Television in Sweden:
Making the transition to digital transmission
by Tsemaye Opubor Hambraeus, freelance journalist
Sweden is one of the first countries in Europe to start phasing out analog terrestrial television transmissions in favor of digital broadcasting. Viewers are promised better picture and sound quality, but more importantly there are five basic channels instead of three.
In 2005, Martin Stenmarck presented the Swedish entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, which drew the largest audience in Sweden of any television program in the past few years. Photo: Carl-Johan Söder / SVT
In 2005, Martin Stenmarck represented Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest, which drew the largest audience in Sweden of any television program in the past few years. Photo: Carl-Johan Söder / SVT

A government decision to end all analog terrestrial transmissions in favor of a digital terrestrial transmission network means that by 2008 analog airwaves will forever fade to black.

The switchover has already started on the island of Gotland, off the southeast coast of Sweden, and affects viewers who have televisions through which they can only receive the three analog channels SVT1, SVT2 and TV4.

For viewers to be able to access television services after the switchover, their televisions will need to be converted either through the purchase of a set-top box, at a cost of about SEK 1,000 (about USD 120), or through connection to a cable or satellite digital service.

New services such as electronic program guides and expanded text TV functionality are also being offered with digital terrestrial transmissions. The five digital channels from the Swedish national public service broadcaster, Sveriges Television (SVT), will be available to all households free of charge.

Sveriges Television, the public service broadcaster

Until deregulation in 1987, SVT was the sole provider of television programming in Sweden.

Public service broadcasting is non-commercial television that primarily broadcasts cultural and educational programming. At SVT, programming covers the entire range of genres in order to address the needs of a varied viewing public. Advertising is not allowed on SVT.

SVT1 and SVT 2 are the two main channels available from the national broadcaster. These channels are available across Sweden on the analog terrestrial network that viewers access directly through their television sets.

For those viewers who already subscribe to digital television services, SVT has started additional broadcasting of five digital channels: SVT1 and SVT2 (identical to the analog versions); SVT24, a 24-hour news channel; a children’s channel; and an educational channel.

SVT channels are financed by a licensing fee, which is mandatory for all who possess a television set in the country. The fee, which also finances public service radio (Sveriges Radio) and the Swedish educational broadcasting company, is about SEK 2,000 a year.


To access television services after the switchover, viewers have to purchase a set-top box or connect by cable or satellite. Photo: Maskot
To access television services after the switchover, viewers have to purchase a set-top box or connect by cable or satellite. Photo: Maskot

Commercial channels diversify television landscape

The Swedish television landscape has diversified since deregulation and has grown to include a significant number of commercial channels, such as TV4, TV3, and Kanal 5, which are available to viewers via satellite and cable.

All channels that broadcast from Sweden are prohibited by law from airing any commercials that promote the use of tobacco and alcohol.

TV4 is the only commercial channel that is available via the same analog terrestrial transmission network as SVT1 and SVT2, and therefore has the largest audience reach of all the commercial channels. TV4 has a wide mix of shows in all genres, from news and lifestyle to sport and children’s programming. It also features a number of in-house productions, as well as programs from the United States, which are subtitled for Swedish audiences.

TV4 has certain public service obligations regarding programming as well as restrictions regarding content. It cannot broadcast commercials or sponsored programs directly targeted at children.

TV3 started broadcasting in 1987 from England and has special satellite links to Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. The channel features popular American television series such as Sex and the City and ER, and promotes its channel to viewers as “the entertainment channel” with special sporting events and recent feature films regularly televised.

Kanal 5 has a number of Swedish lifestyle programs and reality shows, American sitcom series, international feature films and sporting events.

There are also numerous channels for viewers prepared to pay: film channels, sports channels, news and music channels as well as programs in foreign languages or from other regions of the world. They are especially popular with immigrant communities in Sweden.

In Sweden the most popular channels are SVT1, SVT2 and TV4, respectively. For the past five years, the most popular television program in Sweden has been Melodifestivalen, the Swedish qualifiers for the Eurovision Song Contest.


Related links

Information about the digital switchover (pdf-file)
Related links on Sweden.se - Mass Media

Related publications

From analogue to digital TV - the first stage - Fact sheet
Telecommunications and information technology in Sweden - Fact sheet
The press in Sweden - Article

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Tsemaye Opubor Hambraeus has an MA in international journalism. A freelance print and broadcast journalist based in Sweden, she has covered a range of community and environmental topics for BBC Television, IPS News Agency and diverse publications.

The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.

© Photo:
Photo 1: © Carl-Johan Söder / SVT
Photo 2: © Maskot

Classification: A112ENa

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