Dawn of digital TV in East Africa set to indulge viewers

September 5, 2013

Digital broadcasting is the technology that delivers vivid, theater-like pictures to Television screens. Importantly, the signals allow much larger amounts of information to be relayed and there is viewer participation from surveys to contest balloting and informative programs. Now that Uganda and Kenya are joining the bandwagon this month, its time for East Africans to say hello to digital television broadcasting, and bid farewell to the aging analog system. The governments in East Africa well mooted plan to gradually migrate TV broadcasting systems from analog to digital means consumers will have to purchase digital TV sets or converters to be able to watch their favorite shows. This has ushered the biggest revolution in East African TV broadcasting market since the region conversion from black and white TV sets to color sets two and half decades ago. The ambitious plan kicked off with trial projects in cities of Dar Es Salaam, Kampala and Nairobi, before respective governments finally pulls the plug on the analog system by 2015 at the latest as per the International Telecommunication Union deadline.

Research conducted early this year in five East African countries concluded digital broadcasting would bring many benefits that include higher efficiency, a wider frequency range and high quality sound and images. Also the use of data compression, digital waveforms take up less bandwidth than analog ones. This will create a wider frequency range in the region, allowing broadcasters to provide more programs for viewers. For example, an 8-MHz digital channel could be used for six programs. With more space available, the government will demand TV stations allocate a certain percentage of their airtime for educational programs during commercial hours. In terms of efficiency, the system will allow broadcasters to share infrastructure, such as transmission towers, which contributed heavily to their operational spending. This, he added, would cut maintenance costs, energy and land usage. More important, audiences in a certain area will receive the same quality of broadcast services. The country’s production of consumer electronics has been booming in the last three years. This is supported by continued entry by foreign companies, who are interested to expand their market share in the region of 135 million people.

Two big South Korea-based electronic companies, LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics and Japanese giant electronic company Sony are optimistic about the growth of East Africa’s market, pledging more investment in the coming years. Samsung, which wants to be the number one electronics company in East Africa is also expected to put an additional investments every year in coming years. Currently, Samsung controls more than 15% percent of the market share for TVs in East Africa according to a research conducted recently and it is said to be targeting a market share of 25 percent next year in the five countries by 2015. The three firms namely Sony, Samsung and LG have underlined the increase in the sales of digital TVs this year, saying the trend is promising and could bring East Africa faster into the digital era. Industry estimated for East Africa indicates that sales of digital products will still contribute about 2-5% percent to this year’s region total growth in GDP. No one can dispute that digital products are the future of electronics and just like other parts of the world means East Africans will have to follow the trend.

The region’s digital TV market growth is estimated to grow by 40 percent per year for the next three years. LG, Samsung and region’s market leader Sony have admitted that their move to introduce digital electronic products to East Africa was boosted by region’s governments decision to cut taxes on digital Television sets. With sales of digital TVs steadily increasing, the ground in East Africa has been increasingly fertile for local TV stations to go digital. In my research, I can confirm that most Television stations across East Africa are ready for digital broadcasting, but they have far put the plans on hold due to the small number of digital TVs in the market. Most of them have the equipment for digital broadcasting, but they will have to wait for the demand from East African audience to go digital. In my opinion, there is enough optimism to say demand will follow the latest trends, in which people will soon move away from their old Television sets to digital ones.

Contador Harrison