Kenya is likely to request for an extension of the global digital migration deadline, and the International Telecommunications Union is likely to grant it. Don’t dismiss me just yet, read on.
Sometimes it is better to listen to industry insiders, even when what they say might seem as pure speculation. One such industry insider from the media industry hinted to me that Kenya, specifically the big media houses in Kenya, are keen to ensure that the digital migration never happens – it doesn’t matter what they do to achieve this objective – be it letting the proponents of digital migration have some form of a win in the Supreme Court.
After today’s Supreme Court ruling and given the events that have so far characterized attempts to digital migration in Kenya, I fully agree with my friend, who insinuated that the country might ask for an extension of the global digital migration deadline due on June 2015 as set by International Telecommunications Union.
His speculation is not baseless, we don’t have to go far to find rationale for such thoughts. We have the sugar industry to liken this digital migration menace with.
In print and in news clips the media houses might say they are in full support for the digital migration, but far from it, these people have no reason to smile every time the digital migration deadline looms.
Digital migration is the a nightmare to mainstream media houses as it will create throat neck competition in the industry. As there are only a handful of TV stations broadcasting nationally under the current analogue system, the stations can always collaborate to block some content from being aired, fix prices (advertisement rates) to get all the industry revenues, and promote a specific agenda that they deem suitable for their survival.
For example during the last general elections campaigns, it was very easy for the media houses to block some opinions from being aired. They again did not dig into some questions that were being raised over the technicalities surrounding the transmission of results, and lately, they agreed not to air the Saba Saba rally that the opposition organized at Uhuru Park on 7th July 2014.
The media houses have on several occasions aired same content ranging from broadcasting the same live feed of an event thereby giving viewers no choice but to watch the very boring political or otherwise rhetoric, they do cover basically the same news items, call the same panelists to studio, and air the same boring soap operas, naija movies and copy pasted local productions like wedding shows and naswas – simply because the viewers do not have a variety of content-specialized TV outlets.
Digital migration threaten these monopolistic/oligopolistic tendencies by offering the viewers a wide variety of content ranging from vernacular based broadcasts, educational based broadcasts, documentary specialized stations, sports oriented ones, entertainment, gossip, shopping, among many others. Even before digital migration takes foot, there are tens of TV stations that are already more interesting, informative, and entertaining than the mainstream stations that if the viewers had access to, they would ditch the NTVs, KTNs, and Citizens of this country for.
In this article I reasoned that Citizen TV and NTV hate digital migration because if the process of digital migration proceeded in the current setup, then their lack of own license to broadcast own and others’ contents would block them from reaping the distribution revenues. I argued that their withdrawal of content from Signet was due to the expectation that they would be granted the requested digital distribution license and so they didn’t find any logic to continue giving their content to Signet. But I missed one important angle.
In Kenya today, people buy TV sets so that they can watch NTV, Citizen, KTN and a few others like K24, Family TV and QTV. Those in Nairobi can add a few extra channels to the list. So, if there was any TV that would not be able to receive those channels, then no Kenyan would dare place his/her money on that TV set.
It is therefore easy to see that Kenyans won’t have the motivation to buy a set top box that won’t be able to air content from NTV, KTN and Citizen TV after these stations withdrew their content from Signet, which is the main signal distributor on digital platform. Clearly then, the real intention of the content withdrawal was so that by the time digital migration deadline looms, the media houses could still find a way of stopping it citing lack of set top box ownership by Kenyans.
The reason the digital migration deadline was postponed in 2012 was because Kenyans didn’t have the set top boxes. Days preceding 13th December 2013 digital migration deadline, the media houses published and aired a number of stories to show case how Kenyans were not ready for digital migration given that very few Kenyans had the set top boxes. Some of them and specifically the Daily Nation went ahead and published some five lies on digital migration and the un-readiness of Kenya for the shift (see 5 lies by Daily Nation on Digital Migration). Today was the deadline set by the court of Appeal, do you think Kenyans and media houses were ready for the migration just in case the Supreme Court upheld the court of Appeal’s orders and declined to extend the deadline?
To conclude therefore that the total disregard of due process by Royal Media Services, Nation Media Group and Standard Group while seeking redress in the courts of law (they were to appeal against the procurement tribal ruling within 14 days in high court but they did so two years later – a few days to the December 13th 2013 digital migration deadline) was meant to delay the digital migration up to a date so near the global deadline, and that their withdrawal of content from signet to ensure few Kenyans owned set top boxes by the time the global deadline loomed, were tactics put in place to give strong excuses they would present before the International Telecommunications Union to extent the global deadline to some other arbitrary future deadline, is not far fetched.
And as I mentioned above, the experience in the sugar industry provides a strong case scenario that the country is capable of asking for an extension of the global digital migration deadline. In February this year, Kenya was granted another extension of importation of duty free sugar into the country by COMESA for one year. However, this is not the first time this extension has been granted. Daily Nation reports:
Kenya was first granted the protectionist measures from the 19-member trading bloc in March 2002 —for one year which was again extended upon expiry in 2003 for another one year. The Second extension of four years came in March 2004 only to be extended for another two years upon expiry in 2008.
Then after 2008 Kenya was granted a further four years extension that expired in 2014. Kenya wasn’t done yet, they got another extension in February set to expire in February 2015. How many extensions did they manage to secure? Five [you are allowed to bite a finger]. I wonder if the added one year to expire in February next year shall have enabled us iron out the hurdles in the sugar industry. Just the other day the President was at Migori to give a loan to Sony Sugar to settle debts to farmers. Mumias, Chemelil, Nzoia and Muhoroni are currently in a loss making spree thanks to illegal cheap imports the government can’t prevent from coming in. We surely shall ask for another extension.
But for Kenya to ask for a global extension for digital migration they will need support from other countries equally un-ready for the migration. Too bad Tanzania that is known to dilly dally in matters EA integration, technology, and business velocity have already switched off from analogue to digital. This article by IT News Africa and this other one by HumanIPO however show that there are at least 50 countries to miss out in the global digital migration deadline and these include Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa among others. The countries will only need to come together to request for an extension of the global deadline.
So, if you are hoping that yesterday’s extension of the deadline for another 90+ days by the Supreme Court doesn’t matter much because the June 2015 deadline is cast on stone, think again.