5 lies by Daily Nation on Digital Migration

As part of their fight against digital migration and also as an attempt to get sympathy from the public, Nation Media Group has decided to publish, in Daily Nation, outright lies on digital migration in their article, TV viewers will dig deeper into their pockets to stay connected. Anyone ignorant of the facts on digital migration can easily sympathize with the media houses after reading the article. I have attempted to expose the 5 lies by Daily Nation on Digital Migration:

Lie 1: The Set Top Boxes in the market have been specifically designed by the Digital Signal Distributors to limit themselves to specific channels and not all free to air channels.

Which specific channels? All channels broadcasting the approved digital frequency and are licensed by CCK to broadcast will be received via approved STB decoders. Before anyone is allowed to sell STBs in the local market, they must obtain approval by the CCK. CCK approval process is to ensure:

  1. The decoder receives clear signal
  2. The decoder receives all channels
  3. The signal received does not fluctuate beyond predefined limits.

Anyone whose decoder has been approved is given a temporary permit for a duration of six months to start selling. If within the temporary six months period consumers complain against any decoders, then the vendor will not be issued with a permanent permit to sell. One such complain will be a decoder not receiving all TV or radio channels.

Lie 2. On Pay TVs with STB option, Daily Nation claims that you will only remain switched on the digital platform for one month after which you will be required to pay monthly bills or you are disconnected.

Currently there are only two Pay TV providers with STB option; StarTimes and GoTV. StarTimes offer is like this: You buy a special STB decoder that they are selling at Kshs 4,999. This special decoder is a dual decoder that one can toggle between Pay TV and Free to Air options. It’s just like your DVD player that allows you to change functions from DVD, FM, TV, USB and other options. So with StarTimes, you can switch back and forth between Free to Air and Pay TV options.

For example one could have paid to watch Pay TV channels. This person will choose the Pay TV and leave the decoder in that option that month. But if the following month the person is unable to pay, the person will switch to Free to Air option where he will be able to receive only the Free to Air channels as any other STB decoder. For this reason StarTimes subscribers who have the Pay TV only decoder have been advised to upgrade to the dual decoder with both Pay TV and Free to Air options.

GoTV on the other hand has agreed to provide Free to Air channels for free, month in month out, to those subscribers who have paid a one time fee of Kshs 2,600. If you had already bought a GoTV decoder, you only have to pay an extra Kshs 2,600 as a one time payment and you will be able to receive Free to Air channels even in months that you have not paid for any subscription.

Pay TV viewers on Dstv and Zuku will however have to buy separate STB decoders as these do not have any arrangement for giving viewers free to air channels free of charge. I personally have said here at Kachwanya.com that they need to be forced to give viewers the free to air channels free of charge as they, the Pay TV providers, do not pay signal providers any fees and that’s why they are called Free to Air channels.

Lie 3. So far, a survey by the media houses shows that only 200,000 Set Top Boxes have been sold so far by dealers in preparation for digital platform era. A further 400,000 are still in stock.

The Government released information indicating that there were over 1.1 million STBs in stock. This is also a supply demand scenario. I do not think suppliers will only avail 800,000 decoders yet they know that Nairobi alone demands 2.3 million such decoders. Countrywide, the demand stands at about 8.5 million.

We have been in this debate about digital migration since December 2012. That’s a one year period. If suppliers are not ready to supply the needed STBs then it must only be on political grounds but not a market situation, but as said, where there is demand there shall be supply – all other factors held constant.

Lie 4: The issue here is not about opposing digital broadcast, but setting out an implementation schedule which will not inconvenience TV owners with additional costs and news blackouts.

We have had enough time to set out an implementation schedule which will not inconvenience TV owners. The media owners have known, since 2006, that digital migration is on. In Kenya, the TV owners have known that the government has had intentions of switching off analogue signal since December last year. As Judge David Majanja ruled, there is no best time for the switch over now nor in the future. This argument that we need more time is just a pointer that the media owners are actually opposing digital broadcast, contrary to what they want us to believe in the above statement.

Currently the media houses exist as an oligopoly. Digital Migration promises to bring a near perfect competition due to reduced licensing costs for broadcast and the costs associated with setting up a broadcasting studio. Additionally, the frequency spectrum with analogue allows for about 18 channels to be on air within a broadcast region but digital technology promises to expand this to above 100. The competition that is to be created is a big threat to the established status quo. Why won’t they oppose competition?

Lie 5: Under the new arrangement, TV stations will prepare their news content and hand it over the to the signal distributor for transmission.

I know that part of the contention is the fact that the government has only given two licences for digital signal distribution, one to Signet (KBC) and the other to Pan-Africa Network Group (Kenya) Co. Ltd. The functions of these signal distributors is a kin to the functions Pay TV is currently doing for local Stations to air on the Pay TV platforms. The local TV stations give their signal to the Pay TV provider, and the Pay TV provider transmits the same, without distortion or alteration, to their customers.

Daily Nation however claims that giving the signal to a third party for distribution ” means that the news you view in your sitting room may not carry with it the original quality and the depth as the media houses intended…The technological link between a content producer and the Signal Distributor under the Digital structure is such that a Digital Distributor could literally decline to broadcast the content to the public and thereby undermine the freedom of the content originator.” It is to my understanding that the broadcaster will pay the distributor to have the signal distributed under a legal agreement. If the distributor will alter, distort or decline to distribute, then the broadcaster can seek court redress.

The article concludes, “the main concern by the media establishments in seeking their own broadcast licence is the risk of having third-parties, that is the Digital Broadcast Signals Distributors, determine what content may be relayed to the public.” I don’t know how the the distributors will determine the content to be relayed to the public without infringing on the distribution agreement between the broadcaster and the distributor.

I do think it is OK to have few transmitters/distributors. I support this structure, which is similar to power generation (different companies) who sell to transmitter(s) who sell to distributors(s) (Kenya Power) then to consumer. This structure should also be implemented in mobile telephony and Internet Service Provision.


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