Digital TV in Africa:“I think middle-class can afford decoders,but how about poorer ones?”
Picture yourself arriving home after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.After sinking into your couch, you switch on your television only to find static. Shaking the set’s rabbit ears vigorously, you call it a night and head straight to bed.The technology for high-definition pictures and better sound arrived with digital television half a decade ago.The technology has freed up the African airwaves, creating opportunities for more stations as well as huge amount of bandwidth for telecommunication operators. Those who don’t know, a single analog television frequency can serve up to 12 digital channels. With the rise of personalized entertainment, digital television has allowed a blossoming of diverse, content-specific stations, a trend that is only found on pay Television. More free channels might also mean an end to the previous dilemma African television viewers had of choosing between news programs or soap operas, at night. Sounds great, doesn’t it? The fact is Africa’s migration to digital hasn’t and will not be easy. The migration to digital will see some challenges and resistance, despite its urgency. The digital switchover is not an option anymore as the deadline for International Telecommunication Union is just five months away. It’s inevitable. If broadcasters in Africa fail to go with the flow, they will have to pay dearly for the rising costs of old analog tools, as their production will gradually decline.The International Telecommunication Union established in 2006 a path for nations to follow in their transition to digital television.
The ITU mandated that by June 17, 2015, nations must migrate from analog to digital broadcasting. Currently, 85 percent of all nations across the world have gone digital, with more than 40 countries completely ending their analog broadcasts.Most African countries only begun their migration last year and others plans to end analog broadcasts in 2019, four years after the ITC’s deadline.Perhaps its healthy to not only ask the TV industry about their preparedness to welcome digital TV. Its better to ask the audience whether they are ready to face the end of analog. The challenge most broadcasters are facing is the inadequate human resources, because some are running both analog and digital systems during the ongoing transition period.However, the biggest challenge broadcasters are facing is creative content as they will have to keep up with the trend of segmented TV programs. National television channels would have to continue broadcasting general interest content while at the same time developing “segmented” stations with more diverse content and renting unused bandwidth to local(regional) television stations and communities. In one of the Southern African country’s Television company, from 2013 until 2015, it has been a migration period, called the simulcast period, where analog and digital programming is being transmitted together.
The experience of other countries like Finland and Australia has showed that the biggest challenge in the digital switchover is the distribution of decoders that convert digital signals for analog televisions. Africa currently has 100 million households with televisions. Unless you have a digital television, you will need a set-top box to enjoy digital broadcasts with your existing set after the switchover in June. African countries have been preparing regulations where government provide set-top boxes to low-income people with some of the most successful cases being Uganda and Tanzania. Television companies in Kenya, notably Standard Media Group, Nation Media Group, Royal Media Group have formed a joint consortium called African Digital Network where they plan to broadcast their content through their own recorders by providing 1 million decoders to support the transition under starting from this month according to a contact familiar with the matter. Meanwhile, there has been no serious campaign to widely promote the conversion in most countries according to a survey conducted in December last year. “I never heard of the migration Contador Harrison – maybe because I barely read newspapers nowadays or watch local television. Why should we migrate?” said Patrick Kalanga, who works in Lusaka, Zambia and is a close friend. Africa could learn from other nations to promote their digital conversion. Your blogger thinks a public campaign is really the key as well as affordable set-top boxes. African governments should choose between requiring fancy but expensive set-top boxes or prioritizing the wide use of the device by requiring the affordable ones.Major television stations are currently preparing to launch digital transmitters in their respective countries with hope to cover 50 percent of their service area.