The rapid movement of the world into a digital age, is slowly catching up with Africa. Analogue TV, a major transmitted signal for 90 per cent of homes in Africa is set to be phased out by 2015.
Ovum Limited, an independent analyst and consultancy firm, in London, have however predicted that the proposed date by most African countries including Nigeria, as mandated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to switch off analogue terrestrial TV signals will not be achieved as a result of a paucity of funds being made available by governments to roll out digital TV infrastructure, and insufficient supplies of set-top boxes (an information appliance device that generally contains a TV-tuner input and displays output connects to a television set and an external source of signal e.g a Cable TV decoder).
Analogue was the way television signals were broadcast at the beginning of the television age. These signals are described as inefficient and costly to maintain, unlike digital signals which allow delivery of DVD quality pictures and sound. Digital signals also allow broadcasters to offer more channels and a range of new and different services.
The report by Ovum stated that despite the unavailability of the right infrastructure for the switch, many governments and regulators in Africa have stressed that the deadline must be met at all costs. As a consequence, numerous sub-Saharan TV markets are considering switching off analogue TV signals before the audience has transitioned to digital. This would mean many homes will lose TV reception, leading to advertisers switching away from TV and, in turn, a decline in TV advertising revenue.
“In Tanzania, the switchover process was pushed through recklessly, with damaging results. Thousands of homes lost their ability to watch TV and advertising revenue suffered as a result. But this mentality to rush the process persists, not least in Kenya which seems intent on repeating the same mistakes,” Adam Thomas, Ovum’s Lead Analyst for Global TV Markets says.
Ovum research also found an understandable eagerness among regulators to raise revenue from the sale of the digital TV signal spectrum as another factor behind the rushed switchover.
Speaking on the dangers of a rushed switch off, Ismail Patel, media and entertainment tracker across Asian, Middle Eastern, and African regions, said; “While the sale of spectrum will benefit the mobile sector, regulators could harm the TV business if they act with undue haste to get their hands on potentially lucrative spectrum. African governments and regulators need to accept that the 2015 deadline will be missed and shift their focus on to getting the process completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Ovum believes that forcing through analogue switch-off is ultimately counter-productive.”
Another factor that could affect the switch of Analogue TV users to digital terrestrial TV (DTT), is the domination by the pay-DTT service operators e.g StarTimes and Multichoice. This is a major issue because people will be less willing to transition from analogue to digital TV if they believe this will mean they have to start paying for TV.
According to Thomas: “Early focus on pay DTT has created a misconception among the sub-Saharan audience that DTT is intrinsically a paid service. Once there is awareness that DTT can be received without payment then free-to-air DTT will be the overwhelming choice for most homes and the transition from analog to digital will be better placed to proceed. This may mean StarTimes and Multichoice will be disappointed with the number of pay DTT subscribers that they can ultimately attract.”
Many countries across the World have completely switched from Analogue to DTT (USA, England, New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Japan), while countries like North Korea and Laos have stated they have no intentions of switching . In Africa, although looking very most unlikely, Kenya and Algeria are set to complete switching this year.
Nigeria flagged off her analogue switch in Jos on June 30th, earlier this year. The switch had been scheduled to be completed by December 2014 but was later rescheduled to the end of 2015.
Former acting executive vice chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Mr Stephen Bello, revealed that Nigeria is set to miss the June 2015 digital television switchover as the government was yet to facilitate local manufacture or massive importation of set-top boxes which would enable the present analogue TV sets to receive digital signals if there was a switch over in 2015.
According to him, if the switch is forced, transmitting stations may be able to broadcast digital TV signals, but 90 per cent of television sets will not be able to receive the signals.