To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
Staff Reporter, Guy Berger07 Dec 2006 07:50
A glimpse was given last week of South Africa’s digital broadcast future—and of the wrangles about who might control it. The somewhat fuzzy picture came in via a 350-page report by a task force set up by the government and called the digital broadcasting migration working group (WG).
The WG’s wide-ranging document recommends a road ahead against the backdrop of enormous complexities, conflicts and costs of moving the nation’s broadcasting into the digital era.
By switching from analogue to digital transmissions, South Africa will enjoy better-quality images and sound, and free up scarce radio frequency for new broadcast and data services.
What emerges from the WG report are intensely different interests between consumers, broadcasters and signal distributors in moving to a fully digital system:
About the only thing the various parties agree on is that the government should deploy taxpayers’ money to foot most of the digital migration bill (a cost that Sentech has estimated at R10-billion). The WG proposes that the government dangle various carrots to make transition happen:
exemption for existing broadcasters from local content and public service obligations on their digital broadcasts;
For TV, the proposal is for a “managed switchover approach”, to be determined by a national forum of stakeholders, rather than the government or the regulator alone.
In this vision, analogue TV broadcasting would continue until 2015. This timetable would allow for affordable prices for the set-top boxes needed to receive digital TV signals. Three phases are envisaged:
Its report does not discuss the potential of cellphones to replace set-top boxes and link directly to a TV set. It also ignores experiments in the United States where miniature data projectors are built into cellphones—portending a future where the phones project digital TV images independently of TV sets.
There’s an even bigger issue signalled, but not elaborated, in the WG statement—“it is increasingly being recognised that broadcasting will not be a one-way communication service in future”.
The point is that the foundations for future digital broadcasting mean that whether by DTT (Sentech), DTH (satellite) or DVB-H (mobile), not the signal distributors, the broadcasters or the phone companies will call the shots.
Instead, it will be the consumers turned producers, and audiences turned casters, who will rule the broadcast landscape. Roll on digital migration.
Read more from Guy Berger
Create Account | Lost Your Password?