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Spain delays shutdown of standard definition TV signals

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine were cited among several reasons why Spanish households and broadcasters aren't ready for an HD-only world just yet.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine were cited among several reasons why Spanish households and broadcasters aren't ready for an HD-only world just yet.

Television antennas on top of a roof in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Eric Fischer via Wikimedia Commons)

Spain has delayed its planned shutoff of standard definition (SD) digital television broadcasting, giving households in the country a little more time to future-proof their living rooms by acquiring a new or used high-definition (HD) TV set.

Originally, Spanish broadcasters were told to stop carrying SD feeds by January 1, 2023, at which point over-the-air broadcasters would switch exclusively to HD signals.

The move is a bit more ambitious than a similar switch off that occurred in the United States more than a decade ago. In 2009, American broadcasters discontinued their analog signals in favor of new, digital signals that could broadcast SD and HD feeds simultaneously.

The same is true in Spain, where analog television was discontinued in 2010 in favor of the cleaner digital signals. But officials in the country have taken things a step further by requiring all broadcasters to drop their SD feeds and exclusively broadcast in HD.

While digital TV viewers in the United States can tune to both SD and HD signals, different broadcast technology is used in Spain that makes it impossible to view HD signals when a viewer uses an SD-only TV set or decoder box. Those decoder boxes were commonly purchased by households that wanted to continue using their older-model TV sets, and some TVs sold in the mid-2000s only had SD-capable tuners — which means Spanish broadcasters have had to transmit two different feeds for each channel they offer.

In 2019, the Spanish government sought to put an end to the madness by simply requiring all broadcast outlets to drop their digital SD feed in favor of the newer HD signal. It gave households in Spain a grace period of three years to acquire a new or used HD-capable TV set in order to continue receiving broadcast television. The deadline imposed was January 1, 2023, at which point broadcasters were expected to completely shut down their SD feeds.

This week, the Spanish government said it would delay the planned shutoff because of certain economic concerns, including the domestic effect of the two-year coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Delaying the proposed SD feed shutoff date will not only allow residents a greater opportunity to obtain a new or used HD-capable TV set, it will allow broadcasters to spread out their marketing, manpower and equipment budgets needed to ensure they and their viewers are ready for the HD-only world to come.

The government now says TV viewers must be ready to receive HD-only signals by February 14, 2024, and — barring another delay — broadcasters are expected to have everything in place to shut down their SD feeds on that day.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).