Background

Until recently, television and radio were broadcast by analog signals. By 2015, most countries will have switched their broadcasting to digital signals. From Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, citizens everywhere are entering the fully digital broadcast world.

This transition—“the digital switchover”—will affect whether societies become more open or closed.

One of the major benefits of moving television and radio from analog signals to digital signals is that digital takes up less of the “spectrum,” meaning airwaves. Up to eight digital channels can be broadcast, in higher quality, in the same amount of spectrum that was needed for just one analog channel.

In theory, this creates room for more TV and radio channels—the so-called “digital dividend.” The freed-up spectrum can also be put to other uses, such as mobile telephony and mobile broadband. Governments can sell off this spare spectrum—which, as recent 3G and 4G auctions show, can yield massive income.

Along with opportunities for more and better services, digitization can also have negative effects. Less-commercial producers may be forced to close, smaller languages may disappear from mainstream broadcasting, news and current affairs programming may be cut back, and powerful media businesses can become even more powerful—all with severe consequences for journalism, media pluralism, and democracy.

The Mapping Digital Media project examines the progress of digitization and its impact on the values and principles that underpin the Open Society Foundations’ work in media and communications. Active in more than 50 countries worldwide, involving several hundred researchers and activists, Mapping Digital Media is the most extensive investigation of today’s media landscapes undertaken by any nongovernmental organization.

The project includes analysis, and research from around the world on how digitization is changing media output, media freedom, and citizens’ access to quality news and information. Mapping Digital Media works with advocates who seek to protect the public interest in media policy, maximize the opportunities created by digitization, and respond to its challenges.