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Finland Goes Digital

Helsinki, Finland -- The Finnish government is opening the
gates to digital-terrestrial television. It has received applications from 17 different
companies seeking to win the licenses.

Unlike DTT awards in other countries, Finland is licensing
individual digital-program channels, rather than entire DTT platforms.

Finland's Ministry of Transport and Communications
(MoTC) put licenses for 12 digital channels up for grabs. Some of the licenses limit the
prospective channels to transmissions in individual cities or individual provinces, while
others cover the entire country.

However, state-run broadcaster YLE automatically gets three
digital-channel licenses, narrowing the number of available licenses down to nine.

Although there are no restrictions on foreign ownership,
most of the 17 companies applying for national DTT licenses are Finnish. The overseas
companies include France's Canal Plus S.A. and Eurosport, as well as Sweden's
Modern Times Group.

The dominant player among the Finnish applicants is
Helsinki Media, which counts among its holdings cable-systems company Helsinki TV.

Helsinki Media has applied for a cluster of four channels.
Alma Media -- its local competitor, which owns commercial-TV station MTV3 -- has applied
for three channels.

Also among the contenders are two of the country's
largest telcos: Helsinki Telephone Corp. and Sonera. They are interested in using the
channels for data-transmission services.

"I was surprised to see Eurosport's name, but not
Canal Plus," said Ismo Kosonen, the MoTC's special adviser on media.
"[Both] want to start pay TV services as soon as possible."

Canal Plus' and Eurosport's services are
available in Finland via direct-to-home platforms and cable-systems companies. But the two
companies are anxious to spread their signals even further through DTT.

What remains unclear at this point is whether the license
winners will form coalitions or cooperatives to sell their services in packages. The
government is leaving that -- as well as the question of financing -- up to the winners.

The MoTC is expected to grant the licenses by April. If and
when it does, transmissions could, in theory, start immediately.

The licenses are free, but if a channel's annual
revenue rises above $4 million, the license holder must pay a yet-undetermined fee to the