London — The digital transition in broadcasting has not been Africa's finest hour. Many countries have barely started the process. However, Senegal is one of West Africa's leaders in implementation. Russell Southwood spoke to Jupiter Diagne, D-G, DTV, a part of Excaf telecom about progress.
In 2014 Excaf Telecom Group won a public tender to launch and popularise the DTT offer in Senegal. It already owns two pay-TV channels - La RDV and la RDV Music et Sport - as well as four radio stations.
The digital transition process it is managing started two years ago. Through a combination of terrestrial, satellite and fibre it has rolled out 95% coverage across the country. The country has 14 regions and coverage for the final uncovered region will soon be finalized and switched on, giving 100% coverage.
So far 500,000 decoders have been sold which on an average of 5 people per household would mean that 2.5 million people out of a population of just over 14 million are receiving the new digital signal.
Another 30,000 decoders are in the market and the expectation is that the overall figure will go up to 700,000 before too long. Also the Senegalese Government is rolling out a rural electrification programme through its power utility SENELEC that will increase the potential for TV viewing. The final estimated figure for decoder sales is 1 million.
The cheapest decoder in the market is 10,000 CFAs (about 15 euros) and Excaf offers a decoder for 30,000 CFAs (45 euros) that has PVR functionality and also has data interactivity through a mobile connection, making them capable of conducting surveys of viewers.
A monthly subscription to the DTV bouquet costs 5,000 CFAs (7.50 euros) and can be got either through MMDS or through the new platform. Its bouquet includes films, documentaries, music and sports.
The DTT platform which Excaf runs on behalf of the Government carries the two Government channels and 15 private TV channels, both existing and new ones. Although operational, the final rates for being on the platform have not yet been decided by the Government. Excaf raised the funding for the project and will have invested 9 billion CFAs.
So what difference has digital TV made to the Senegalese viewer?:"The quality of the images are much better as is the sound. You also have options like having a PVR on your decoder to be able to record programmes and watch them later. There is also the option for being able to control what your children watch."
The biggest change wrought by the changeover has been the creation of a new competitive landscape. Previously only the state channels had national coverage and the then 11 private channels were all largely in Dakar, the capital. Now everybody has national reach and this may well put more commercial pressure on RTS.
Interestingly the only free to air broadcaster authorized to run an HD channel is RTS but the Government has done so saying that the national broadcaster will be the testbed and others will be allowed subsequently.