Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)

Botswana: SABC to Chop Philibao From Its Channels

Durban — Thousands of Batswana who have been enjoying SABC channels through Chinese decoders popularly known as Philabao, are in for a rude awakening because the South African broadcaster plans to ban the illegal viewing of its channels.

The SABC will do this by simply switching to digital in preparation for the FIFA 2010 World Cup. Digital migration will allow the SABC to constantly change its frequency, which will make it difficult for the Chinese decoders to tune in to the stations."It's a matter we are currently addressing because what is happening is piracy," SABC group content enterprises executive Mvuzo Mbebe said in an interview at the Tourism Indaba recently.

The philabao decoders, which some Batswana use, became popular after SABC cut its channels from the MultiChoice (Dstv) line for the rest of Africa (except South Africa) a few years ago.Even though Mbebe would not give the exact date when they would tighten the screw, he said the move was irrevocable.

In South Africa, one has to pay a monthly television licence fee to access SABC channels; how is it that in Botswana a once-off purchase of the Philabao decoder gives you unlimited viewing of the SABC channels including free-to-air etv?SABC plans to spend about R1 billion to upgrade South Africa's analogue transmission network, bidding farewell to its ageing infrastructure that dates back to the 1970s.

With digital SABC aims to have a capacity of about 12 channels. The extra four channels will be dedicated to soccer and live broadcasts of the games.

Mbebe however said SABC, in collaboration with the International Broadcasting Centre (IBC), are in talks with regional broadcasters like Botswana Television (Btv) on how they can access rights to broadcast the 2009 Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup matches.

Even in South Africa, the digital television switch will disadvantage those who use analogue because they will not afford to adapt their TV sets unless government is prepared to help facilitate the transition.

South Africa's broadcasting signal distribution network operator Sentech, announced last year that it aims to beam digital terrestrial television (DTT) into 78 percent of homes by next year.But unless viewers buy very expensive digital TV sets, every home will require a decoder.The South African government is expected to subsidise the new technology to reduce the cost of the decoder.

Botswana also recently launched a Digital Migration Task Force that will look at the process of the country also switching from analogue to digital transmission.

Failure for Botswana to do so by the stipulated time could result in the country failing to benefit from some of the digital services that are on offer around the globe.

Digital television is an advanced broadcasting technology that transmits TV pictures and sounds as computerised bits of information.

The main advantage of digital television is that it requires much less space in the airwaves than the current analogue television channels. Digital television will enable broadcasters to offer better picture and sound quality with interactive capabilities similar to ones currently realised on the satellite television broadcasting networks.

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