Following a proposal of Mr. Martin Bangemann, Commissioner responsible for industry, information technologies and telecommunications, and Mr. Marcelino Oreja, Commissioner for culture and audiovisual policy, the Commission has adopted the first annual report on the Action Plan for the Introduction of Advanced Television Services. The objective of the Action Plan, which was launched by a Council Decision on 22 July 1993, is to break the vicious circle which had earlier prevented the introduction of the new screen format: broadcasters feared the extra costs of transmitting 16:9 and would not start services without 16:9 television sets being available, while manufacturers would not produce the new television sets without broadcasting, fearful for their investments. The structural separation between broadcasting and consumer electronics therefore meant that market forces could not themselves initiate a solution. The Action Plan's role is to trigger the market and overcome the deadlock. It is achieving this by contributing to broadcasters' and programme makers' extra costs for introducing wide-screen TV. This is ensuring that 16:9 wide-screen can be offered to the European public in a coherent fashion. Wide-screen has met with strong consumer approval. European sales of wide-screen TVs were only 15,000 units in 1992; they rose to 150,000 in 1994 during the first year of Action Plan services and seem set to at least double this year. 16:9 wide-screen is popular with consumers because it is more ergonomic and makes TV resemble wide-screen cinema. 16:9 is also the screen format for high-definition television and the transition from today's screen format to 16:9 is a precondition for a market-led introduction of HDTV using digital technologies at some point in the future. Industry response has also been encouraging. The Action Plan is supporting 22 wide-screen broadcast services in eight different Member States, totalling some 30,000 broadcast hours so far. Funds are awarded following competitive calls for tender and these have been oversubscribed. A critical mass of services - to allow consumers a reasonable choice of services - has been achieved in France and Germany. Achieving a critical mass of services throughout the EU is one of the Action Plan's indicative targets. The other target is a sufficient and increasing volume of programming in 16:9 format. Programme producers have responded enthusiastically, with around 13,000 hours of programming supported, and over half (65%) being "long shelf life" programmes whose cultural significance is also important. The Action Plan shows that it is possible to combine market impact and cultural aspects. The Action Plan has also enabled Community policy to rise above the technical debate because the new screen format is independent of the technology chosen to deliver it. Broadcasters can use either analogue or digital technology to deliver pictures depending on their strategies and circumstances. Digital TV and its introduction in Europe are among the issues to be raised in the high profile conference in October 1995 on wide-screen TV announced by Commissioners Bangemann and Oreja. This conference will be organized by the Commission as part of its continuing efforts to align audiovisual policy with the information society initiative.
Policy making and guidelines
21 August 1996