East Africa’s Promising digital journey
It all began nine years ago when countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe signed a treaty committing them to make a transition from analogue to digital broadcasting in six years. The infamous Digital Migration, now a reality in the present day.
The East African region has had its better share of challenges in the switch over process owing to the fact that digital TV was earlier viewed as luxury to the people and the digital migration did not make much sense when it was first mentioned by the respective governments. However, with time individuals have learnt a lot about the process and a good number has opened up to the upgrade.
East Africa’s crossover struggle
Tanzania being the first country in the mainland of Sub-Saharan Africa to switch off its analogue television signal is a country other states in the region should learn from. Thanks to the well established strategies by the country’s regulatory Authority (TCRA) and clarity between the government, regulator and stakeholders on the process, the country has completely switched off analogue signals which started end of 2012 and is currently full on board with the digital terrestrial television network. Despite having broadcasting come late to Tanzania, the country is way ahead with over 8 million television sets out of 10.3 million sets already operating on digital signals.
Tanzania Communications and Regulatory Authority did not succumb to political pressure that had began eating into the development in the first half of 2013 which was the period of migration for the country. An appreciable number of viewers lost access to TV which has been the fear of many countries lagging behind today in digital coverage even four months to the international switch over.
In the East African region, media houses have been the major cause of derailment with often court appeals and government request for the regulator to postpone switch off deadlines in fears that thousands of ordinary viewers might be left out in the process since they cannot afford pay-TV decoders. The government has also been an enemy of the digital development process with obvious political issues bonded with the migration.
Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have fallen victim to politics and set top box procurement challenges which has caused laxity in moving with Rwanda missing two of its own deadlines in its four phase affair that started in January 2014. Today, the digital coverage in the country stands at 95 per cent which make it the second state after Tanzania in the Sub –Saharan region. Uganda is currently operating on both analogue and digital signals ahead of the switch off.
Kenya has recorded over 60% digital coverage which subsides the analog signal with the recent switch over that saw some parts of Nairobi cross-over as phase one of the migration. Despite calls by the media houses to postpone the process for the umpteenth time last year, the regulation Authority went ahead to switch off the analogue signals a process that which will see Mombasa, Malindi, Nyeri, Meru, Kisumu, Webuye, Kakamega, Kisii, Nakuru, Eldoret, Nyahururu (Nyadundo), Machakos, Narok and Londiani (Rongai) migrate on February 2, 2015 in the second phase with other remaining sites scheduled for March 30 2015.
Beware of Set top box fraud
The migration frenzy has brought with it market commotion with top media houses struggling for relevance with new set top boxes in an industry that is already dominated by foreign digital platforms. In a time where individuals do not want to be shut out of the migration, unsuspecting viewers have had to suffer monetary losses due to the increased number of pirated devices.
While prices vary among set top box suppliers, sellers have taken advantage of desperation among viewers and are now selling knock off gadgets at lower prices obviously making them attractive to buyers. Set top box dealers have also been reported to mislead buyers into buying Pay-TV decoders when they need to purchase free to air set top boxes .Buyers have therefore been asked to be vigilant in purchasing the devices to avoid the menace.
The industry has also seen new players join the market at the verge of the major transition to provide viewers with a wide range of content at economic friendly prices. Radio Africa’s Bamba TV launched few days before the first phase of the digital migration is one of the player that has joined the arena to provide viewers a variety of content at lower prices. The gadget airs over 50 channels including general channels available on other free to air boxes. Bamba TV set top box retails at ksh3200 with no subscription fee which is a relief for viewers who dread adding the subscription fee to other monthly bills.
All EAC states but Burundi seem in the right track ahead of ITU’s deadline June 15 2015. Burundi still in the early stages of licensing the signal distributor and developing awareness campaign programme this is because of weak laws, poor consumer awareness and availability of free-to- air set top boxes.
Currently, the country only has one digital signal provider StarTimes whose signal covers a small part of the country up until now. The fail to crossover on the set day by International Telecommunications U nion is without doubt considering other EAC states are in the last phases of the process that began years ago.