Kenya is currently vulnerable to Digital TV blackout

We are going digital, if not on Monday next week or in the course of this year then by June next year. The world has so decided. And there are a lot of good reasons to that some of which are:

  1. Digital TV allows viewers to watch crystal clear pictures, even as clear as high definition pictures.
  2. Digital TV gives viewers variety of programmes and channels. For example in Nairobi there are over 40 channels in Digital Platform so far.
  3. Digital TV allows hustlers to own TV Stations as production and broadcast have been separated. With a simple studio somewhere in town you can have your content viewed across the country by allowing someone like Signet to broadcast for you.
  4. Viewers have a choice to record and watch their favorite programmes…at least most set top boxes allow that.

Personally I’ve been able to enjoy most of the aforementioned benefits for about two months now and I must say, largely, Digital TV is great. Actually watching Digital TV feels like watching pay TV, but it is not always rosy.

In the two months that I have watched Digital TV I have noticed two major concerns, one of them being a heartbreaking digital TV blackout.Last night there was this movie I was watching on NTV, then just when these FBI guys entered a house to ransack it for a kidnapped kid the screen went off, then a few seconds later the message “No signal” was displayed.

I quickly tried to adjust the antenna but nothing happened. Checked on the signal status and fount it OK. I switched off the set top box and on again, no change. I then did the 10 minutes miraculous switch off, switched the set top box back on, performed auto-search, but still there was no Signet Channel found.

It was now obvious – Signet’s transmission had issues. I called their customer care number but no, the number wasn’t going directly to Signet. Someone at KBC received the call and after I explained to him my problems he asked me to hold on as he transferred the call to the relevant department. I waited until the dial tone on other end died.

I  tried to continue watching the movie from NTV’s analogue transmission.One thing I learnt is the difficulty in watching analogue TV after getting used to digital signal. I stopped watching. Then I remembered the StarTimes decoder and their truly free Free to Air Channels. I connected the decoder and found the movie almost ending…*insert curse word*.

Digital TV blackout

Remember the night of 26th December last year when analogue signals were switched off in Nairobi? Yes, Kenya is vulnerable to such blackouts even after the transition to digital TV if the current two-only-distributors are retained. Of the two, there is only one main signal distributor. This means every once in a while Kenyans will be treated to a digital TV blackout resulting from technical hitches on the distributor’s key transmission infrastructure.

Right now Signet transmits close to 100% of Digital TVs in the market. If Signet develops technical hitches that might run into days, it means the TV programmes provided to Signet to distribute will not be available to the masses. As I write this article, I have not checked whether the Signet channels that were lost in Nakuru are back or I’m still in a Digital blackout but if past experience with KBC (owners of Signet) broadcast here in Nakuru is anything to go by, I won’t be surprised if the signal is lost for weeks; or months.

In the past KBC signal had gone missing, at least in Nakuru, for months. Kiss 100 FM too lost its Nakuru signal for a period close to 3 months in the first part of last year. Capital FM also stopped transmitting in Nakuru for quite sometime in mid to late last year. What all these imply is that a particular signal distributor might lose her signals either countrywide or to a particular region for days, weeks or even months; giving people in the affected areas information blackout.

We need many Digital TV signal distributors

The advantage with the current analogue set-up is that if one particular channel, either Radio or TV goes off air due to a technical hitch or otherwise, one still has a number of channels on air to choose from. But allowing only one or two distributors to do the distribution work, with one of them distributing close to 100% of the available signals, means we are being treated to a monopolistic digital TV market where consumers would be grossly affected whenever the monopoly is unable to deliver the services it ought to deliver.

To prevent a total blackout to information whenever a distributor is incapacitated, the government needs to license many distributors not only to make the market competitive for TV stations (which will lower the cost of broadcasting), but also ensure that viewers are never adversely affected by technical hitches on one distributor.

Sound quality issues

Other than the possibility of a total Digital TV blackout thanks to almost all the digital signals being available to only one distributor, I have also noticed sound quality issues. In my reviews of StarTimes DVB-T2, Smart-Beaver DVB-T2 and Thy Word DVB-S2/T2 set top boxes, I have always mentioned sound as one main criteria for gauging the suitability of a set top box. But earlier this week I made an important discovery.

All DVB-T2 set top boxes have the ability to auto-search and save all the available terrestrial digital TV/Radio signals. This means a set top box like Smart-Beaver’s searches and find signals as broadcast by GoTV, StarTimes, PANG (still StarTimes) and Signet. If there is a particular TV Station that every distributor broadcasts, then you’d expect to see the station listed about four times in the Channels’ list. KBC is normally listed three times; first signal from GoTV, second from StarTimes and the third from Signet.

Though I’m used to watching programmes from Signet’s transmission, on Tuesday I accidentally left the TV on at KBC but the signal was from GoTV. Then after a few minutes I realized there was something bad about the sound. When I pressed the OK button to see which channel had the dull sound I realized it was KBC but apparently it wasn’t via Signet. When I changed the channel from GoTV’s signal to Signet’s the sound quality improved from boring and dull to interesting and clear.

I still do not know what exactly affects sound as even though KBC has clear and desirable sound on Signet, a few other TV stations like YouthTV and Fountain TV still have the dull and boring sound yet they too are being broadcast by Signet.

The sound issues means that with Digital TV someone might end up “hating” on some Stations simply because their sound is of poor quality compared to others. The poor sound, given the KBC’s experience, means it is a transmission issue that signal distributors need to pay close attention to.

Odipo Riaga1804 Posts

Film Director, Tech and Business Blogger, Chess Player, and Photographer. God is Science.


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