The television landscape in Thailand has changed dramatically in the past six years. The launch of digital terrestrial television (DTT) and the rapid growth of online media have led to the growing fragmentation of the industry, while simultaneously an economic downturn resulted in declining advertising sales, and suppressed consumer demand and purchasing power.
Terrestrial television is Thailand's most widely used television platform. At the end of 2018, the percentage of the television audience who watched terrestrial television was 88.6 per cent, while the percentage of the audience who watched cable and satellite (including IPTV) was 11.4 per cent.
Television audience share by platform, 2018 (percentage of viewers)
Before the digital switch-over (DSO) in April 2014, Thailand had six free-to-air analogue terrestrial television stations with nationwide coverage (Ch3, Ch5, Ch7, Ch9, NBT and Thai PBS), and just over 1000 cable and satellite channels. The introduction of DTT gave users an additional means to watch 27 free-to-air channels (24 commercial channels and three public service channels) and paved the way for more intense competition in the already crowded market.
However, DTT has faced some major hurdles since its launch. Multiple DTT operators have suffered losses due to a combination of the high costs of winning the digital licences and multiplex expenses, limited take up of DTT boxes, the slowing economy forcing advertisers to reduce spending and declining audiences as a result of technology disruption. These factors resulted in two digital television channels - Thai TV and Loca – to close, while many cable and satellite channels have also folded. With the industry’s revenues disappointingly below expectations, the Association of Digital Television Broadcasting has urged the government to reform the industry and provide timely financial relief.
At the end of 2018, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the independent state regulatory body, announced measures to assist the industry. These included waiving unpaid licensing fees, reducing multiplex expenses, switching the television frequency to the telecommunication frequency and using proceeds from telecommunication wave auctions to subsidise the DTT operators.
In September 2016, viewership of new DTT channels overtook the viewership of the six traditional television channels for the first time. By mid-2018, viewership of new DTT channels reached 57 per cent of total terrestrial viewers, while the viewership of traditional television channels was 43 percent.
Terrestrial audience share by channel group, June 2018 (percentage of viewers)
Traditional Channels: Ch3, Ch5, Ch7, Ch9, NBT and Thai PBS
At the end of 2018, there were 25.9 million television households in Thailand, representing a television household penetration of 98.8 per cent, with DTT reaching 95 percent of the population. The analogue switch off, which started at the end of 2015, has seen all but one of the traditional channels switch off their old analogue signals. Channel 3 remains the only broadcaster that continues to simulcast on both analogue and digital systems and is expected to complete the analogue switch off in 2020.
The Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is responsible for the broadcasting and telecoms sectors. The NBTC forms policies and regulating legislature to maintain the efficiency and availability of communications for the nation.
The NBTC requires specific sporting events to be broadcast on free-to-air television channels. The protected sporting events are:
• Southeast Asian Games
• Asian Games
• Asian Para Games
• Olympic Games
• Paralympic Games
• Fifa World Cup Final
The top five rating terrestrial channels in December 2018 were Channel 7 (7HD), Channel 3 (3HD), Mono 29, Workpoint TV and One, respectively.
Top 10 television ratings, December 2018
Channel 7HD, owned by Bangkok Broadcasting and Television (BBTV), is consistently Thailand’s number one channel. In December 2018, 7HD was the most popular channel in Thailand with a rating of 1.876.
In 2016, BBTV agreed terms with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and secured exclusive terrestrial rights to broadcast AFC’s portfolio of events in Thailand from 2017 through to 2020. The four-year deal grants BBTV the broadcasting rights across 12 of AFC’s top football competitions, including the Fifa World Cup 2018 Asian Qualifiers, the AFC Asian Cup 2019 and the AFC Champions League.
Additionally, BBTV held the terrestrial rights to broadcast the 2018 AFF Championship (aka AFF Suzuki Cup), a biennial football competition organised by the ASEAN Football Federation and contested by the national teams of Southeast Asia.
BEC World, the owner of DTT channels 3HD, 3SD and 3 Family, acquired exclusive rights in the country to broadcast FIVB indoor volleyball competitions. The four year deal, which runs from 2017 to 2020, includes the men's and women's Nations League and the men's and women's Club World Championship.
3HD was the second most popular channel in December 2018 with a rating of 1.108.
Since its launch, PPTV, owned by Bangkok Media and Broadcasting, has been successful in broadcasting sport programmes for more than three years. However, in 2018, PPTV expanded from premium sport offerings to content across a variety of genres, including entertainment, documentaries, movies, lifestyle and sport programmes. PPTV currently has sports rights to show live soccer matches from the Premier League, LaLiga, Bundesliga and Serie A, as well as motor cycling’s MotoGP World Championship.
Workpoint TV, owned by Workpoint Entertainment, was the fourth most popular channel in December 2018 with a rating of 0.793. Over the years, the channel has expanded its viewer base by securing sports content. This has included acquiring the rights in Thailand to broadcast the 2018 edition of the Asian Games and the 2018 winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang.
Thairath TV, owned by Triple V Broadcasting, currently holds the broadcasting rights to the ONE Championship, the Singapore-based mixed martial arts organisation. Thairath TV also has the rights to Asian Volleyball Confederation tournaments for four years from 2016 to 2019.
The free-to-air broadcast rights for the 2018 Fifa World Cup were acquired by TrueVisions (True4U), Amarin Television (Amarin TV HD) and the Royal Thai Army Radio and Television (Channel 5). Nine local companies helped fund the broadcast rights, which cost an estimated ฿1.4 billion ($44 million).
Muay Thai, also known as Thai boxing, is the national sport of Thailand. Since the turn of the century, the muay Thai boxing business has become highly competitive, with more and more tournaments being staged. As a result, numerous DTT channels are broadcasting muay Thai programmes such as 3HD (Fighting Muay Thai Masters), Channel 5 (Battle at the Lumpini Stadium), 7HD (Muay Thai 7), Channel 8 (The Champion, Max Muay Thai), 9 MCOT HD (Knight of Muay Thai) and PPTV (Radjadamnern Super Fight).