The broadcasting field of Armenia is regulated by the following laws: The Law on Television and Radio, the Law on Mass Communication, the Law on Freedom of Information, the Law on Copyright and Related Rights and the Law on Advertising. In accordance with the Law on Television and Radio of year 2000, the Հեռուստատեսության և ռադիոյի ազգային հանձնաժողով (National Commission on Television and Radio) was established. It regulates the activity of private broadcasters and the licencing process. The Commission’s activity is frequently criticised. In particular, the processes of channel licencing and appointing the commission members are not very clear. Half of the existing eight members were appointed by the country’s then-president, and the other half were elected by the Parliament. It is the Commission that was charged with monitoring the republic’s transition to the digital broadcasting system.
After the Regional Radiocommunication Conference held in Geneva in 2006, Armenia agreed to stop analog broadcasting from 1 January, 2015 and switch over to broadcasting in the DVB-T2 standard. The very process began dynamically in 2009. Based on the amendments in the Law on Television and Radio, the deadline was extended several times. The government justified the need for these amendments on the grounds that there were ‘serious technical, material and financial difficulties’ which appeared during the transition: The poor did not receive enough decoders, and the information campaign in society was not conducted properly. More than 50,000 receiving devices were provided to the population. On average, the price on the market ranged from US$10 to US$50. According to official information, the republic has completely switched to a digital signal since December 2016. But in fact this is not true and analog broadcasting has not been terminated yet in the regions.
Before the transition to digital broadcasting, Armenia had 42 operating licenced private TV channels: 16 in the capital and 26 in the regions. As a result of the transition to digital broadcasting, a state multiplex was formed, which incorporated 18 metropolitan channels and 9 regional channels, one from each region.
According to the annual report of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2017 the number of households using television in Armenia was 798,000, that is 96 percent of the population, meaning everyone who has a TV set uses this free service.
In addition to the state multiplex, there was also a plan to create a private or commercial one. However, the competition has not been held for the second year due to the lack of applications. According to the heads of regional channels, impractical conditions are purposely prescribed in the law to prevent attempts to get into a private multiplex, among them the high cost and a mandatory full coverage. Thus, the transition to digital broadcasting by large national broadcasters was fairly smooth and without much loss. Almost everyone who sought to get into the multiplex entered it. This can be explained by the fact that these channels are controlled either by political parties or representatives of big business. Television channels broadcast in the republic in three ways: via terrestrial broadcasting (channels in the multiplex), via Internet broadcasting, and via cable broadcasting. The ratings of the leading channels of the republic according to data for July 2019 were as follows: 1. Արմենիա TV (Armenia TV); 2. Շանթ (Shant TV); 3. ATV; 4. Հայաստանի Հանրային հեռուստաընկերություն (Public Television of Armenia); 5. Կենտրոն (Kentron TV).
Practically all Internet providers in Armenia offer users cable TV services in the general package. This is one of the actively developing segments of the television market. It is difficult to determine the exact number of cable television users in view of the absence of statistical data from providers. The cost of the package Internet + major international and Armenian channels is about US$15.
Regional television companies suffered the most from the transition to digital broadcasting. Geographically, Armenia is divided into eleven regions. Three to four local TV channels were formed in each region after independence, and, as a rule, they had high ratings. The main income came from local advertising, as well as from the materials they shot for the news releases on the capital’s channels. After transition to digital broadcasting, one channel remained in each region, while the rest were offered to merge. This could be realised only in Gegharkunik region. The National Commission has not turned off analog broadcasting yet, but this amounts to a slow death. In order to write this report, in-depth interviews were conducted with all the heads of regional channels. Practically all of them have the same problems: loss of audience, advertising revenue and staff reduction. From different regions, 14 channels not involved in the multiplex merged together and asked to allow temporary broadcasting in digital format several times, but this didn’t take effect, and the complaints went unanswered.
All regional and metropolitan channels broadcast in multiplex in Armenian. Several Russian TV channels broadcast in Russian are also relayed in Armenia, among them RTR Planeta, Russia K, Channel one Russia, Mir, and the American television channel CNN. In addition, television signals of Turkish, Iranian and Azerbaijani channels reach the Armenian territories bordering with Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan. At the same time, foreign films and foreign TV series are still shown in Russian, especially on regional TV channels; more recently, the Public Television of Armenia has started dubbing films into Armenian.
All the above-mentioned problems related to the television sphere are caused by the failure of the Law on Television and Radio. The law has long been outdated and requires changes in many articles.
The process of licensing channels is excessively regulated. The field of radio and the activities of radio stations in the regions of Armenia require special attention, as most of the regions are deprived of local radio stations today and there is a need for state support for television channels that create socially useful content. The problem of the second commercial multiplex, which is open for everyone, must also be settled. Now, the draft of the new law is under discussion; hearings on its approval may be held at the National Assembly in the spring-summer of 2020.