Like some other countries of the world, Africa has persistently spoken of the need for migration from analogue to digital in the broadcasting industry for better transmission but as Raheem Akingbolu found out at the just-concluded 2012 Digital Dialogue Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, the plan to switch over still looks like a mirage
June 2012 Promise
It was a cheering news to stakeholders in the broadcasting industry when the Federal Government announced in 2007 that the nation would migrate from analogue system to digital by June 2012. However, despite the supposed seriousness in the tone of the proponents of the move, experts who understood the enormity of challenges that would be surmounted before the dream could come true expressed their misgivings then, but government at various forums insisted it was realisable. June 2012 came and passed, but rather than stepping up to the new platform, the industry remained on analogue. Case closed.
Knowing well that it would turn out an unaccomplished dream, the Federal Government diplomatically rescinded its earlier stand in April this year and announced January 1, 2015 as the new deadline. Minister of Information Labaran Maku, who announced the new date, said the decision was reached at the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting where the White Paper on the Report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Broadcast Digitisation to ensure smooth transition to digital broadcasting was approved.
As events unfolded at the 2012 Digital Dialogue Conference, held at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa last week, it emerged that the aspiration for the migration in the industry by 2015 across Africa may be a tall dream after all. Telecommunications experts, who spoke one after another at the conference, which was powered by MultiChoice Africa, highlighted the various conditions that were needed to be met before the continent can experience a seamless transition. The conference was attended by journalists across the continent and aimed at exploring the digital migration process which has begun around the world including parts of Africa. Like Nigeria, most African nations have approved a continental digital television switch-over that would be completed by 2015 and are therefore part of the revolution that is set to bring with it more choice and more value to television viewers. The experts, who observed that there haven’t been proper planning, urged government and operators to close ranks and think of the way forward. Among other things, some of them predicted that failure to meet the deadline may lead to TV blackout as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has set a global deadline of 2015 for the transfer of TV programming from the current analogue to digital platforms. Giving the conditions that would make the migration easy in Africa, MNET Technical Director, Digital Terrestrial TV (DTTC), Mr. David Hagen, listed content, cost, coverage, cooperation, communications and consumer support as some of the major issues that are begging for solutions. According to him, stakeholders must be sure that relevant contents that would appeal to members of the public are available. According to him, the essence of the whole thing would be for viewers to watch what they like anytime, anywhere with clear picture and sound.
“Consumers will only migrate if they are sure of right, new attractive and relevance content on DTT, which is not available on analogue,” he said. Speaking about costing, the expert, who revealed that costing is the major challenge currently being faced by developing markets, called for affordability of STB. While stating the need for stakeholders to step up awareness campaign to educate consumers, he lamented that enough information, which will make members of the public know the advantage of migration and the process are not yet at their disposal. Concluding, he emphasised the need for cooperation among regulators, broadcasting organisations and signal distributors.
Earlier, the South African Digital Broadcasting Association, Managing Director Koenie Schutte had expressed his doubt over the migration process in Africa, saying the fact that many countries in the continent are not likely to beat the 2015 deadline leave several options for regulators. While blaming the slow process on misplaced regulations, lack of content and low level of consumer awareness in the continent, Schutte lamented that Africa have less than three years to the deadline and a number of countries are still on the debating stages. Among other things, he lamented that stakeholders in many countries were still talking on the types of decoders to adopt.
In working closer with the industry, he observed the need for fairness in issuance of distribution license. “The licenses should be distributed fairly to all players, I don’t think it is fair for some regulators to delay issuing of license to other interested parties,” he said.
Speaking on entertainment and media outlook during the event, Vicky Myburg, owner, PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc, said digital migration is transforming the Entertainment and Media (E&M) sector into one of collaborative partnerships in the post-recessionary environment. She was quick to add that the trend also puts revenues in the sector under pressure, with the shift from higher-priced physical distribution to lower-priced digital distribution. Myburg noted that the global economy began to recover in 2010 from its steep decline in 2009 and continued to advance in 2011, although the hope for a pickup in momentum did not materialise consistently around the globe. “Global entertainment and media (E&M) spending rose 4.9 percent in 2011—a bit faster than the 4.5 percent increase in 2010 but still below gains in prior expansion years,” she added.
According to Myburg, digital spending will drive global growth. “Embedding and integrating digital operations at the heart of the enterprise delivers profitability, scalability and innovation,” she stated. Like other speakers, she also said the sector would ultimately have to convince consumers to start paying for content. “A situation in which content cannot be effectively monetised is unsustainable. Companies must, therefore, aim to become trusted providers of paid-for content experiences that consumers will value above the no-charge alternatives.
“Online ad rates are substantially lower than those in the traditional advertising media, and end-user prices for digital content are also generally lower than prices for physical content. As a result, the shift in usage from traditional media to digital media is not revenue neutral. Consumers drive the ‘new digital normal’ and industry needs to reshape and retool to stay relevant. To understand these consumer motivations and behaviours, data analytics are key,” she added
Myburg said the good news is that despite ongoing economic uncertainty, the past year has seen global sales of tablets and smart devices reach record levels once again. That has been driving growth opportunities in digital delivery of content and advertising to increasingly connect and particularly mobile consumers. Schutte, Managing Director at LS of SA Radio and Secretary, Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA), took the delegates through preparing for the transition of TV broadcast services to digital. According to Schutte, the transition to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) is about the consumer and the home environment.
While claiming that the viewer has been promised more channels, great content which is the biggest incentive to migrate, he added that if what is available on DTT is neither compelling nor attractive, migration will stall. To this extent, therefore, the requirement for greater spectrum efficiency has been the major drive for migration to digital broadcasting.
If there is anything that touched participants at the conference, it was the declaration that most households in Africa are unlikely to access their television programmes come 2015, as most of the speakers noted that the continent is still ill-prepared towards beating the 2015 digital migration deadline.
Local Experts’ View
Reacting to the pronouncement of the Minister of Information Maku that the White Paper for the switch-over in 2012 had been approved and released by the Federal Executive Council in April this year, communication experts including Head of Mass Communication Department of the University of Lagos, Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, and another journalism teacher at the Lagos State University (LASU), Mr. Tunde Akanni, canvassed the need to avail stakeholders with the copies of the White Paper on Digital Migration.
According to the report, Akinfeleye, who decried the inability of the airwaves’ regulatory agency translating the presidential announcement of granting the NBC permission to commence licensing of community radio stations into reality almost two years after, also claimed that the same non-chalant attitude was affecting Nigeria’s march to digitisation. The university don said he could not understand why the White Paper on Digitisation remains a secret document, months after the Federal Executive Council was said to have announced that it had been released. “Nobody has seen that document. I have asked the commission severally, I am not sure they even have a copy. It is embarrassing!”
Akanni, who spoke to THISDAY on the issue, frown on the perceived weakness of the broadcasting regulatory authority on the matter. He called on the leadership of the NBC to be more pro-active.
One of the Nigerian participants and a marketing communication practitioner, Mr. Jenkins Alumona, in his reaction said: “ I believe government needs to take the digital migration process more seriously and take a lead from what companies like multichoice are doing. One of the most vital aspects of the process is communication. Our more than 150 million people and our more than 20 million tv households need information and education on what digital migration is and how it will work and the time to start is now. “
“ Government has huge financial benefits from the sale of free spectrum and so should ensure the people understand exactly what is happening”.