OPINION: Even With Over 80% Control Internet-Enabled Decoders Might Not Cut It


As organisations compete over who has the best set top box at the cheapest price to offer Kenyans better viewing experience in the Digital television age and ahead of global digital migration deadline, a Ghanaian business tycoon is seeking to revolutionize TV in Africa.

George Twumasi, his name, says the way the African people consume media is set to change with mobile phone networks taking over to deliver locally developed television content.

According to the tycoon, the broadcast sector is set to experience great changes, especially as most African markets lag behind in rolling out their digital terrestrial television that has brought about a gap that will be filled by MNOs in times to come.

The two scenarios, though not directly related, centre around digital television – the age that everyone is looking forward to around the world and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is anxious about,  as the deadline for most nations set for June nears.

I say most, because anyone familiar with the ITU migration timetable is aware there are nations that got different time allocations because of various factors that are dependent on the country’s state.

Kenya, finally got itself out of the migration mud that it was stuck in for years when it saw through its set deadline for 31st December 2014 in the capital Nairobi. When midnight came, analogue signals were switched of except for the three notorious media houses.

According to a directive by the Supreme Court, the three under their joint consortium was allowed to continue operating on analogue until the global set deadline, within which period it seeks to mount its digital infrastructure.

This week, the three announced that they would be launching advanced set top boxes in the coming three weeks. The set top boxes, according to reports, will be internet-enabled – quite the attraction I might say since only Zuku has the internet offer, with DSTV plans underway which are both Pay TVs.

To add to the good news is that the set top boxes, will retail for as low as KSh 2,000 as a one-off fee. This means that it will be a free-to-air decoder and will not require the customer to pay any subscription fees thereafter.

Now, as much as that is good news, the move has a set of bad news hovering over it with several unknowns. In the said three weeks for example, only about 150,000 decoders will be introduced to Kenyans with plans to import a million more pieces in March.

With media houses that boast to have the largest presence (over 80% for both TV and Radio) in the country, these numbers will not be nearly enough to reach the regions they insist they want to reach if they are granted their wish by the Supreme court.

Planning to bring more decoders in March only means they will be piloting to see how the 150 K will perform in sales during that period, and I do not see a community that will be willing to wait around for the pilot study to establish the way forward.

In any case, by that time the second phase of the analog switch-off schedule to other regions in the country will have taken place and the third phase will be underway, if not completed by then.

The three do not also provide information on how many channels to expect on the free-to-air terrestrial decoder. Another unknown, that may be an advantage to Radio Africa Group with their also free-to-air Bamba TV terrestrial decoder that is already receiving praise since its Christmas introduction.

Bamba TV decoder is retailing at 3,299 as a one-off fee, again no subscription fee required and promises to offer over 50 local and international channels, an introduction that has disrupted the digital TV market where international channels are available through a subscription fee.

So, as much as the new advanced set top boxes may be the cheapest at KSh 2,000, there is hardly any incentive why any reasonable Kenyan will sit around and wait for the decoder. Who knows, the decoder may just have the three channels and subsequent radio stations on offer – pun intended.

To avoid being quickly judgemental though, I guess we will have to wait for the three weeks to see if there are offers to come with the decoders, they might just be wrapped up in a gift box for now to slap the likes of me with a major surprise deal.


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