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.