OPINION: The Digital Television Switch Impasse Is Creating Uneven Broadcast Sector


The migration from analogue to digital broadcast in Kenya has witnessed unprecedented push and shove as stakeholders among them Communication Authority and ICT Ministry on one hand race against time to roll out the crucial exercise before the June 17 2015 global deadline while three media houses on the other hand call for a distribution license.

The latest twist in a process that has been moved on several occasions before has seen eight local channels switch off their analogue broadcasts and are currently only available on the digital platform in compliance with the regulator’s demands to have the analogue signals switched off effective 1st January 2015 whereas three other channels continue to broadcast on both analogue and digital platforms pending the hearing of the suit filed at the Supreme Court.

Advertising revenue is the mainstay of most media stations which is billed based on their audience reach, the analogue switch off for the eight broadcast stations that have complied has put them at a disadvantage as their reach in Nairobi and its environs is now limited to the households that have acquired the type approved set top boxes whereas the three who are yet to switch get undue advantage given that they are accessible in households that continue to use analogue technology as well as those that have acquired the set top boxes.

The continued impasse has equally eroded the public’s confidence in the process thereby developing a wait and see attitude as the Global deadline fast approaches, this leaves the country with lesser time to prepare for the switch while running the risk of having a last minute rush closer to the deadline. Stakeholders have made strategic efforts to address potential challenges which has seen previous opponents of the transition such as Consumer Federation of Kenya (COFEK) now in fully support of the digital migration process.

Consumer awareness on the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting has been heightened with Kenyans now aware of the actions to take to continue accessing television after analogue switch off which explains why despite the standoff, over 1 million set top boxes have been sold in Nairobi alone and with the signal coverage currently standing at over 70% of the country on the digital terrestrial technology and 100% on satellite technology, the country is ready to transition and enjoy the benefits that accrue from digital television.

Transition to promote competition in the broadcast sector

The migration process presents exciting times ahead in the broadcast sector as it presents room for growth in the number of free to air channels available as the transition will free up the bandwidth to allow more broadcast channels in the process promising unprecedented content variety in Kenyan households.

The next battlefront will then be content development, with the audience reach being even thanks to the uniform digital television signal distribution across the country, broadcasters will have to appeal to their audience and grow their viewership by offering relevant, educative and entertaining programming.

With the growth in the number of broadcast channels and the quest to have premium content, comes employment creation through independent content developers who will have a ready market to absorb local productions, further growing the current and upcoming rich creative talent available in Kenya. In the end, the Government will also have successfully met the treaty as agreed upon with International Telecommunication Union (ITU) while at the same time setting up a robust media industry and growing the public’s education levels through increased access to information both in urban and rural areas.

With the successful migration to the digital platform, the freed spectrum space will be utilized by mobile operators to improve their networks, this will fast-track the adoption of 4th Generation technology in the country. The technology is expected offer high-speed wireless services as consumers use tablet computers and smartphones more to surf the As a country, Kenya is known to adapt fast to technological advances and digital television should not be an exemption.

This is Guest Post by a broadcast sector expert in Kenya.

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