capacity storage device in the home.
  19. Decisions for organisations supplying learning services

  20. Organisations wishing to offer interactive learning services to the home will need to make decisions on what is the most appropriate and cost-effective delivery mechanism for their purpose. It could be broadcast or it could be accessible online. Knowledge and know-how in this area is only starting to emerge.
  21. Process of Innovation transfer

  22. As has been stated in a previous report to the EC (1) it is very important to understand the process of innovation transfer. This helps to determine what recommendations should be made for the development of interactive digital TV learning services across the European Union.
  23. An innovation can involve the development of products, tools and devices. Or it can involve a process with the development of new ideas, approaches or techniques.
  24. The products tools and devices are already available and being further refined in the case of interactive digital TV. But the new ideas and approaches in the context of interactive digital TV learning Services are at a very immature stage and limited to isolated pockets of development across the EU.
  25. Therefore, to ensure the even diffusion and transfer across the EU of new ideas and approaches for the utilisation of interactive digital TV learning Services, human networking of those involved in broadcasting, education and the IT is critical.
  26. This would also enable equality of opportunities for such services to develop and would be an important ingredient in securing and increasing competitiveness across the EU where there are clearly cultural and linguistic barriers within broadcasting and education. This is compared to the United States where a common language certainly can encourage the rapid diffusion of ideas and approaches nation-wide.
  27. Need for Intervention

  28. The development of interactive digital TV learning services could be left entirely to market forces. This would eventually result in the development of some sort of sustainable services but unevenly and slowly spread across the EU because of lack of knowledge and know-how.
  29. The other approach could be to actively stimulate interest, knowledge and know-how through the bringing together of education, broadcasting and the IT sectors. This could result in some early solutions to large-scale training needs across regions or countries and enable EU organisations with expertise in this area to gain a competitive advantage other rivals from other parts of the World.

Recommendations

These following recommendations describe ways in which the European Commission may intervene to stimulate developments in utilising new digital broadcasting technologies for education and training without distorting existing market developments.

A market for digital broadcasting technologies is already developing with a number of suppliers already offering products and services for data broadcasting and digital TV. In particular, digital TV with fledgling interactive services is emerging within a consumer market. Other competitive technologies are also emerging rapidly, which could provide alternative solutions. As previously stated the education and training business has little control over these technology and market developments.

However educationalists and broadcasters need to aware of the continuing technical developments and constantly review their potential utilisation. Manufacturers and suppliers of digital broadcasting technologies need to be aware of the potential education and training market for such services and actively exploit it.

Within this context the European Commission's primary roles should be raising awareness, disseminating good practice and stimulating a body of research which will ensure that the interactive TV learning services are utilising sound pedagogical practices and are sustainable within the mainstream funding mechanisms which are available. This will help education and training providers make decisions as to whether they should be utilising these technologies for their particular learning offerings.

The recommendations are therefore:

  1. As a first stage this report could be made available to policy and decision-makers in broadcasting, education and training and the IT industry.
  2. But, in order to further raise awareness, disseminate knowledge of technological developments and encourage co-operation, a series of workshops should be funded in order to bring together key players from across Europe to share knowledge and know-how.
  3. With some assistance from the industry and from the EC a web-site should be established in order to collate technological, pedagogical, managerial and costing issues relating to using digital broadcasting and other technologies for learning.
  4. This should be linked to an information service consisting of a helpline where organisations will be able to get further assistance and where knowledge and know-how can be disseminated via presentations and articles to the education and training world.
  5. This should lead to the establishment of a European-wide forum in order to bring together all key players who are active or interested in using digital broadcasting technologies to develop interactive TV learning services. In particular it should be a vehicle to encourage strategic alliances between public-private partnerships and to reduce the cultural differences that currently exist between broadcasters and those in the telecommunications industry. It should take into account the convergence of the technologies and should consider the impact of new developments in online technologies. Although the Forum may initially have a particular technological focus, this should always be in the context of the appropriate use of the technologies for enhancing learning.
  6. It is proposed that the Forum will identify specific areas of research where a greater understanding of the learning process through interactive TV is still needed. Involving the key players in this decision process will ensure that the research that is carried out will be of value to them and will also be state of the art research not already covered by the industry.
  7. Areas of research may be:
    1. Gaining better understanding of the various approaches for utilising interactive TV learning services where there is a need for a high impact with a mass audience.
    2. Further market research into the types of interactive TV learning services that home users really want and their effectiveness over traditional education and training systems.
    3. To create a body of research into good design practice of user interfaces, for interactive learning services, from a pedagogical perspective.
    4. As the market starts to develop, to conduct research, which gains a better understanding of the costs of utilising interactive TV, compared to other online services for learning purposes.
    5. A feasibility study into the potential usage of very low-cost devices linked to an ordinary TV set and an existing telephone line utilising ADSL technology to access local learning resources via an Intranet. This must include the ability of people with computers to also access the same resources.
    6. Exploring the potential of local or regional educational institutions utilising local digital cable networks for interactive TV learning services.
    7. Exploring the potential of utilising interactive TV for tackling national or regional skills shortages and basic skills deficiencies in an informal and entertaining way.
    1. Monitoring developments towards interoperability of set-top boxes and identifying whether there are any factors concerning the development of interactive TV learning services.
    2. Addressing standardisation issues with particular reference to adopting a standard encoding system or enabling learning resources and interactive components to be easily moved onto a number of different platforms and delivery systems.

Footnotes

  1. "Developing Telematic-based Learning Services - the Role of SME Networks" A Study for the DGXIII C3 Telematics Applications Programme Education and Training Sector 1995