Cost of digital migration to consumers too high – Wananchi

By Tom Jackson, South Africa

The cost of the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting needs to be reduced for the ordinary consumer if enough people are to be able to afford the set-top boxes necessary to watch digital terrestrial television (DTT).

That is the view of Richard Alden, chief executive officer (CEO) of Wananchi Group, who told the AfricaCom conference in Cape Town too many people would be cut off from television as a result of the high costs.

“The cost to the consumer to migrate to DTT is huge. Most of the population in these markets watch free-to-air (FTA) channels. There needs to be more done to reduce the cost to consumers,” Alden said.

Three African countries - Mauritius, Tanzania and Rwanda - have so far turned off analogue broadcasting signals, though the latter two both employed “hard shut-off” tactics in order to do so, a policy which could be used by more African countries as the June 2015 deadline approaches.

Tanzania’s migration was completed last year, though only 500,000 decoders were in use by the estimated 3 million television sets in use in the country, while in Rwanda, which turned off analogue signal in July, only 27 per cent of television owners had acquired decoders at the time of the switchoff.

Alden said, however, that this was not a viable solution to meeting the deadline, and that more needed to be done to make the set-top boxes accessible.

“Tanzania is switched off. Now that means the vast majority of consumers in Tanzania can’t watch television anymore. And that’s not a very sensible solution,” Alden said.

Many African countries are facing challenges with the digital migration process, with Kenya’s in and out of court and the process in South Africa still facing confusion over what minister is mandated to carry out the process.

Alden said the way the important aspects of the migration were being carried out in many countries left a lot to be desired.

“In the markets where I work in there is no physical difference between the provider of the infrastructure and the provider of the content. For me they are completely different things,” he said. “I feel if you mix the two together you end up with a situation that doesn’t actually help as everybody has vested interests.”

He said his preferred solution would be to have one managed digital platform which could then rent out space to content providers.

Jean Philippe Gillet, vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Intelsat, agreed with Alden that the cost needed to come down, but said a lot of other factors needed to work efficiently for migration to be completed successfully.

“You need regulator that is pushing, and you need different government bodies to be fully aligned. Secondly, you need content, and thirdly, you need money,” he said.

“Is the government driving for the switchover? Do the broadcasters locally have the right content? And finally, is there enough money allocated?”

Gillet said the digital migration process in the United Kingdom had cost £2 billion, £700 million of which went on infrastructure costs. He said costs would undoubtedly be higher in large countries such as South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).



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