Rwanda and Tanzania are the only African countries that have fully migrated from the analogue to the digital television platform ahead of the global deadline of June 17.
According to the Africa Telecommunications Union (ATU), the two East African countries have rallied ahead of their counterparts to ensure that all analogue signals are switched off.
“The official information we have is that so far, only Tanzania and Rwanda have switched off all analogue terrestrial TV stations in their territories. Mauritius has just officially communicated that they plan to switch off on June 17,” said ATU in an e-mail to The EastAfrican.
The International Telecommunications Union conference held in Geneva in 2006 set the June 17 deadline for migration from analogue to digital broadcasting in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Tanzania and Rwanda completed their migration processes in March and July 2014 respectively. Kenya’s switchover on February 14 is yet to be registered by the ATU.
Uganda has planned its final phase of digital migration within a month, while Burundi is yet to ship in the required equipment amid rising political tensions ahead of its general election in June and July.
China’s Export-Import (Exim) Bank offered $40 million to finance a joint venture between StarTimes and Burundi’s national broadcaster, but heightened violence remains a challenge.
The ATU has cited financial constraints alongside public resistance, a lack of commitment by governments and resistance from private broadcasting firms as challenges to migration.
In Kenya, consumers have tough choices on which decoders to buy. South African firm MultiChoice reduced the price of its DStv HD decoder to Ksh2,499 ($26) from Ksh4,800 ($49); Zuku offers its satellite decoders at Ksh3,999 ($41), while StarTimes and Bamba retail at Ksh4,500($46) and Ksh3,299 ($34) respectively.
Analysts say that having universal decoders that can accept cards from different providers would work like a new phone that is not fixed to any operator.
“Just like if one wishes to switch from one Sim card to another, inserting a card would help viewers to enjoy any provider’s options,” said Thomas Makau, an ICT and telecoms analyst.
Mobile company Safaricom launched its decoders at Ksh9,999 ($103); ADNL, which comprises Nation Media Group, Standard Group and Royal Media Services, recently announced that its decoders will cost Ksh3,500 ($36). ADNL is targeting 500,000 STBs initially, and to rise to 1 million in the near future.
For Kenyans, pay TV still dominates the market. With the free to air offer in the pay TV packages, it may be hard for individual broadcasters to get a sizeable share of the market.
The Supreme Court ruled on February 13 that digital migration must continue as planned, rejecting the TV stations’ request for a three-month extension.
The Media Owners Association accused the regulator of attempting to force ADN-affiliated networks to be carried by either Chinese owned Pan African Network Group (PANG), which runs StarTimes, or through state-owned Signet, which also has an interest in GOtv.
The spat between the three media houses and the two pay TV services revolves around a “must carry” regulation that allows digital TV operators to retransmit content from public broadcasters for free and without their consent.
The regulator adopted the rule in 2009 so that the millions of TV viewers with analogue TV sets could continue getting must-carry TV station signals after the broadcast TV industry makes the switch from analogue to digital transmission.
But broadcasters argue that retransmitting any of their content, regardless of the existence of the “must carry” rule, amounts to copyright infringement, as they spend millions of dollars every year to develop content.
“Copyright has been hard to secure in Kenya,” said Mr Makau.
The Kenya Audience Research Foundation study reveals that 90 per cent of set top boxes used in Kenya are for pay TV. By March, GoTV was leading at 41 per cent, StarTimes at 25 per cent and DStv at 17 per cent, while Zuku and Bamba TV had a 15 per cent and 3 per cent market share respectively.
The Communications Authority of Kenya estimates that the total number of TV sets in the country by the end of 2014 was about 3.7 million, but there is no available information on how many have switched to the digital platform.
“The number of households that have migrated can only be determined through a countrywide survey, which CA is planning in the next quarter,” said the regulator in an e-mail.
A report by Ipsos Synovate however indicates that 2.3 million out of the 4.5 million households in Kenya who own television sets have migrated, with 90 per cent owning set top boxes.
Data obtained from Kenya Revenue Authority reveals that by the end of March 2015, some 3,151,215 set-top boxes had been imported into the country. Based on the returns so far obtained from vendors of the boxes, the total number sold is 2.1 million.
However, the CA believes the actual number is higher, at about 2.5 million, because the majority of the vendors are yet to submit their returns; many individuals travelling outside the country bring in their own STBs while others have opted for integrated digital TV sets.
The number of subscribers using other non-DTT technologies such as DTH and Cable are over 700,000, and most of these households may not acquire set top boxes.
“There are arrangements with some local banks for consumers to pay for the STBs in instalments. With all these measures, the poor are not being left out,” said the CA.
The Ipsos Synovate survey on favourite TV channels released in April indicates that viewers still prefer the same stations they were watching before the digital migration.
Analysts said from a regulatory perspective, digital migration is successful, although it threatens the advertising revenue of media houses.
“Affordability is not an issue, Kenyans love entertainment and the demand has grown. In the next one year, the majority will have migrated and decoders will cost less than $10,” added Mr Makau.
Uninterrupted in Kampala
Television viewers without set-top boxes in Kampala and its environs will still watch their favourite programmes when the Ugandan government switches off the analogue signal on June 17.
Executive director of Uganda Communication Commission Godfrey Mutabazi said installation of transmitters within a radius of 60 kilometres out of Kampala is ongoing in readiness for the migration.
“We are currently installing nine transmitters within the Kampala environs ahead of the digital migration, and that will be followed with the installation of nine more signal transmitters in the rest of the country within one month for the final phase of digital migration,” Mr Mutabazi said.
“We hope that people have invested in decoders because we gave them a lot of time,” he added.
Since August 2014, Uganda has been running both analogue and digital broadcasting simultaneously to allow consumers without decoders to acquire the devices ahead of the switch-off date.
Uganda Broadcasting Corporation will be the sole signal distributor while the government reviews its digital migration policy to allow in other players.
Private broadcasters have, in the past, accused UBC of being incompetent and a competitor. But as the deadline approaches, the communications regulator has neither the data of the number of decoders that consumers have acquired within the targeted region nor the required number of decoders.
According to the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, Uganda has more than two million television sets across the country.
Currently, it has five pay-TV service providers — MultiChoice’s GOtv, StarTimes, Digital TV, Azam TV and the Wananchi Group’s Zuku TV — selling DVB-T2 decoders whose prices range from $19 to $52.3.
Last year, the government licenced 13 new private firms to import and sell free-to-air decoders, in a move to open up a market that has been dominated by pay TV.
However, the approved private firms, including Mac Viva Global Holdings Ltd, Kagadi Technical Services, and Brivid Uganda Ltd, are selling their decoders for Ush130,000 ($41.2), Ush150,000 ($47.5) and Ush180,000 ($57) respectively.
The digital terrestrial signal, first deployed in late 2010, now covers almost the same population as the analogue signal, according to a case study of Tanzania by Analysys Mason. The country has also avoided the cost of extended dual illumination (where analogue and digital broadcasts are run in parallel, carrying the same content).
Additional reporting by Isaac Khisa