The range of mobile devices and video applications used by consumers is constantly growing, but traditional linear TV still maintains a strong position in terms of total media consumption. That being said, broadband is strengthening its position as a platform for video content distribution every year.
Finnish people have traditionally been avid radio listeners. As a result, there is a large number of radio stations in Finland, ranging from national to subnational, regional and local stations. Analogue radio is still going strong in Finland, though it is clear that over the long term radio broadcasting will start to shift increasingly to broadband as a result of changes in media consumption habits.
Television content distribution methods are evolving
There are approximately 2.5 million TV households in Finland. Just under half of these receive TV broadcasts via the terrestrial TV network operating in the UHF frequency band, while the rest consist primarily of cable TV households. In addition, approximately 600,000 holiday homes receive TV broadcasts primarily via the terrestrial TV network. While internet protocol television (IPTV) grew rapidly at first, this growth has stabilised in recent years, with IPTV currently being used by just under 600,000 households. An IPTV subscription means TV services provided to households via telecommunications operators’ broadband subscriptions. An IPTV subscription provides access to the same real-time television broadcasts as the cable or terrestrial TV network. IPTV is often a supplementary service that is purchased in connection with a broadband subscription and used alongside other reception methods.
The number of frequencies available to terrestrial TV networks in Finland decreased significantly in the 2010s when frequency capacity that had previously been used for TV broadcasts was reassigned for mobile broadband use. At present, terrestrial TV channels are transmitted in the UHF frequency band using six multiplexes, the population coverage of which varies from 90 to 99.96%. The channels of Finland’s public service broadcaster Yle are broadcast in both SD (standard definition) and HD (high definition) in multiplexes that have a population coverage of 99.96%. In total, the six multiplexes include approximately 20 free TV channels and approximately 30 paid TV channels.
The transition to new broadcasting technology for terrestrial TV networks has been delayed in Finland, but the aim is for all Finnish TV channels to migrate fully to the DVB-T2 (Digital Video Broadcasting - Terrestrial 2) broadcasting technology in the next few years. DVB-T2 makes it possible to broadcast HD programming over the terrestrial TV network as well by facilitating more efficient utilisation of frequencies through additional multiplex-specific capacity coupled with more efficient image compression technology.
The higher the image quality of the broadcast, the higher the capacity required for the broadcast. Since the capacity available for the multiplexes is limited, increasing image quality requires using more efficient compression technologies. Standard-quality SD broadcasts over DVB-T networks use MPEG-2 compression. HD broadcasts, on the other hand, require the use of at least MPEG-4 compression to keep the broadcast capacity at a reasonable level. Even higher-quality UHD (ultra high definition) broadcasts over terrestrial TV networks require the use of HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) compression.
Television distribution and video compression technologies are constantly evolving, allowing broadcasters to make more efficient use of the smaller frequency capacity. While some of the capacity freed up as a result is utilised to increase image quality, i.e. the transition to HD, it can also be used to assign frequencies for other uses, such as growing mobile broadband services.
Future generations will have different television viewing habits
Finnish people still watch a lot of traditional linear TV, averaging almost three hours of viewing per day. While various streaming and on-demand video services have made it possible to watch TV programmes and similar video content anywhere and at any time, Finnish people still watch almost as much TV as they did ten years ago. That being said, different age groups have very different viewing habits, and it is very likely that future generations will watch less traditional TV overall.
It is likely that the popularity of IP and OTT (Over the Top, meaning TV services offered directly over the internet) services will eventually increase to the point of reducing traditional TV viewing. As traditional viewing decreases, the number of programmes broadcast will most likely also decrease, freeing up bandwidth for other uses. Finland has participated actively in discussions about the future use of the UHF frequency band in several World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC) and strived to promote the reallocation of the lower UFH frequency band (470–694 MHz), which is currently used for TV broadcasting, for mobile systems in Europe. However, the need for mobile frequencies in this frequency band has not been recognised by some major South European countries, in particular, which also have very different frequency policies than Finland in general.
Finnish terrestrial TV network operators have expressed interest in 5G broadcast technology, which could be used to broadcast linear TV content to mobile devices alongside fixed antenna-based reception. While some small-scale 5G broadcast technology demonstrations have been carried out in several European countries, there are some challenges related to its business model. It is uncertain whether 5G broadcast technology would be able to achieve sufficient consumer demand among consumers who are already used to having access to comprehensive streaming services over mobile networks.
Although TV viewing is becoming increasingly fragmented, large televised events, such as the Ice Hockey World Championships and the annual Independence Day Reception, still draw millions of Finns in front of TV screens at the same time. These kinds of viewing spikes would most likely cause at least some local capacity issues if they were broadcast over mobile networks. These issues would impact HD broadcasts in particular, as mobile networks are not built to handle the kinds of loads that they would cause. As the number of simultaneous users increases, the data speeds of individual users decrease, thus decreasing the image quality of the broadcast.
It is likely that the viewing of TV programmes and other video content will only grow more fragmented in the near future. In terms of content distribution, we may see a transition to a combined approach where public service channels and other programmes intended for large audiences continue to be broadcast via the terrestrial and cable TV networks while other content is distributed via mobile or fixed broadband networks.
Satellite TV has not gained popularity in Finland
Globally, the satellite communications industry generates most of its revenue from satellite TV services, which form the income base of communications satellite operators. Satellites can be used to transmit hundreds of linear TV broadcasts, the majority of which consist of paid TV packages. However, their demand has decreased with the proliferation of IPTV and streaming services. In Finland, only a few per cent of TV households receive TV broadcasts via satellite. One of the reasons for this is that Finland’s location in the northern hemisphere is not geographically ideal for receiving satellite TV broadcasts, as geostationary satellites are located above the equator. Because of this, in Finland satellite TV services are used primarily to complement terrestrial or cable TV services.
Traditionally, cable TV broadcasts were also transmitted to the cable network’s headend via satellite, but the current trend is to replace the satellite link with an IP-based link, which in practice means an optical fibre connection. That being said, many live broadcasts are still relayed via satellites, even if they are ultimately distributed to viewers via cable or terrestrial TV networks. In sports competitions, for example, it is not unusual to see satellite links mounted on vehicles, which transmit the broadcast from the venue to news agencies’ other facilities for wider distribution.
Finns are avid listeners of traditional FM radio
Finnish people most commonly listen to the radio via the analogue terrestrial radio network. The audio broadcasting system commonly used in Europe is called either FM or ULA radio. The FM or ULA network has been used to broadcast radio programming for over 60 years now.
Since FM technology has been used for several decades, traditional radio receivers are very common in Finnish households and cars. The analogue FM broadcasting band in Europe is 87.5–108 megahertz (MHz). In addition to this, several frequencies in the under 30 MHz frequency band have been designated for AM broadcasting. There is currently one licenced low-power AM frequency in operation in Finland (Tampere 729 kHz). In addition to this, AM frequencies are used for short-term radio broadcasting.
The radio has an established role in the everyday lives of Finns. According to surveys conducted in 2022, the radio is listened to daily by 3.2 million Finns, or two thirds of Finns over the age of nine. The most popular place for listening to the radio is at home, which accounts for 54% of the total time spent listening. The most popular time for listening is weekday mornings at 9:30, which is when the radio reaches over 1.1 million Finns. In addition to traditional radio devices, the radio is also increasingly listened to via audio services on various other devices. (Source: Finnpanel, National Radio Survey 2022.)
Radio broadcasting is subject to a licence in Finland. All radio transmitters require a radio broadcasting licence, in addition to which radio broadcasting lasting over three months requires a programming licence. Both of these licences are issued by Traficom. In the event of a frequency shortage, programming licences are issued by the Government. Finland’s public service broadcaster Yleisradio Oy (Yle) is allowed to carry out radio broadcasting without a programming licence.
The range of available radio stations in Finland is very broad. The programming licence period for analogue radio broadcasting changed at the start of 2020, at which point the majority of currently valid programming licences entered into effect. There are currently seven national networks, 15 subnational networks and approximately 60 regional and local networks used for commercial radio broadcasting in Finland. Of these, five national, one subnational and two regional and local radio networks are reserved for Yle for carrying out public service tasks. The radio sets of Finnish consumers can pick up an average of 10–30 different stations depending on the location.
There are over a thousand FM frequencies in long-term use in Finland. During the last ten years, the number of FM transmitters being used for commercial radio broadcasting has increased by almost 35%. Finland makes very extensive use of FM frequencies compared to the other Nordic countries, for example. FM radio frequencies are also frequently used for various types of short-term radio broadcasting, such as transmitting commentary at sporting events or horse races. The short-term use of FM frequencies has been increasing significantly year after year, as a result of which the availability of a usable frequency cannot always be guaranteed in the Helsinki region, for example.
The AM band has room for expansion, but no significant changes in the need for or use of frequencies in this band are foreseen.
With FM radio going so strong, digital radio is yet to break through in Finland. Finnish people have access to an average of six FM receivers per person, which contributes to maintaining the strong demand for FM broadcasting. Building a separate digital audio network would require considerable investments, in addition to which consumers would have to purchase new receivers. Because of this, there is currently little interest in the sector for building new, separate digital networks solely for the distribution of audio content.
More and more Finns are also listening to the radio via online applications on their smartphones. For example, the Radioplayer service (Radiot.fi) currently provides access to over 40 radio stations. Yle’s radio stations and the national radio stations of commercial operators’ FM broadcasting networks are all available as an OTT service. As such, it is likely that in the future, digital radio in Finland will take the form of an OTT service delivered via fixed and mobile broadband networks instead of a separate DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) or other similar digital radio network.