Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

11 January 2014

East Africa: Digital East Africa May Take a Long Time to Achieve

THE process of digital migration in East Africa seems to be running into heavy headwinds before it has hit high seas for Kenya while in Uganda a state of permanent disarray is in place.

In Tanzania, where phase one of the process in Dar es Salaam has already taken place, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) would have us believe all is well. But is it?

What is ailing the process of Digital migration in East Africa, whereas all the stakeholders seem to be in agreement, that digital TV is the future for all, the viewers and the parties involved?

It seems the trouble is that interested parties are all speaking from a position of vested interest, not that of the desired outcomes. To understand why this process we have to give a little background. To pick a digital broadcast signal, one needs to have a digital TV.

Digital TV is any TV that has a digital tuner. However, if one still has an analogue TV, one needs to get a digital receiver in form of a set-top box (also referred to as a decoder). Against that background, it would suffice to look at two of the 5 East African markets, i.e Tanzania and Kenya.

Tanzania is the largest physically and naturally most challenging when it comes to signal distribution. However, it is also the relatively more urbanized as a consequence of policy shift which brought people together in areas where services could be delivered easily and more effectively.

Kenya on the other hand has pioneered a more developed broadcast media industry given that it started TV broadcasts back in the 1960s something that only started in the 1980s in Tanzania (1960s for Zanzibar). There are 4 stakeholders in this seemingly simple but now complex matter of digital migration.

Foremost, Governments who, as signatories of the international instruments, must comply to migrate fully as per ITU cu-off date agreement of 2015. The second party to this matter, is the public in their millions whose interest should be covered by the Government whether through statutory bodies like TCRA or CCK or otherwise.

The third party, are the broadcasters who in the now numbered analogue days, invested heavily to deliver their signals around the countries. Finally, the businessmen who are hovering to sell the decoders that convert analogue signals to digital pictures.

The question that comes to mind is, if these parties are all in agreement that Digital TV is the future, what is all the fuss about? The consumers are mad at the regulators that they are unable to enjoy their right to information when regulators arbitrarily switch from analogue to digital broadcasting.

To its credit the regulator in Tanzania has managed to get multi-plex operators in place . These are the signal distributors to whom the signal shall be sent and who shall be responsible for delivering that signal to the TV viewers.

The signal distributors licensed and active so far include Star Times, Continental, Agape and Digitek. Long term pay TV operator DSTV , Easy TV and new entrant Azam TV are available on the pay TV platform with the option that one can watch free on air platforms without paying a monthly fee.

Media Owners in Tanzania, (MOAT), like their Kenyan counterparts (MOA), are scared to death of losing the stranglehold that has assured them of billions of shillings worth of advertising revenue based on a combination of coverage area, popularity of their programming and the annual viewership survey conducted and published by IpsosSynovate.

Media owners do have a point when they argue that Government will have control over what can reach consumers by controlling the multi-plexoperators , but to media owners, this is only a smoke-screen. The reality is much more sinister as they want to control the pie they have enjoyed unfettered for so long.

By flaunting the Synovate figures in front of giant advertisers like the Telecommunications companies, ITV, TBC, KBC, KTN, NTV and WBS TV have been able to demand and get what monies they demand and thus make inordinately huge profits.

What opportunities digital broadcasting provides to the rest i.e viewers is huge in two ways. First the arrival of video on demand which combines both the telecommunications and broadcasting eliminates the need to wait for coming soon shows.

Viewers can now record, review and anticipate exactly what they want to watch and when they can watch it. They have a huge measure of control that can eliminate the advertisers' announcements. That cannot be good news to both media owners and advertisers.

It means for your advert to get a look in it must be top quality and must then be associated with the best brand production. To the programme producers, a world of opportunities that media owners denied them is now available.

Programme makers can now have a wider spread of broadcast platforms with the same reach to show case their works. Out with Naija wood if that is not one's taste, in with bongowood if you love a good love story sprinkled with sangoma's and witchraft.

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