MORE than a year after the June 17, 2015 deadline issued by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting in the African region only two countries on the continent have successfully crossed the hurdle. This reality of poor performance index has compelled the stakeholders on the continent to forge collaboration on the transition to digital broadcasting.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues on the continent, said African nations have agreed to work together in their quest to successfully transit from analogue to digital broadcasting.
Speaking at the sixth African Digital TV Development seminar in Beijing, China, the minister said the decision to engage in shared experiences and synergy on a continental level was reached by the African ministers in charge of Information and Communication, who attended the third forum on China-Africa Media Cooperation also in Beijing, which preceded the seminar.
The Chinese multinational media group; StarTimes, from June 23-25, 2016 hosted the 6th African Digital TV Development Seminar in Beijing on the theme: “Making Digital TV more accessible and enjoyable in Africa.” The event was attended by over 140 media stakeholders from some 35 countries. The forum focused on switchover possibilities (financing, technology and content build up) with the hope of arming the continent to meet the new deadline.
It is indeed worrisome that so far, only two African nations have successfully transited to digital broadcasting. Others are in various stages of transition. It is therefore imperative that we all work together to achieve our set goal. According to him, digital migration in broadcasting is irreversible and unstoppable; hence Nigeria and indeed the entire African continent must join the global digitalization train so as not to be left behind. He stated that it is imperative for Africa to utilize the platform provided by digitalization to leapfrog into the future of technology. He stressed that a successful transition would spin off benefits far beyond broadcasting, not just for Nigeria but for the entire African continent. The Minister said that the spin-off of a successful DSO would put many of the country’s youths to work, provide the platform for their creativity to blossom, ensure technology transfer and create opportunities far beyond what anyone can fathom at the moment.
‘’The lessons we have learnt and the experiences we have shared at this forum will definitely fire our zeal to continue working apace towards a timely and successful digitalization. We must all build on the momentum we have garnered through our interactions in these past few days,’’ the Minister said.
He said that the ministers have agreed on the need for a continental synergy and the sharing of experiences in order to facilitate a successful switchover across the continent. ‘’The Digital Switch Over is a global project. Many countries that have concluded their DSO are already reaping the benefits accruing therefrom. Africa cannot afford to lag too far behind,’’ he said.
The StarTimes group made various presentations that offered varieties of partnership options to the media stakeholders at the forum. The options included offer that enables different governments to either embrace the Public/Private Partnership Model or go in for concessional loans to effectively complete the DSO. The former gives room for mutually-beneficial agreements wherein the operator finances, carries out the mutation and runs the channels for some time before handing them over to government. StarTimes also pledged her readiness for the self-financing of this option.
With this option, StarTimes Group would be the project’s constructor, the issuance of licenses and frequencies shall be the responsibility of the State and the Project’s Operation would be through a joint venture between the outfit and government.
The concessional loans option with the government of China carries a 2 per cent interest rate, with a 20-year repayment period and a five-eight year grace period. According to Chinese officials, profitability is guaranteed through transmission fee from signal distribution for the local TV stations, subscription fee from terminal subscribers and advertising revenue from the advertisement clients, some of whom should be new investors attracted into business by the technological evolution.
President of StarTimes group, Pang Xinxing, said the content of any television programme determines its view ability. Other experts similarly advocated audiovisual media organs to “find your audience first, create for them, build a digital community, and then move to new levels of creative engagement with that audience.” For success, questions like, ‘Is it worth watching, is it relevant, is it locally adaptable, is the programme renewable, repeatable and scalable?’ must be answered. “Content is king, signal coverage is God!” officials said.
StarTimes covers 90 per cent of Africa’s population with a massive distribution network of 200 brand halls, 3,000 convenience stores and 5,000 distributors, with a featured content platform and 440 authorised channels consisting of news, movies, series, sports, entertainment, children’s programmes, fashion, religion et al. It combines satellite and terrestrial DTV systems to provide an open and secured digital wireless platform.