Cape Town – The bill is fast mounting for ordinary South African TV viewers to get digital television - and the price is steadily increasing.
The government has revealed that South Africa's 11 million TV households will also need to buy a new antenna besides just a set top box (STB) during the country's switch-over from analogue to digital broadcasting – because the digital signal will be "too weak".
While millions of South Africans will have to cough up an estimated R700 to buy a STB for South Africa's TV switch-over, a process known as digital migration, the department of communications is now saying that new antennas will also be needed.
That will cost another R110 for most viewers. Add another R31 ($4) if the government adds an encryption system, or so-called STB Control, into the box so that the government can control who gets the signal and prevent STBs from being used outside of South Africa.
This means that the STB price has just shot up to an estimated R840 which the majority of South Africans will have to pay in full.Subsidies
Meanwhile, the government has said that only the poorest of South African households will receive a subsidy to buy a STB, but has given no indication yet of how the subsidy will work, how it will determine which households qualify, and what the subsidy amount will be.
The rest of households will have to pay the full amount to switch to digital terrestrial television (DTT) when broadcasters start moving to a digital broadcasting system. New antennas needed
The department of communications dropped a bombshell in parliament and told the portfolio committee on communications that "60% of South African TV owning households will require a (new) outdoor antenna; 40% will require an indoor antenna, depending on the strength of the signal.
"We have not catered for that when we dealt with the issue of the subsidy. There is a need for us as government to ensure that people have the right antenna to get the signal."
The department said an outdoor antenna will cost an estimated R110 and an indoor antenna will cost R45.
This is going to balloon the overall cost of DTT in South Africa, increasing the financial burden on ordinary consumers and TV viewers.
The department did a cost analysis for DTT in 2006 and determined that the entire programme of digital migration would cost South Africa R4.2bn if the migration happened within the three-year period for broadcasters, signal distributors, industry and consumers. "The cost needs to be updated," the department said.Digital signal not strong enough
"If one could do with just (indoor) antennas or do away with antennas that would have been the ideal situation," the department told parliament.
"Unfortunately in practice this is not possible because we are using the Sentech network. The Sentech network was designed for analogue television. The network is not dense enough to enable the (digital) signal to be strong enough to provide coverage using indoor antennas only. We're sitting with an unfortunate situation whereby certain viewers need outdoor antennas. If we were to try and implement a system for everybody to use indoor antennas, it would mean building a substantial number of transmitting stations. This would not only have cost implications but also for the digital migration timelines involved."Major confusion
Meanwhile, most ordinary South Africans are clueless about the imminent process of digital migration and what is happening, partly because the government's information and marketing campaign which should have been running for months already collapsed because of a failed government contract.
Roy Padayachie, the minister of communications, called it a "serious issue" and said that "everybody is beginning to pick this up".
"If you go out there very few people really understand what this is all about.
"That is directly related to the previous contractor that was given a R22m contract to run the campaign and ran into problems. That contract got suspended. The department is finalising the legalities of that so that we can settle the matter with that contract. What is being put in place is a new set of measures to implement the marketing strategies. We want to put out a new tender for the marketing campaign." Thinus Ferreira is a TV media expert. Read his blog here.