#DigitalMigration: Beyond the falsehoods

Kenyans have continued being treated to a circus as three media houses continue to make a mockery of the plan for digital migration. The three who run 4 out of 40 television stations in the country have gone ahead and launched a fight with the industry’s regulator while pushing falsehoods in their quest to maintain monopoly acquired using the analogue broadcasting. If you have followed the debate, the three media houses have continued to change the reasons why they are opposed to the switch off programme. They claimed they wanted their own licence, then went on to claim that they needed more time. And now, they have discovered four years later that one signal distributor is a Chinese company.

So what is the real picture on the #DigitalMigration?

First, the public has been deceived that a signal distributor is a broadcaster. Kenyans have been told that since one of the licensed distributors is a majority owned by the Chinese, this is giving foreigners an advantage. This is totally untrue as signal distributors are not in competition with broadcasters. All they do is be used as a channel to relay the broadcaster’s content. This lie has been used to perpetuate another falsehood that TV stations will be surrendering their content to a third party. The four stations are not telling Kenyans that they are already on PANG and Signet. So their content is still being carried by a third party just like they are being hosted by DSTV and Zuku. Such arrangements are made by signing agreements which a legal documents that can be presented in court if violated.

Secondly, regulations dictate that all Set Top Boxes must meet the “Must-Carry” obligation which requires that they carry at least five local channels for free. Claiming that not having their own Set Top Box denies them them the opportunity to be aired is thus a lie. For a decoder to be approved into the market, it must be able to receive all the Free-To-Air channels.

Thirdly, the market has two options for Set Top Boxes (Decoders). The pay TV Decoders require you to pay monthly subscriptions while the FTA Decoders allow you to watch TV without paying but on a digital platform. This is the reason that the Communication Authority of Kenya has approved over 70 different set boxes. Only GoTV and Start Times have both types of decoders and have made this information public.

The fourth lie is that #DigitalMigration will lead to loss of jobs. The truth is that the three media houses have invested heavily on prime time news and relied one foreign programming to keep themselves on air. They have failed to invest in local production which has been taken up by smaller media houses. What will happen is that with the need for more content, more jobs will be created in the industry and no necessarily for news staff.

Finally, the digital fight is motivate by the need for a few to continue enjoying all the revenue pie by having dominance in the market. #DigitalMigration opens up the airwaves where all the 40+ TV channels can be accessible everywhere in the country at the same time. The frequency spectrum on analogue allows for about 18 channels to be on air within a broadcast region but digital technology promises to expand this to above 100. This is the competition that media houses fear as content will be king to attract both viewers and advertisers.


4 thoughts on “#DigitalMigration: Beyond the falsehoods

  1. I think the 3 media houses are just greedy and want to tap into the millions that set box companies are going to make from the sale of the decoders. I have a digital TV which requires no decoder to air digital content. My question is, did the 3 media houses sign agreement with the manufacturer of these digital TVs so that they can air their content without consent? The thing is, NTV, KTN and CITIZEN know that 98% of Kenyans own the old analogue TVs and now want to also make billions out the sale of the decoders. This is not bad provided they do not use lies to advance their business agenda.

  2. Oliver, my take on the points you raise:

    On third party carrier licences: The four stations do not object to being carried by third parties. They never have, and were even on DStv way before this digital migration craze. They, however, became part of the DStv broadcast menu after signing, and I quote you, “agreements which are legal documents”. As it stands now, none of these stations have any agreement with the carriers they object to. That is why, as I have said elsewhere, they have no qualms with the free-to-watch Signet, or Bamba TV, or the subscription-based DStv. You can have it if you will give it away free of charge, but, buddy, if you are going to sell it, we need to sign some paperwork.

    On must-carry provision: The must-carry rule is actually well-intentioned as it is aimed at helping build the industry. That rule, however, does not say that among those five must-carry stations should be NTV, KTN, Citizen and QTV. Also, and I think this is where the legalese starts to beat me, is it possible that, at the time of crafting that obligation, the team never envisaged a situation where local broadcasters would also be signal carriers? In situations where one feels that one’s intellectual property rights are being infringed upon by being forced to give content to someone else, shouldn’t there be a provision for one to seek legal redress against the other party? In the US, commercial stations that elect must-carry status have the option of requesting carriage on the same channel number that they occupy over-the-air. However, television stations may also be carried on any channel that is… wait for it… “mutually agreed upon by the station and the operator”. In Poland, lawyers dismissed the must-carry obligation as ‘Must-Carry, Must-Infringe’, while in Thailand operators said such a rule would pose major copyright risks.

    On pay-TV decoders: I would not fuss over it if someone took my content and distributed it, for free, to a larger audience. That means I would not mind if both Go-Tv and StarTimes distributed local content, acquired free of charge, free of charge. However, I have problems with them if they take my content, bundle it alongside some other content, and ask you to pay Sh800, or even Sh100, a month to watch it. Because that means you are using my content, for which you are not paying, to make money.

    On loss of jobs: Yes, ‪#‎DigitalMigration‬ will lead to loss of jobs, but only in the transmission departments of broadcast houses. Conversely, it will create more jobs — which it already has — because it will open up the broadcast space, allowing any entrepreneur who can afford a microphone and a digital video camera to set up a TV station in his or her bedroom throw the output, possibly via microwave links, to a carrier.
    I think that, if we are to approach this issue from a sober perspective, without letting our partisan, political (and, I dare say it, tribal) emotions cloud our collective vision; we would discover that we are bungling the process.

    What I like about this “impasse”, however, is that is has afforded me the opportunity to study how the media reports itself. Can the cardinal journalistic requirement of objectivity be applied when one is reporting on a matter in which one has an interest? I ask this because I thought I was the only one who felt some TV stations were being needlessly dramatic yesterday until David Makali, a fellow journalist, tweeted “so much skewed, lopsided reporting on digital migration”.

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