Cable television is a system of providing television to consumers via radio frequency signals transmitted to televisions through fixed optical fibers or coaxial cables as opposed to the over-the-air method used in traditional television broadcasting (via radio waves) in which a television antenna is required. FM radio programming, high-speed Internet, telephony and similar non television services may also be provided.
The abbreviation CATV is often used to mean "Cable TV". It originally stood for Community Antenna Television, from cable television's origins in 1948: in areas where over-the-air reception was limited by mountainous terrain, large "community antennas" were constructed, and cable was run from them to individual homes.
It is most commonplace in North America, Europe, Australia and East Asia, though it is present in many other countries, mainly in South America and the Middle East. Cable TV has had little success in Africa, as it is not cost-effective to lay cables in sparsely populated areas, and although so-called "wireless cable" or microwave-based systems are used.
Mainland China had more than 25 million digital cable television users in 2007.
Unlike many cable television operators in other countries that support two-way modes, China's cable television runs in a one-way mode (download only, no upload)
Sun TV (India) was launched in 1992 as the first private channel in South India. Today it has 20 television channels in the four South Indian languages - Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. Channels of the Sun TV network are also available outside of India. Recently Sun TV launched a DTH channel.
The Raj Television Network was started in 1994 and continues to be an important player in the South Indian cable TV provider space.
Besides cable, direct-to-home satellite is offered through Dream Television and has pre-paid variants as well.
According the European Audiovisual Observatory, there were 58 million cable households in the European Union as of 31 December 2004, i.e. a rate of penetration of 32 % of the television households. 5.7 millions were connected to digital networks.
The reasons for this appeal started in the early '90s. After the fall of the communist regime, in 1989, there was only one state owned TV channel available (see TVR), a second channel being closed in 1985 (see TVR2). Private TV channels were slow to appear, because of lack of experience and high start-up costs (most startups were radio stations or newspapers). Thus, for the first three years, over the air, one would get one or two state channels and one or two local, amateurish private channels, broadcasting only a few hours a day. In this environment, cable TV companies appeared and thrived, providing 15-20 foreign channels for a very low price (at the time 2 USD or less), some with Romanian translation, offering high quality news, entertainment and especially movies or cartoons (one of the ways cable companies advertised was the availability of a cartoon channel, Cartoon Network, appealing to children, which in turn would appeal to their parents). The first two companies to provide CATV were Multicanal in Bucharest and Timiş Cablu in Timişoara, both out of business today. Many small, startup firms gradually grew, and coverage increased (coverage wars were frequent in the early period, with many cable boxes smashed, and new cable networks offering "half off for twice the channels" and immediately wiring the building for any willing persons). However, this period soon ended, with consolidation around 1995-1996. Some large companies emerged: Kappa and RCS in Bucharest, Astral in Cluj, UPC in Timişoara, TourImex in Râmnicu Vâlcea. This consolidation came with gentlemen agreements over areas of control and pricing, with claims of monopoly abounding. This process of consolidation was completed around 2005-2006, when only two big suppliers of cable remained: UPC-Astral and RDS. Internet over coaxial cable has been available since around 2000, and IP telephony (over the CATV infrastructure) since the deregulation of the market in 2003. Currently, cable TV is available in most of the country, including most rural areas (where roughly 50% of the population live). Satellite digital TV appeared in 2004, providing coverage for the rest of the country, with both RCS&RDS and UPC-Astral having a stake in these companies. IPTV (over DSL) is also planned by Romtelecom through its TV service (Dolce), after offering Satellite digital DTH TV. However, IPTV will not be much of a competition, since the other two big ISPs are also the two biggest CATV providers.
Cable TV is very cheap for all standards, the standard/basic service, offering about 50 channels, is around 20-30 RON/month including VAT (about 7-10 €), with the most expensive service, offering 10-15 channels more, including some pay-per-view such as HBO or Cinemax, costing no more than 60-70 RON/month (around 20-23 €).
By law, these cable systems were restricted to the relay of the public broadcast channels, which meant that as the transmitter network became more comprehensive the incentive to subscribe to cable was reduced and they began to lose customers. In 1982, a radical liberalisation of the law on cable was proposed by the Information Technology Advisory Panel, for the sake of promoting a new generation of broadband cable systems leading to the wired society. After setting up and receiving the conclusions of the Hunt Inquiry into Cable Expansion and Broadcasting Policy, the Government decided to proceed with liberalisation and two pieces of legislation. the Cable and Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, were enacted in 1984.
The result was that cable systems were permitted to carry as many new television channels as they liked, as well as providing a telephone service and interactive services of many kinds (as since made familiar by the Internet). To maintain the momentum of the perceived commercial interest in this new investment opportunity, in 1983 the Government itself granted eleven interim franchises for new broadband systems each covering a community of up to around 100,000 homes, but the competitive franchising process was otherwise left to the new regulatory body, the Cable Authority, which took on its powers from 1 January 1985.
The franchising process proceeded steadily, but the actual construction of new systems was slow, as doubts about an adequate payback from the substantial investment persisted. By the end of 1990 almost 15 million homes had been included in franchised areas, but only 828,000 of these had been passed by broadband cable and only 149,000 were actually subscribing. Thereafter, however, construction accelerated and take-up steadily improved.
The first new television channels launched for carriage on cable systems (going live in March 1984) were Sky Channel, Screensport, Music Box and TEN - the Movie Channel. Others followed, some were merged or closed down, but the range expanded. A similar flux was seen among the operators of cable systems: franchises were granted to a host of different companies, but a process of consolidation saw the growth of large multiple system operators, until by early in the 2000s virtually the whole industry was in the hands of two companies, NTL and Telewest.
In 2005 it was announced that NTL and Telewest would merge, after a period of co-operation in the preceding few years. This merger was completed on 3 March 2006 with the company being named ntl Incorporated. For the time being the two brand names and services were marketed separately. However, following NTL's acquisition of Virgin Mobile, the NTL and Telewest services were rebranded Virgin Media on 2007-02-08 creating a single cable operator covering more than 95% of the UK cable market.
Cable TV faces intense competition from British Sky Broadcasting's Sky Digital satellite television service. Most channels are carried on both platforms. However, cable often lacks "interactive" features (e.g. text services, and extra video-screens), especially on BSkyB owned channels, and the satellite platform lacks services requiring high degrees of two-way communication, such as true video on demand.
However, subscription-funded digital terrestrial television proved less of a competitive threat. The first system, ITV Digital, went into liquidation in 2002. Top Up TV later replaced it, however this service is shrinking as the DVB-T multiplex owners are finding FTA broadcasting more profitable.
Another potential source of competition in the future will be TV over broadband internet connections; this is known as IPTV. Some IPTV services are currently available in London, while services operated in Hull ceased in April 2006. As the speed and availability of broadband connections increase, more TV content can be delivered using protocols such as IPTV. However, its impact on the market is yet to be measured, as is consumer attitude toward watching TV programmes on computers instead of television sets. At the end of 2006, BT (the UK's former state owned monopoly phone company) started offering BT Vision, which combines the digital free-to-air standard Freeview through an aerial, and on-demand IPTV, delivered over a BT Broadband connection through the Vision set-top box (BT have chosen to deploy Microsofts Mediaroom platform for this.)
The Caribbean region has a variety of single island cable television companies. The largest multi-island provider in the region however is Columbus Communications, which currently has operations in Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago. The company also owns the ARCOS undersea fiber optics network spanning 20 countries in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
Over the past few years, many US networks have started to develop content for the Latin American market, such as CNN en Español, MTV, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and others. The country also has a DTH service called SKY (Televisa & News Corp. owned). Recently DirecTV merged with Sky. The dominant company nowadays is Megacable and Grupo HEVI.
Inside the capital cities, cable is the more predominant form of pay television distribution. In regional areas or in new or outskirted areas of cities, satellite is far more common.
Due to its history, financial backing and market dominance, most local versions of channels are either owned directly by Foxtel and Austar or through related companies.
In terms of coverage, Foxtel's cable network covers parts of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth. Optus's network covers small parts of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, though its restrictive subscription rules means that many people living in apartments or confined living areas may be unable to be connected.
Austar is available by satellite in most of regional and rural Australia, but does have a small cable network in the city of Darwin. TransACT is only available in the city of Canberra, where a custom cable network was developed. A similar situation used to exist in Perth where a small area was covered by Bright Telecommunications (however they closed down after lack of funding) as well in parts of Geelong, Ballarat and Mildura that are reached by Neighbourhood Cable.
In the 1980s cable operators started operations in the absence of local regulations. Those earlier operators started a merged process which evolved toward the merge of Cablevision and Multicanal, the two biggest cable companies. The resultant company, named Cablevision, is owned by Grupo Clarin, the biggest newspaper in Argentina, who is also the owner of LS85-TV (the highest-rated TV station in Buenos Aires) TyC the owner of the monopoly of the soccer TV broadcast right, thus turning into the dominant player.
Some small TV cable companies are operating, but the tendency now is that Cablevision will dominate this market in the future. Telecom Operator, Telefonica and Telecom, the monopoly in the fixed-cellular market is lobbying for opening the market towards the triple play. The Government is opening a window to allow the cable operators to enter in the telephony and extend internet coverage, before fully deregulating this market.
In order to operate as a cable company in Argentina, a license from Comfer is required. This license is very difficult to get.
Broadband internet is achieved over coaxial cable by using cable modems to convert the network data into a type of digital signal that can be transferred over coaxial cable. One problem with some cable systems is the older amplifiers placed along the cable routes are unidirectional thus in order to allow for uploading of data the customer would need to use an analog telephone modem to provide for the upstream connection. This limited the upstream speed to 31.2k and prevented the always-on convenience broadband internet typically provides. Many large cable systems have upgraded or are upgrading their equipment to allow for bi-directional signals, thus allowing for greater upload speed and always-on convenience, though these upgrades are expensive.
In North America, Australia and Europe many cable operators have already introduced cable telephone service, which operates just like existing fixed line operators. This service involves installing a special telephone interface at the customer's premises that converts the analog signals from the customer's in-home wiring into a digital signal, which is then sent on the local loop (replacing the analog last mile, or POTS) to the company's switching center, where it is connected to the PSTN. The biggest obstacle to cable telephone service is the need for nearly 100% reliable service for emergency calls. One of the standards available for digital cable telephony, PacketCable, seems to be the most promising and able to work with the Quality of Service demands of traditional analog POTS service. The biggest advantage to digital cable telephone service is similar to the advantage of digital cable TV, namely that data can be compressed, resulting in much less bandwidth used than a dedicated analog circuit-switched service. Other advantages include better voice quality and integration to a VoIP network providing cheap or unlimited nationwide and international calling. Note that in many cases, digital cable telephone service is separate from cable modem service being offered by many cable companies and does not rely on IP traffic or the Internet.
[Pakistan] Cable Modem
Beginning in 2004 in the United States, the traditional cable television providers and traditional telecommunication companies increasingly compete in providing voice, video and data services to residences. The combination of TV, telephone and Internet access is commonly called triple play regardless of whether CATV or telcos offer it.
The monopoly on cable television has historically been enforced by local governments. Cable maintains thousands of such de facto monopolies. In order to provide service to individual homes, a cable provider must place its cable wiring along and across local streets or other rights-of-way. To do so, the provider must get permission from the local government(s) that own those streets via rights-of-way permits.
Operational permission comes in the form of a document called a local franchise agreement. Most of local government(s) chose to grant permission to only one company, however, recently states have developed broader franchising laws to drive more investment and competition. Changes in the federal law in 1992 had forced local governments to grant permission to other companies to provide service, however the U.S. Government found in 2006 that only 2% of U.S. households had a competitive choice. In some cases Comcast, with municipal government approval, had entered into market allocation schemes. By agreeing to not compete head to head, consumers thus are perpetually locked into a single monopoly cable provider with annual price escalations reaching 93% in the past decade.
A recent third party survey of citizens found approximately 62% of the respondents were very dissatisfied (along with another 25% who were dissatisfied) with the cost of cable television service. A majority of the respondents were satisfied with the friendliness and courtesy of customer service personnel, however, approximately 30% of the respondents rated the cable company's performance as poor. With regard to open-ended comments, respondents felt that the cost of the cable service was too high, a need for cable competition existed and the desire for a basic cable package offering was desired. Although respondents cited these critical issues, the local monopoly structure preserves the status quo of poor customer service, limited product choices, no direct competition and uncontrollable annual cable TV price increases. Relief for consumers is being created by state level a multi jurisdictional franchise and service process that will spur investment and competition; thus driving economic development sought by state and local government leaders.
The industry strongly lobbies against federal "family tier" and "a la carte cable television" bills that would give consumers the option to purchase individual channels rather than a broad tier of programming. These anti-consumer issues continue to garner attention from state governments, Congress and FCC Chairman Martin.