SCREEN AFRICA EXLUSIVE…The role that content will play in South Africa’s broadcasting landscape once the country migrates to digital terrestrial television (DTT) has not been clearly defined, according to Marc Schwinges of the South African Screen Federation (SASFED).
Speaking at a seminar on survival tactics for the digital broadcasting age held at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ) in Johannesburg on 6 October, Schwinges said that what is clear is that broadcasters will need much more content to fill all the new digital channels that will become available after migration. (DTT roll-out is expected to commence in April 2012.)
“What is not clear is exactly how this content will be paid for,” stated Schwinges. “In South Africa most television content is commissioned so very little of it is sold or licensed overseas. Producing local content is expensive and obviously much more costly than licensing ready-made content.
“We have four types of broadcaster in the country: public service (SABC1 and SABC2); commercial free-to-air (FTA) (SABC3 and e.tv); terrestrial pay-TV which operates in the FTA space (M-Net); and satellite pay-TV (DStv and TopTV). All broadcasters in the FTA space are regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) which monitors the amount of local content broadcast in the “performance period’ (between 5am to 11pm daily). The independent production sector believes that this monitoring has not been done properly. Our own independent monitoring shows that local content quotas are not being met and are in fact reducing.’
SASFED believes there should be a shift in thinking around local content in the multi-channel environment so that producers can own their content.
“The commissioning model has been impossible to work with from the independent producer’s point of view,’ continued Schwinges. “We want to interrogate an alternative model where producers could do co-productions with broadcasters.’
He pointed out that independent producers viewed government’s target date for the switch off of the analogue signal (December 2013) as ambitious. “We don’t know yet when the incumbent broadcasters will be offered incentive digital channels and we don’t know what the local content quotas for these channels will be. And, will the incentive channels be public service (55% local content requirement) or commercial (35% local content requirement)? We also need clarification on how much repeats count in local content quotas. Specialist channels should also have local content quotas in our opinion.’
According to Schwinges SASFED is happy that ICASA’s new Draft DTT regulations make provision in the DTT spectrum for new broadcasters. In the old regulations the spectrum was allocated solely to the incumbents until the analogue switch off.
“We do, however, have some concerns, one being that the DTT set top box (STB) standards that have been developed in South Africa are very specific and unique and demand local manufacture so you can’t buy an overseas TV that has a built in decoder. Furthermore, the STB control solution allows for the activation and deactivation of the boxes, which suggests that every single STB will have to be activated.
“Our biggest concern is that the new regulations don’t allow for local content quotas. We suggest to ICASA that part of the strategy include content regulations for independent producers and that we be involved in drawing them up,’ concluded Schwinges.
ICASA councilor William Currie confirmed that as per the Draft DTT Regulations existing local content quotas will apply. “It’s true that ICASA doesn’t have the proper tools for full assessment of each broadcaster’s performance period (a year). I think it would be a good idea if the industry formed an official local content advisory group.’
The Department of Communications (DoC) Chief Director: ICT Policy Research and Development, Norman Munzhelele, added that the DoC has developed a local content strategy and held a local content summit in April.
“So now we’re taking the policy to cabinet. But it’s possible that we might have to review the policy in the DTT environment. We’re proposing that there be local content hubs in all nine provinces of South Africa. This means the commissioning model will have to be revised,’ said Munzhelele.
The seminar, the second in the Sparks series of seminars, was initiated by the IAJ, Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and the SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition.
(Report by Joanna Sterkowicz)