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M-Net: Digital TV delays negative

2012-04-17 07:43
Cape Town – The numerous delays of the successful commercial implementation of digital terrestrial television (DTT) in South Africa is having a "uniquely negative impact" on M-Net, the South African pay TV broadcaster has told South Africa's broadcasting regulator.

South Africa's transition to DTT, a process known as digital migration is mired in long running government and broadcasting industry gridlock with several other countries having passed South Africa in the migration process.

The process has to be completed internationally by June 2015.

The government recently pushed the commercial launch date back yet again to September of this year.

The department of communications is warning TV viewers that they will have to pay R700 for a set top box (STB) to decode the digital TV signals or lose their signals once the analogue TV signals are switched off.

Plummeting subscriber numbers

In a document regarding South Africa's digital migration regulations to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), M-Net says the delay in starting DTT is hurting the pay TV broadcaster which has its own STB for subscribers to decode its analogue signals.

M-Net will have to market and sell a new DVB-T2 decoder when it starts to broadcast its digital signal and a brand-new bouquet of several new M-Net channels, but can't yet do so.

Meanwhile M-Net stopped selling its analogue decoders years ago because the pay TV company didn't feel that it would be right to sell "old" outdated technology to subscribers. The result is plummeting subscriber numbers for M-Net.

"As far back as 2001 M-Net commenced testing digital terrestrial television. In February 2007, when the then-minister announced that cabinet had approved 1 November 2008 for digital switch-on, M-Net decided to stop selling analogue STBs, since we felt that we couldn't continue to sell those to subscribers in the knowledge that this technology would soon become redundant.

"This has now meant that M-Net has been unable to maintain and grow its subscriber base.

"In addition, the ageing analogue technology used by our existing subscribers has become expensive to maintain and repair," said M-Net.

Endless delays

"The endless delays over the past four and a half years in finalising the framework for the migration to digital television in South Africa has exacerbated these negative consequences for M-Net’s television subscription business," explained M-Net. "The further delay of the commencement of DTT will only compound these difficulties."

M-Net warns in its submission that "the absence of an attractive digital television offering will undermine consumer adoption of DTT".

Cheaper options available

At the last meeting on DTT of parliament's portfolio committee on communications, M-Net showed and explained to government that expensive STB are not necessary and argued for much cheaper STBs, also called "digital converters".

 M-Net explained to government that STBs or "digital converters" are actually available and could retail for R350 or less which has all the functionality and can do exactly what the government wants it to do with DTT.

M-Net showed examples of the devices to government. The pay TV broadcaster said STB technology would eventually be built into TV sets and that the "very expensive" STB option of R700 is only supposed to be an interim solution.

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