Mass Layoffs Loom as 7 Channels Quit Digital TV

BANGKOK — Hundreds of jobs are on the line after media regulators announced on Friday that seven digital TV channels are opting out of free-to-view broadcasting.

The TV channels – nearly all of them reliant on news shows – informed regulators of their wish to discontinue operations, which have proven to be too costly. The seven channels are MCOT Family, Spring, Spring News, Voice TV, 3SD, 3 Family and Bright TV.

The channels are expected to switch to paid cable TV.

In a statement, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission said it has reminded all the leaving channels of their obligation to compensate any laid off workers in accordance with labor laws.

Read: Junta Gives Licence Payment Break to Telecom Giants

The seven channels’ decision to walk away from free broadcasting was announced days after the junta enacted a special law allowing digital TV operators to relinquish their licenses without having to pay outstanding fees or additional penalties.

Once seen as a lucrative business, digital TV has turned out to be a financial sinkhole for the companies who won multi-billion baht bids for operating licenses, only to struggle with expensive fees and smaller-than-expected viewership.

One of the first networks to leave the platform was Thai TV, owned by media mogul Pantipa Sakulchai, who said the costs were too much to bear. Thai TV left the new platform in 2015, less than a year after paying about 1.9 billion baht in the license auction.

The NBTC allowed her to leave, but said the channel must still pay back the outstanding fees of 1.75 billion baht.

Any channel is now permitted to quit digital TV without having to pay such installments, under the special junta order issued by the junta head under Article 44 of the 2014 interim constitution.