London — The switch-off of the analogue signal in Sub-Saharan Africa is often a brutal business that leaves behind many viewers unable to afford the new digital Set-Top-Boxes or TVs with integrated digital receivers. The South African Government is determined to switch off its analogue broadcasting at the end of March 2022. Russell Southwood talks to Mike Aldridge, Broadcast Manager, Cape Town Television about who will be without a signal and the consequences.
Over 60 organizations are asking the Government to reconsider its decision to switch off the analogue signal. Based on data from the Broadcasting Research Council (collected by A.C.Nielsen) 5.7 million households are still receiving an analogue broadcast signal. According to Statistics South Africa, there are 2.51 people per household, meaning around 14.3 million will be cut off.
The Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Khumbudzo Ntshaveni says that these figures are wrong but Aldridge says that she is confused: “She’s looking at TV households but the issue is not how many households but the number of viewers.”
Government policy was to offer “free” Set-Top-Boxes (STBs) to low income households (under R3,500 per month) but the programme has largely failed to deliver. The Government has contracted the manufacture of 1.5 million STBs for the programme but only just over 600,000 have been actively installed.
“In Western Cape only 62 have been installed and in Gauteng only 150. Major retailers did not stock these STBs so the consumer choice was either an integrated STB/TV, which is expensive, or Pay TV. Poorer people can’t afford DStv or don’t want it. The broadcasting companies have also been complaining that there is not much enthusiasm or uptake for digital STBs from the public.”
Far from widening the reach of Free-To-Air broadcasters, the digital transition process seems to be widening the divide between the haves and the have-nots. The pressure has been on to deliver the ‘digital dividend’ and ICASA’s recent spectrum auction raised US$961 million from telecoms companies. So to get the money, the Government has to clear the analogue spectrum ranges: “The Minister is bulldozing it all through.”
The market reshaping is already occurring. Terrestrial transmission is now only 36% of the market: “In the future, it will shrink significantly.” Both Pay TV operator DStv and Free-To-Air satellite operator Openview have made big inroads into the share of terrestrial transmission, carrying the Free-To-Air broadcast channels. The great unspoken is that the DTT monopoly signal carrier Sentech is not very cost-effective: “(Public broadcaster) SABC and eTV are saying that DTT is doomed and that satellite transmission is much more cost-effective.”
The direct consequences of these changes for South African community broadcasters like Cape Town TV will be disastrous: “We’re looking at losing a lot of our Free-To-Air audiences, especially in the lower income groups. It’s a real threat to the channel. For example, churches have been reaching these audiences through our broadcasts. They’ve also been doing them online but many of their congregants don’t have access to broadband and will lose access to church services.”
So if you can’t beat market forces, why not just get on board with DStv and Satellite FTA services like Openview?: “It’s not sufficient for us. Poorer people can’t afford DStv. All the signals on Sentech’s Freevision are encrypted and you need a SIM card. We are lobbying for community TV signals to be unencrypted.”
The other financial pressure on Cape Town TV is that monopoly signal provider Sentech is insisting that it goes from paying for its current single transmitter for Cape Town to having 32 transmitters that cover the whole of the Western Cape Province. Although this gives it a much wider coverage area, it comes at a significant cost and undermines the idea that community TV is local: “ICASA defines community as local but the DTT architecture makes it provincial. There is no policy saying what it is.
It would be easy to say that this was all a South African problem but the changes in the market and the implications are all too clear for other Sub-Saharan markets. Ignore them at your peril. As always, it is Sub-Saharan Africa’s poorer citizens who get shafted.
Netflix, a leading video streaming service provider, has announced that it will invest over US$62 million in four South African productions in the next two years.
Showmax, has partnered with Nigerian production firm Livespot360 to create Nigeria’s first edition of the award-winning franchise – The Real Housewives of Lagos (RHOLagos). Highly anticipated by followers of the franchise, RHOLagos becomes the 16th international narration of the reality show format distributed globally by NBCUniversal Formats, a part of Universal International Studios, a part of Universal Studio Group. RHOLagos will be produced by Livespot360, the production house well known for hosting Nigeria’s prime festivals and concerts in over ten years.
Mali: Mali’s military rulers are to take two French broadcasters off air in the country, after accusing them of reporting “false allegations”. Both RFI radio and France 24 television, who receive funding from Mali’s former colonial ruler France, will not be accessible in Mali for an undetermined time. In a statement on Thursday, Mali said it was taking the action because both channels had reported on allegations – made by the UN’s Michelle Bachelet and the rights group Human Rights Watch – that Malian soldiers had killed numerous civilians in recent months. Mali government spokesman Col Abdoulaye Maïga said that “these false allegations” were made in reports on 14 and 15 March, in which RFI gave the floor to alleged victims of abuses allegedly committed by the Malian army and the Russian mercenary group Wagner.
CANAL+ and SES are expanding their partnership with a long-term agreement that will employ SES uplinking services for CANAL+’s French Pay-TV channel bouquet at 19.2 degrees East. The new agreement is inclusive of services that will be delivered from two teleports in Betzdorf, Luxembourg, and starting in 2023, Munich, Germany.
Zimbabwe: Following Zimbabwe’s National Media Day at Expo 2020 Dubai, several international investor companies have expressed their interest in working with Zimbabwe on the completion of its digitisation programme. The abovementioned statement is according to Monica Mutsvangwa, the Minister for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services in Zimbabwe. The Honourable Minister shared the state of progress following her meeting with Rohde & Schwarz representatives from the German-headquartered firm which manufactures transmitters. Minister Mutsvangwa also mentioned that there were more potential investors making enquiries with an aim to take up programme progress opportunities. “As a result of our media day here at Expo 2020 Dubai, we have generated interest from several investors who are interested in discussions about transmitters,” Minister said.
Ghana: The National Media Commission (NMC) has constituted new governing boards for public corporations, managing the four state-owned media. These are the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), Ghana News Agency (GNA), and New Times Corporation. Prof. Samuel Debrah is the new Board Chairman for GBC. He is a Professor of Surgery at School of Medical Sciences, University of Cape Coast, Vice-President, Ghana college of physicians and surgeons and Member, Ghana Academy of Arts and sciences. His distinguished medical career is complimented by service on other important national and international committees and boards including a brief stint at medical journalism… .Meanwhile, GBC’S Chief Executive Officer, Gerard Teuma is to retire upon reaching 60 in a few weeks time. Mr Teuma, who began his career at GBC 38 years ago, has held the post of CEO since 2012.
NBCUniversal International DreamWorks kids channel – recently removed from China’s StarTime and StarSat platform, has been added to the MultiChoice’s kids entertainment offering. NBCUniversal’s DreamWorks was removed mid last month from Startime and StarSat, less than two years after the platforms added it to their offerings. In response to the disappearance, StarTimes had released a statement noting that they had removed the channel due to discontinued production in all African countries. However, a statement from NBCUniversal International Networks contradicted StarTime’s previous report, declaring that DreamWorks had not halted production but had been working on a new deal to switch from China’s StarTimes to MultiChoice’s DSTV. MultiChoice had then confirmed the move early in March, remarking that DreamWorks would be added to its DStv offering.