Kenyan Supreme Court Rules That It Really Is Time To Switch From Analogue To Digital


Following the Supreme Court ruling on Friday 13th that directed that digital migration takes place as scheduled by the Communications Authority of Kenya, the Authority moved fast to implement the same by issuing a statement calling on all broadcasters that were still broadcasting on analogue to switch to digital broadcasting latest midnight in compliance with the ruling.

Predictably, Africa Digital Networks representing KTN, NTV and Citizen in a rejoinder accused the Authority of selectively applying the ruling on the dispute. As a result, the three aforementioned media houses continue to broadcast on analogue whereas other 8 broadcasters have already complied and switched off their analogue broadcasts as per the phase 1 and 2 schedule. In their defence, the three media houses claim this action will plunge 90% of the viewers into darkness.

This is misleading given the fact that uptake of set top boxes has been on the rise since the Communication Authority announced plans for the phased analogue switch off. Over 700,000 out of 1.2 million households in Nairobi alone today access digital television using type approved set top boxes and will therefore not be affected by the analogue switch off. The three media houses seem to have exhausted their tactics to further delay this transition, initial arguments for their non-compliance was based on cost of set top boxes which have since dropped considerably between 1,700 and 4,000 depending on the model of choice.

The three later opted for a lengthy court process that resulted in their award for a self-provisioning license, they now want more time to import their own set top boxes! These delay tactics have worked against them as what the three media houses are most afraid of is a drop in viewership numbers that attracts advertising revenue. Instead of injecting this energy in developing competitive content that will retain their viewership numbers, they are fighting to retain the status quo as they stare at increased competition from new broadcasters who have already started their operations and their viewership is growing.

Reality will soon dawn on the three seeing that digital migration will open grounds for increased number of broadcast television stations and no particular broadcaster will claim to be more superior than the other in terms of coverage since the digital television signal will be uniform across all broadcasters, therefore, audience reach will be based on interesting content that Kenyans will deem relevant to them. The growth in number of free to air television channels will see the broadcasters share the spoils as only those that invest in premium and relevant content will attract a high number of viewership and therefore claim dominance and subsequent advertising revenue.

With the successful migration, more broadcasters will invest in the sector and upset the status quo and only the most competitive will remain authoritative.

Current Analogue Coverage Against Digital Coverage – Interestingly, the current analogue signal coverage is way lower than the 70% digital television signal coverage as covered by the two signal distributors Signet and PANG, it has only taken the two just over 3 years to surpass the analogue transmission coverage and 100% coverage in the country will soon be achieved as they continue to expand to beat the 3rd phase analogue switch off set for 30th March 2015.

Migrating to digital will also significantly lower the cost of setting up a broadcast station. Unlike before where an investor would have to erect transmission masts across the country, what one requires during the digital era is to sign up with either Signet or PANG who have already set up the masts and effectively reach similar audience as the traditional media players.

This is a significant step towards creating employment opportunities for Kenyans who will work in the broadcast stations as well as creating demand for content that will be required to air across these channels. Content developers will have booming business as local drama, series, comedy shows and music find a ready market that will absorb the audience through the respective stations.

It is therefore important that as a country, we do not continue to be held at ransom by the interests of just a few players at the expense of national development. There are enough affordable type approved set top boxes in the country and individual stakeholders in the sector are ready to see a smooth transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.

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