Entering the DTT zone

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Africa’s progress in migrating from analogue broadcasting to digital terrestrial
television (DTT) remains relatively slow, as evidenced by the country reports
presented at the recent Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation Digital
Broadcasting Switchover Forum (DBSF) held in Johannesburg.

The deadline for the switch-off of the analogue signal in Africa, as set by the
International Telecommunications Union, is June 2015. Following this date the
analogue signal will no longer be protected in Africa.

Of the countries that made presentations at DBSF, Tanzania and Mauritius are the
most advanced in their digital migration projects, with the latter being the first in the
Africa and Indian Ocean Islands region to have run DTT trials.

Chairman of the Information and Communication Technologies Authority of Mauritius
(ICTA), Trilock Dwarka, announced that the country expected full switchover to DTT to
take place in December 2013, in line with SADC (Southern African Development
Community) recommendations.

He noted that they’d learnt “more bad lessons than good’ in their DTT trials,
especially regarding the set-top boxes (STBs) required to decode the digital signal.

“We experienced STB chaos because of our “open bucket’ policy,’ continued Dwarka.
“It’s been a terrible thing as we sourced the STBs from China and half of them are
poorly crafted and faulty. In addition there has been no back-up service from the
manufacturers. We’re also experiencing consumer illiteracy around the STBs which
need to be more user-friendly – just plug in and play.’

Some of the steps that Mauritius has gone through in its DTT project include deciding
on the STB subsidy and introducing mandatory DTT regulations.

“We’re currently in the process of upgrading our video compression standard from
MPEG-2 to MPEG-4. This will accommodate HDTV, 3DTV, DVB-H and DAB+.

“It’s also necessary to plan for the digital dividend, as once the analogue signal is
switched off it will release frequency spectrum. This will allow us to launch new
channel blocks,’ explained Dwarka.

He revealed that Mauritius’ local content issue is currently being examined. “We have
poor local content so it’s possible that we may expand the term “local content’ to
include programming produced by East Africa or the other Indian Ocean Islands.’
Dwarka stressed that for the DTT project to be truly successful it required synergy
among stakeholders and a proper legal environment.

“If content is king then distribution is God. The face of broadcasting in Mauritius has
changed because of digital migration. We now have three DTT multiplexes with 17
channels in total,’ concluded Dwarka.

Tanzania

14 analogue transmitters were switched off in Dar es Salaam on 31 December 2012
according to Habbi Gunze, director of Broadcasting Services for the Tanzania
Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).

“Dar es Salaam is now fully digital. We will have another two cities that will be digital
within two months.

“At the outset of the digital migration project the most important thing was political
will, and we had buy-in from the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of
Information. Our first step was to hold an in-depth consultation with all stakeholders
followed by a meeting on how to implement DTT. The broadcasters didn’t want to
confine themselves to content only, so they decided to work with signal distribution
as well. We then went to government and set up a technical committee before
regulatory and legislative frameworks were put in place,’ commented Gunze.

The Electronic and Postal Communications Act decreed that the digital switchover
commence in December 2012 and three DTT multiplex operators were licensed.

An intensive communications strategy has been rolled out in Tanzania.

Said TCRA director, Innocent Mungy: “The DTT public awareness campaign, which is
called Digital Tanzania, aims to provide relevant information in a clear and timely
fashion. Our target audience is variant in that we have to educate different
stakeholders on different levels – the general public, government officials,
stakeholders, etc.

“We use a range of tactics and a wide variety of tools to communicate messages. For
instance, we launched a competition to create the DTT logo and another for the
Digital Tanzania theme song.

“In terms of social media we use SMS, MMS, Facebook, and Twitter to remind people
of the deadline for the analogue switch-off in each city. We also place traditional ads
in the media and hold news briefings on a quarterly basis. In addition we hold public
education workshops and distribute leaflets.’

Mungy noted that rolling out the public awareness campaign in the rural areas has
been a challenge.

The implementer of the campaign is the TCRA (which also funds the campaign)
however the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology has also set up a
special task team. Furthermore there is a call centre to handle public enquiries.
Government has subsidised the STBs so that the public can enjoy reduced prices.
There are about 300 STB distribution points in Tanzania.

Gunze continued: “A problem arose when the first multiplex operator (a joint venture
between the government and Chinese company Star Times), which originally rolled out
on the DVB-T transmission standard, decided to switch to DVB-T2 and there were no
DVB-T2 STBs available at the time. The compatibility between DVB-T and DVB-T2 is a
big problem.

“Another key issue is the interoperability of STBs because there are three multiplex
operators and each is tied into a particular type of STB.’

He concluded by pointing out that analogue television covered only 24% of the
population whereas DTT has already covered 22% of the population to date.

Nigeria

John Momoh, chief executive officer of Channels Television in Nigeria, said the country
is well on its way to meet the target of January 2015 for the DTT switchover.

“We rewind to October 1959 to the advent of television in Africa. The Nigerian
government was convinced that television would play a big role in the pace and
standard of education, which was regarded as key to Nigeria’s progress. The
television industry took off and became the pride of the entire region,’ commented
Momoh.

“Today, we have so many television stations in Nigeria. Now that DTT and cloud
computing are among us, the Nigerian television industry has reached another
significant turning point,’ Momoh continued.

Currently, with more than 40 million television sets in Nigeria – mostly analogue
systems – and around 24 million television homes, Nigeria’s digital future is a
prominent one. In the short term, however, the critical challenge is to reach the
deadline of June 2015.

Said Momoh: “In 28 months every television set and every Nigerian television
household will require a STB or decoder to receive digital broadcasting signals.
“Consequently, the government is intent on issuing licences to a minimum of two and
a maximum of three broadcasting signal distributors in order to facilitate the
transition and service delivery process.’

Momoh emphasised that stakeholders were convinced that this deadline would be
met. “As a direct result of digital transmission most of the nation’s current
broadcasting companies will become content providers,’ he continued.

According to Momoh, government and contracted parties have to assume the role of
content distribution. “The implication is that by 2015 more than a hundred
transmitters along with the nation’s 34 state-run channels, and its 34 cable operators
will end up with either one or two carriers that can be viewed only by those who have
appropriate STBs.’

Momoh mentioned that the stigma the public had about the impending digital
switchover was a thorny issue. However, plans had been put in place to ensure
members of the public that they would be able to afford DTT.

“The Nigerian Television Authority has partnered with Star Times, a Chinese digital
pay-TV operator, to forge a public private partnership which allows the latter to
operate as a licensed DTT operator,’ Momoh concluded.

Zambia

Masuzyo Ndhlovu, Corporate Affairs Manager of the Zambian National Broadcasting
Corporation (ZNBC) said: “This year is important for us as we are celebrating 72 and
52 years in radio and television broadcasting, respectively. We are the ‘grandmother’
of broadcasting in this southern African region.’

He mentioned that television transmitters in Zambia were available in three ‘phases’.
“Firstly, five power transmitters emit power at 20kW, secondly, provincial centre
transmitters in the 10 provinces in Zambia emit power of about 500 to 2 000W and
then, lastly, rural television transmitters emit the maximum power of about 150W.

“Although we are still using analogue technology these low-power transmitters are
digitally ready,’ continued Ndhlovu. “By the time we migrate, it will mean that we
have 67 analogue television transmitters earmarked for replacement with DTT
transmitters.’

The transition is being spearheaded by a digital migration task force that has been
employed to ensure that the country meets the DTT switch-on deadline date of 31
December 2013 and the analogue switch-off deadline,’ remarked Ndhlovu.
He continued: “We will firstly replace all satellite transmitters with dual-cast
transmitters by June 2013.’

Content generation is once again a contentious issue as in other countries switching
over to DTT. Ndhlovu said that broadcasters would be encouraged to cover traditional
ceremonies to run on a digital platform and that the country would benefit from local
content production. He stressed that intellectual property rights of local arts such as
the music and film industry require vehement practical measures.

Despite the progress being made, Ndhlovu said that financial constraints could hinder
the switchover process. “If, for some reason, adequate funding is not available, then
the migration process could be derailed.

“Measures to mitigate the apparent misgivings by the private sector broadcasters and
production houses need to be expeditiously addressed,’ Ndhlovu mentioned.

Ndhlovu further said that identifying a business model that ensured the sustainability
of commercial viability versus a social mandate had to be clear. He noted that the
introduction of more punitive measures against pirating had to be implemented and
that media houses in Zambia should be compelled to convert analogue material into
digital material before switchover commenced.

Malawi

“The journey of digital migration in the country started in 2010,’ said Denis Chirwa,
Digital Migration coordinator from the Department of Information in Malawi. “As
digital broadcasting is a new concept for us we decided to have a look at what other
countries are doing before we started implementing our strategy.

“We began our journey with the formulation of a secretariat in the ministry to oversee
the digital migration process. We looked at policy framework and how to implement
it.’

Chirwa mentioned that so far Malawi had a draft policy regarding DTT in place, which
had been presented to parliament for approval. “Everything is ready to ensure that we
go into a smooth process of digital broadcasting. We are committed to switching off
analogue in 2014. In Malawi, we have 17 licenced broadcasting stations and up to
now one signal distributor has been instituted.’

A task team had been set up to design the Malawian digital platform, understand the
“language’ of digital and to explain the basics in terms so that developments can be
communicated to the public in a way they can easily comprehend.

“Our first switch-on date is in May 2013 and we must ensure that we have the digital
platform ready, and as such we are in an advanced stage of the process.

“We want people to understand and accept the technology and not have a ‘panic
button’ ready,’ added Chirwa. “We conducted a survey of how many people have, for
example, television sets with DVD players and decoders to determine how many STBs
government would have to subsidise.’

The survey revealed that government would have to provide STBs to rural
communities and other people who cannot afford them. As was the case with most
countries’ presentations on perceived problems, Chirwa mentioned the shortage of
local content.
In order to combat content shortages, Chirwa suggested that the curriculum be
changed at tertiary institutions to ensure students were informed about how to
develop local content.

“Malawian television is flooded with international content so we have to make sure
that we divert to local content. However, these challenges make us think, adjust our
focus and look at the future with positivity,’ concluded Chirwa.

Ghana

No DTT regulations are yet in place in Ghana and the country is already 13 months
late in its DTT project.

According to Edmund Fianko of the National Communications Authority, the original
plan for free-to-air DTT was to establish a private / public partnership.

“However, this plan has broken down because of negotiations. In 2011, government
issued a contract for the roll out of two DTT multiplexes to cover 53 transmission
sites but there has been a big delay because of funding. The winner of this contract is
trying to get a concessionary loan that has not yet been approved by government.

“As of January this year we have two DTT pay-TV sites in Ghana, one on DVB-T MPEG-
2 and the other on DVB-T MPEG-4. Two more DTT pay-TV slots will be available
shortly,’ commented Fianko.

Ghana’s original deadline for the switch-off of the analogue signal was 31 December
2014, which is probably no longer doable.

“We do have a public education strategy – It’s Digitime in Ghana – in place, but it’s
not full blown as we don’t know yet when we will switch on the digital signal,’ stated
Fianko.

Compiled by Joanna Sterkowicz and Martie Bester

Screen Africa magazine – April 2013

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