The number one concern for Kenyans who want to buy a set top box is the price. The second concern is rather weird, the number of channels available on a particular set top box (STB). STB vendors who have realized that Kenyans are concerned on availability of channels on set top boxes have taken advantage of this ignorance and have started marketing their STBs as providing “over 40 channels free of charge. For instance, Smart-Beaver says their decoder offers “Over 30 ’Free-to-Air’ channels to date (more expected)” while in reply to an inquiry, Jolini wrote, “We offer over 31 channels. Contact us for more information.”
The allegations that the STB vendors offer channels are not true. There are three levels in this business of Digital Television.
Level 1 – Content providers
These are mainly television stations like mainstream NTV, KTN, Citizen K24 and the numerous others that have come on the scene e.g. YouthTV, Fountain TV, Kindgom TV, Edu TV etc etc. The content providers’ primary function is to produce programmes like news, documentaries or play already produced content like Music and movies. They can also capture live events like sports etc. Once they have the content, they provide this content, in real time, to signal distributors.
Level 2 – Digital Signal Distributors
As of today we have two licensed commercial digital signal distributors namely Signet and Pan-Africa Network Group (Kenya) Co. Ltd (PANG), the operators of StarTimes or STV . A content provider like NTV has the leeway to choose which signal distributor to give contents for distribution. Of the channels I have been able to view via digital platforms in Nakuru, only one is currently being distributed via PANG/STV; the rest are being distributed by Signet. Since we are familiar with Pay TVs like DStv, Zuku, StarTimes and GoTV, it is wise for one to think of Signet or STV as DStv or StarTimes but individual channels in DStv as content providers.
Level 3 – Reception
Although Pay TV providers have been selling their own decoders for receiving their distributed signals, Digital TV for free to air television has opened the door for anyone to sell a decoder popularly referred to as set top boxes. The fact that Pay TV decoders have been associated with signal distributors e.g. DStv decoder being associated with DStv’s signal distribution, a number of Kenyans have confused the STB brands to owning the signals received on the respective decoders hence the questions like, “How many channels, local, Africa and International are supported in your set box?” or “How many channels and which channels do you offer?” or better still, “Are your signals in Kisii?”.
What the public should understand is that the STB vendors, except for StarTimes and GoTV, only provide a gadget for receiving the signal distributed by either Signet or PANG. So these questions being directed to STB vendors should in fact be directed to Signet or PANG.
Personally I consider the STB as the “TV” and the usual TV as a mere screen. This is because you may decide to direct your viewing either to the normal TV screen or to a comp’s monitor. In this regard the decoder plays the part your standard TV plays to receive the analogue signal. In analogue signal, the content provider still plays the part of the signal distributor. It would have been very weird, therefore, to have asked Sony or Samsung about “the number of available channels on their TVs” when buying the TV before this digital migration craze. Before digital migration we bought TVs expecting them to receive all the TV channels on broadcast in that particular region. The only question was if the TV’s reception was of good quality.
With this in mind, one should consider any DVB-T2 decoder as capable of receiving all DVB-T2 aired signals (CCK requires distributors to distribute the digital signals in DVB-T2 standard).
So next time you intend to buy a set top box, don’t be bothered about the number or availability of channels on a decoder as this is a function of Signet and PANG. Your concerns should be 1. Whether a decoder is CCK approved 2. Price, 3. Value added features e.g. programme recording and 4. Picture and sound quality