Television programmes can be received and viewed in Switzerland in five different ways:
- terrestrial television;
- satellite television, which is becoming increasingly popular;
- internet television, through providers using software players to bring programmes to viewers' computers;
- internet protocol television (IPTV); and
- cable television.
Cable can transmit both analogue and digital signals and reaches 90% of Swiss households which own a television. However, most of these households still have only analogue connections.
All television broadcasting from Switzerland, whatever the means, is subject to the Telecommunications Act of April 30 2007, which:
"shall regulate the transmission of information by means of telecommunications techniques, including the transmission of radio and television programme services, provided that the Act on Radio and Television of March 24 2006 does not prescribe otherwise" (Article 2 of the act).
Article 4 of the Telecommunications Act requires a television programme broadcaster to:
- notify the Federal Office of Communication;
- fulfil certain conditions (eg, in terms of technical capacity); and
- comply with the applicable legislation, in particular, the Telecommunications Act and the Act on Radio and Television.
The so-called 'must-carry' rule is established by Articles 59 and following of the Act on Radio and Television. It requires that the broadcaster of television programmes that reaches the most viewers (at least 100 households) in its coverage area must broadcast, as a general rule without the right to collect a fee from the television programme producer or owner, all television programmes of the Swiss public broadcasting association, SRG SSR, under the terms of its licence to operate. Such broadcasters must also air programme services based on a licence with a performance mandate and other Swiss and foreign programmes which make a special contribution to education, cultural development or free opinion forming. The rule applies (depending on the coverage area of the broadcaster) to 29 television channels.(1) As many households in Switzerland have not yet switched from analogue to digital, analogue cable transmission reaches the most viewers in Switzerland.
Hence, even though internet and IPTV broadcasters are also subject to the must-carry rule, cable operators are compelled to broadcast the 29 television channels included in the must-carry rule using analogue signals (and may also transmit them digitally, if they wish). This obligation to transmit so many channels in analogue format fills a significant proportion of the cable line's bandwidth capacity, since one analogue channel requires as much bandwidth as 10 digital channels broadcast in digital format. As a result of this obligation, some cable operators lack the bandwidth to broadcast all of their chosen programming.
This situation could change soon; growing numbers of Swiss households are opting to receive channels digitally so as to be able to subscribe to video-on-demand, personal video recorder and electronic programme guide services (among others). As of June 2011 the main cable operator in Switzerland had 1.5 million viewers (more than 50% of Swiss households owning a television set), one-third of which were connected digitally.(2) At the end of 2010, the main Swiss IPTV broadcaster had 421,000 viewers,(3) while some internet broadcasters had more than 1 million viewers.
As increasing numbers of Swiss consumers make the switch to digital, cable operators could soon be released from their obligation to broadcast all of the must-carry channels in analogue format, thereby freeing up bandwidth to enable them to broadcast more programming of their choice using digital channels.
For further information on this topic please contact Frédéric Serra at Froriep Renggli by telephone (+41 22 839 63 00), fax (+41 22 347 71 59) or email ([email protected]).
(1) The 29 channels are DRS 1; DRS 2; TSR 1; TSR 2; TSI 1; TSI 2; SchweizerSportfernsehen; Joiz; ARTE; 3Sat; TV5; ARD; ORF 1; France 2; Rai Uno; Euronews; Canal 9; Canal Alpha; la télé; Léman bleu; Tele 1; Tele M1; Tele Ostschweiz; Tele Top; TeleBärn; TeleBasel; TeleBielingue; TeleSüdostschweiz; and TeleTicino. A recourse is pending before the court to contest the grant of 'must-carry' status to Joiz.
(2) Cablecom data can be accessed at www.upc-cablecom.ch/en/b2c/about/company/figures.htm.
(3) Based on Swisscom's 2010 "Facts & Figures" report, which can be accessed at http://2010.swisscom-report.ch/en/home.