This is why a Sober Kenyan cannot Support the Media Houses on Digital Migration wars

Are you peeved by this badly-scripted drama that is going on between the “The Consortium” (I use this term sarcastically) and the Communications Authority of Kenya?  I am, quite so. Is it me or does that sound like a play during the Elizabethan times, Shakespeare would have had much to write about in this unfolding drama of digital migration, perhaps whose Final Act transpires when the global deadline for the switch off arrives in June 17, 2015, but as I write this, it occurs to me that Shakespeare does not deserve to be compared to this inelegant burlesque that only seems to excite lower minds, leaving the rest of us sober minded Kenyans to carry own with the duty of Nationhood in the face of global movements. Forgive my strong language, but I feel so strongly that this back-and-forth between “The Consortium” (I say this with a derogatory dramatic voice) and the Communications Authority of Kenya is only serving to curtail the complete migration, not to mention it’s just making us look bad in the ‘global airwaves”, and yes, pun so intended! First of all, the Ad campaign that (come now, say it with me, and don’t forget the derogatory dramatic voice, oh yes, and the proverbial “in-quotes” hand gesture) the media houses mounted against GoTv and StarTimes, was malicious at best. “The Consortium” wants to be the fourth distributor of the digital signal so that people can get their “content”, aside from the three recognized distributors, claiming “freedom of the press and press freedom” (does anyone feel bursting out in a guffaw) to paraphrase one monsieur Linus Gitahi.

This whole issue (I assume the very nasal Victorian accent in “Lordy” address) can be summarized in two parts-Content and Interest. “The Consortium” is a worried lot because they very well know that their content has to compete globally now and their content capabilities don’t match the ones provided by other channels with a worldly-resonance (Let’s be honest here Kenyans, am I going to watch, let’s pick a random show like “gavana”, or will I watch a dramatic series on say Fox or that scintillating documentary on Discovery, better yet the latest in global business on Bloomberg Tv, don’t even get me started on cartoons, hmmm, whichever will I choose, oh noo, pleeease, Kenyans, I know what I will choose, do you? It’s not even a case of patriotism, or blind patriotism as I call it, it is a case of having high quality content which you have choice to engage. There are four things to consider in content development-social, content, point of delivery, and ‘replicability’ or exportability, but that’s a topic for another day, I am not quite done with my well-thought out tirade yet with a hint of Ciceronian Oratorics!

Definitely their viewership will go down, therefore the Ad revenue, which I believe is the whole essence of their business model, content production also, which might trigger a content-uptake blitz that will eventually prove futile! I mean either way, whatever the courts here rule or the one at the City of Lights, Paris, they are fighting a losing battle, because of one key thing, their content and content-development capabilities is substandard, period! Save a few shows that might excite a few folk, the rest is hocum. Bottom-line- IT SHOULD BE A HUMAN RIGHT TO HAVE THE BEST OF CONTENT. The second thing is Interest-it is a game of interests; they say that 600 journalists will be out of a job (I am quite sorry about that, but it is their own fault, they knew this migration was coming, they should have planned long ahead of time to adapt to the shifting world environment, because one cannot afford to localize without globalizing, mentally or otherwise. “The Consortium” has disguised their inefficiency and INTEREST game under the banner of press freedom, which is a common thing here in Kenya (covering up inefficiencies and malice with a veil of “in the interest of Kenyans”) but don’t get me started on that, I would write till Kingdom come.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane- Media houses filed a petition dated November 22nd 2013 that was rejected by Justice Majanja in the winter of 2013 23 December 2013, from where they moved to the Court of Appeal that brought to fore concerns as regards the freedom of media and licensing of its operations as provided for in the Constitution with singular reference to Articles 33 and 34. The basic issues that were raised in court involved such concepts as equitable procurement for the distribution of the digital signal. One of the terms of the policies of digital migration was a separate licensing for content providers and digital signal distributors service providers. Effectively, this was supposed to make the industry more competitive in order to ameliorate on the service delivery to the consumers, allegedly in line with the provisions of the law and the regulations. The licensing bids were floated through the tendering process where the appellants, basically the media houses took part through their flagship National Networks Signals and lost the bid in the first round. Consequently, they appealed to the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board which they also lost (these people are swimming against the tide). Following that loss, they then again appealed to the then Permanent Secretary for Information and Communication who offered them a conditional licence that they rejected and in lieu turned to court with a smorgasbord of litigation from here to the moon, the losing streak continued.

The road to a Digital Shangri-La has been dogged by good intentions and more so, ironies abound. The media houses engaged in a flurry of litigation have been part of the Digital Television Committee that was set up back in 2008 whose mandate was to make decisions regarding digital migration (I have used these words so many times I am starting to feel like a time-traveler, don’t get me wrong time-travel is great, but I wish to move to such words as ‘digitally migrated’). For instance, the DTC in 2013 re-constituted the Consumer Awareness Sub-Committee that was tasked with providing the DTC with the strategic advice on the required education and awareness activities on the digital migration process in Kenya. Notably, with the impending global ASO (analogue switch off), it is a pre-requisite that the DTC focuses on the facilitation of the migration of Kenyans to the digital platform with the slightest disruption of service provision on one leg and service reception by the consumers on the other. In consideration of the recommendations of the DTC, a landmark process was initiated-Kenya adopted the DVB T2 MPEG 4 video compression standard and saw the award of licences of two broadcast signal distributors. The East African region has seen Tanzania and Rwanda migrate fully, so why not us!

Currently, the country only has 60% digital coverage from the two licensed digital signal distributors. The aforementioned case has been holding the digital leap hostage, not to mention the 40% coverage deficit. Totally, the digital signal in the country is now three percent above the distribution ratio of the analogue one. As a matter of fact, the digital signal covers areas which had never known any form of Tv signal, Virgin Country I tell you! This dispels the notion that Kenya is behind in the migration because it’s one thing to migrate, but it’s another to have efficient coverage. The shift to digital terrestrial television (DDT) in the developed nations is complete. For instance, in the U.S., the move was concluded in 2009, these include countries from Europe. One thing you should know is that in DTT, up to 10 television channels can be accommodated utilizing the same bandwidth that would normally only do so a single channel. Nairobi will have up to 99 channels once the migration is complemented. So, you are spoilt for choice and like I said, this has “The Consortium” knickers all in a whirl.

So what, you might ask, what is the benefit to me besides not being locked out of the Tv-click, well perhaps this might convince you- your viewer experience will be enhanced through better picture quality and sound quality, you’ll get more choice (for me this was an issue, and that’s why “The Consortium” have been engaged in fierce litigation, they have monopolized the industry with very little regard for quality), you’ll be able to access channels that meet your standards of quality, so thumbs up for that! Additionally, you have increased engagement in that the set-top boxes and televisions have built-in interface points for your cell phone, memory stick, and modem (I once was watching a series where one of the characters in the screenplay said something that stuck with me since-“who watches tv on tv anymore?”, you can also ponder that!).  New vocabulary in the Kenyan language scene-time-shifted programming and broadband programming, but one step at a time. You have better viewing pleasure through High Definition Resolution, access to an electronic program guide that helps you navigate, identify the current screening program and even see the proceeding program, this way you have efficient timing of your viewing activity. At the end of the day, there is better utilization of spectrum.

I don’t know about you, but I believe the content habit of Kenyans will evolve (both production and engagement) as the migration sets in, being exposed to a global viewing experience (which we already have, but the scale will increase) and the local television will be quite interesting to existing social constructs, basically, society will evolve! It is the whole ANTHROPOLOGY OF TELEVISION; the mirror with which society can behold itself in the fullest extent.


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