Tanzania’s switch to digital television transmission, which has generated an outcry from media owners and users, could offer vital lessons for the rest of the East African region.
According to the Media Owners Association of Tanzania (Moat), the change-over was rushed and many viewers were cut off.
The association last week called for a return to analog transmission — to run parallel to the digital system — to smoothen the change.
Moat executive secretary Henry Muhanika said advertisers were wary of running their announcements because they were not sure of the number of people who were still able to access their television after the switch to digital transmission at the beginning of the year.
“We don’t want to close the TV stations, especially when we take into account that owners have invested time and money, but the future simply looks bleak since we moved to digital,” said Mr Muhanika.
“Small media houses have failed to operate after the migration to digital, while those who have made the change are lamenting decreased revenues from reducing advertising as advertisers step back over fewer viewers,” he added.
According to Mr Muhanika, the issue is further compounded because the majority of consumers have not been able to make the necessary switch due to the high cost of purchasing decoders and antennas, which range from Tsh39,000 ($24.20) to Tsh150,000 ($93.10) depending on the location.
A survey by media stakeholders has established that there are currently about 500,000 decoders in use against the estimated three million TV sets owned by households.
Tanzania started the migration process in 2006, when it amended its broadcasting laws to accomodate digital broadcasting.
“The Tanzania Cabinet passed the policy and parliament passed the law and new regulation,” said Deputy Minister for Science, Communication and Technology January Makamba.
However, Mr Makamba said the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) could have done a better job of raising public awareness to avoid the confusion the switch has created.
Mr Makamba said the migration was being done in phases and an evaluation of the process would be undertaken to enable the government to learn from any mistakes committed.
Tanzania is the only country in the region that adhered to the December 31, 2012, deadline agreed to by the five members states of the East African Community. The regional deadline was intended to help countries address any problems ahead of the global deadline of 2015.
Apart from more content generation, the switch is expected to expand opportunities for investors in digital terrestrial TV, broadcast mobile TV and commercial wireless broadband services. Consumers are expected to benefit from clearer pictures.
Kenyan policy makers say Tanzania’s early start gives it an advantage as it will address any technical hurdles it may encounter along the way.
Kenya’s Information Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo believes that Tanzania will have ample time to correct any technical hurdles as it rolls out the services to other parts of the country compared with its neighbours, who are yet to start the migration.
“Tanzania is going to have a better learning curve than any other country and that is why we wanted to stick to the December switch off deadline for Nairobi,” said Dr Ndemo.