Gab Mampone Issue: Global-ICT 2009
Article no.: 16
Topic: Digital migration in South Africa and the SADC region
Author: Gabriele Mampone
Title: CEO
Organisation: South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)
PDF size: 484KB

About author

Gabriele Mampone is the CEO, South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC); he began his career at the SABC as the General Manager for Radio Sales and was later appointed the Group Executive for Commercial Enterprises. Mr Mampone was appointed as an Audit Committee member of the Government Communications and Information Service and is also involved in the IMC and MDDA Audit Committees. Mr Mampone is also a member of both the International Forum and the Institute of Marketing Management. Gabriele Mampone is a graduate of Wits University where he obtained a BA (Hons) in International Relations and two post-graduate qualifications from Wits Business School. He holds an MBA from De Montfort University; he also completed courses at the Institute of Marketing Management, the Gordon Institute of Business Science and is a qualified and practicing Chartered Marketer.


Article abstract

South Africa’s transition to digital broadcasting will bring many benefits – and a good number of challenges. Neighbouring countries in the SADC, the Southern Africa Development Community, will have to make their own plans to accompany South Africa’s transition since much of the content consumed in their countries is produced by, and transmitted from, South Africa. SADC governments will need to ensure availability of digital set-top boxes and educate consumers to prepare them for the consequences of the switchover.


Full Article

Traditionally, South African broadcasting organisations have been state-owned companies with limited competition in the broadcasting market. With the advent of deregulation, new players in the free-to-air arena as well as the Pay-TV sector have emerged. The SABC, as a public broadcaster, predominantly provides free-to-air programming through analogue terrestrial means; however, it now has a new technology added to the mix – Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). Digital broadcasting uses digital signals rather than analogue waveforms to carry broadcasts. Sound and pictures are converted into digital format, transmitted as a bit stream and reconverted by appropriate receivers or set-top boxes into sound and TV programmes. Digital transmission results in improved reception quality and since it uses the radio-frequency spectrum more efficiently allows more programme channels in the same frequency bands. Digital broadcasting in South Africa raises a series of challenges with regard to accessibility, affordability and adoption criteria. South Africa, as an emerging economy faces many daunting challenges and has many deserving developmental agenda budget priorities. However, SABC has a mandate to provide programming that informs, educates and entertains and a digital platform that facilitates the broadcasting of programming for diverse cultures in multiple languages of the region. This, in particular, must not be overlooked, because of short-term budget constraints and the planning imperatives of the region of which we are inexorably a part, namely the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The benefits of migrating from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting are well documented. These include improved reception and picture quality, support for new services, high definition television and multimedia/interactive services, more content per channel and support for mobile/portable reception among others. Commercial considerations The shift to digital broadcasting introduces a range of challenges for the entire Southern Africa region. So what needs to be done to make the transition successful? First, of course there is the need to fund and sustain our programming and remain commercially viable while funding the transition. To make our archived content available to the public through the Internet and mobile technologies, it must be digitised and packaged for multiple digital technology platforms. This will inevitably increase the content’s commercial value to the SABC by making it available to our commercial and public audiences. Digitalising presents new opportunities for exploiting and repurposing our content. News content is at the heart of our business and we have begun to exploit the Internet and mobility to deliver news to the public. While we have professional journalists across the globe to the news when it happens, we also need to embrace the shifting dynamics of technology and digital content commissioning, development, storage, management, distribution, transmission and broadcasting. Sport is another key pillar of our business. All eyes will be on Africa as we host the FIFA World Cup in 2010. The SABC has acquired the rights to broadcast this historical experience not only to South Africa, but to the rest of the world. We intend to bring this experience to multiple channels and ensure that it is repurposed to be viewable on multiple devices, including the Internet, cellular phones, television and radio platforms. Regulatory pressures In South Africa, the legislative and regulatory environment has been prepared and timelines for Broadcast Digital Migration have been announced, DTT trials are currently underway. Trial digital set-top boxes have been produced, and broadcast frequency plans have been prepared. Migrating analogue television broadcasting to a digital multimedia service will be a mammoth task. Across SADC countries, there is a general acceptance of Public Service Broadcasters and, as the leading broadcast organisations in their respective countries, these broadcasters have to lead the digital migration process ahead of public and private operators. Technologies to implement digital broadcasting are available and a number of countries across the world have already implemented, or are currently in the process of implementing, their digital migration plans. In our region, most of the proposed digital channels can only be used after the existing analogue channels have been converted to digital or switched off since the planning process envisaged the conversion of a number of existing analogue channels to digital. The reception of digital TV will require viewers to connect a set-top box to an existing analogue television set or to acquire a digital TV receiver. Reception of digital sound (audio) broadcasts will require the listener to have a digital radio receiver. Countries in Africa and abroad that receive South Africa’s broadcast content, that are still using analogue during South Africa’s switchover could be drastically affected. To mitigate this, content development has to be included in any discussion on migration from analogue to digital broadcasting. In the analogue environment, the viewer has a limited number of programme channels. The additional channels created by digital broadcasting will provide an opportunity for viewers and listeners within the SADC region to have avenues through which their own stories, concerns and lifestyles can be reflected. Spectrum challenges The switchover to digital broadcasting raises questions regarding the allocation of radio frequencies to public and private broadcasters that call for the revision of existing international arrangements or agreements. The digitisation greatly improves spectrum efficiency by transmitting more information using less spectrum than analogue technologies. This creates more channels and increases competition. SADC and Pan-African States cooperation Market players are concerned that the development of new services could be hindered by the lack of interest or by the absence of a migration strategy in individual Southern African countries. They are concerned that countries may demand legal protection regarding the terrestrial spectrum that would be available, and a reduction in barriers created by state borders. Acceleration of the switchover process will speed public use and acceptance and encourage member states to take the necessary measures. In the SADC region, the new technologies and services will depend on achieving a critical mass of users; a large installed base in South Africa would encourage rapid adoption within the SADC. The status after switchover of spectrum for pan-African and cross-border services including mobile communications and data services needs careful consideration. Will member states that have not switched to digital be able to introduce and share cross-border services? SADC countries need to start planning their own switchovers now and set termination dates for analogue broadcasting within their jurisdictions in line with the International Telecommunication Union timetable for Broadcasting Digital Migration. Setting a date would help overcome the fragmentation of Southern Africa’s digital television markets and help Southern Africa’s actors to compete against global interest groups in all parts of the digital television value chain. By building its digital capacity, SADC can increase exports and revenues, and compete strongly in content production. Transition issues Continues analogue TV transmission will introduce signal interference and hinder the introduction of digital services in member states. Consequently, spectrum sharing within SADC will depend on the switchover by neighbouring countries. Consequently, the entire SADC region must discontinue analogue broadcasting. Consumers do not care if television signals are in analogue or digital form; they will only move to digital reception when that is the only way to get the services they want – enhanced picture and sound quality, better content (sports and entertainment) and enough variety to please the whole family. Broadcasters will need to generate more content to fill the additional channel, so content development should be a core element of the migration strategy. Private-public partnerships will be needed to meet the need for local content throughout the SADC region. Coordinating the switchover South Africa’s neighbouring countries – Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho – consume a lot of content from South Africa’s state broadcaster, but they have shown little interest in switching to digital. When South Africa switches off analogue broadcasts, they will need to find ways to convert South Africa’s digital programming to serve their consumers. Migration to digital broadcasting should not merely maintain the analogue status quo, but provide additional depth and choice of broadcasting services. Sustainable competition can foster improved services so the possibility of licensing new operators, is included in the current ICASA BDM draft regulations. The advent of digital broadcasting will drive new content consumption behaviours and offer alternative revenue opportunities. Nevertheless, to protect the end-user, SADC governments will need to ensure availability of digital set-top boxes in regions dependent upon South Africa for content and transmission signals during and after the switchover process. The success of the switchover will depend largely upon programmes to educate consumers and efforts to prepare them for the consequences of the switchover. Consumers should be encouraged to acquire digital set-top boxes so they can continue to receive not only the programming they are accustomed to, but the additional digital channels as well. Government should promote an environment conducive to digital broadcasting take-up, by enacting policies and regulations that ease digital migration and reduce the cost of set-top boxes. In particular, Governments need to support consumers – especially vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, those in marginalized areas, and the poor – to ensure widespread inclusion in the digital migration process.