e.tv: SA digital TV credibility damaged
Cape Town – The free-to-air commercial broadcaster e.tv says digital terrestrial television (DTT) in South Africa has had its credibility damaged and warned the government and the country's TV regulator that leadership and speedy action are needed on the issue.
South Africa's TV industry – and thereby TV viewers – must move from analogue broadcasting to a digital system known as DTT, similar to the rest of the world; a process known as digital migration.
Viewers will need to buy a set top box (STB) to continue to receive TV signals, with the SABC, e.tv and M-Net who want to "soft launch" their DTT offerings in April 2012.
"e.tv has had many challenges over its 13 years of existence, but we believe our greatest challenge lies before us – and that is the compulsory migration to DTT," Lara Kantor, senior e.tv executive told parliament regarding digital television in South Africa.
"South African DTT has already seen multiple delays since 2008 when we were first supposed to launch this service. There have been implications because of those delays."
She said that "the project has lost momentum" and that "the project has had its credibility damaged even before it's had a chance to launch and establish itself in the mind of consumers."
3 out of every 4 viewers will need a box
"The broadcasting environment in South Africa has become more competitive – especially in the area of pay TV which has grown significantly and that will make it harder for the DTT platform to establish itself," Kantor said.
"Three out every four South Africans rely on free-to-air television. That means that three out of every four South Africans will need access to a free-to-air DTT STB before analogue transmissions can be switched off.
"Given the growth that we've seen in the satellite TV market in the last few years, free-to-air broadcasters need DTT to succeed for our own future survival. We have an interest in ensuring that the platform is strong."
e.tv will join the SABC with a soft DTT launch in April 2012, followed by a full commercial launch between July and September 2012, "the date to be confirmed when we are more confident," Kantor said.
"We don't want to raise expectations yet again and not be able to fulfill those," she warned. "We are committed to launching DTT in 2012. We need leadership to resolve matters speedily."
Regarding the government wanting encryption of the free digital TV signals – a function known as STB Control – e.tv said the broadcaster "was asked to work on that system so that government can achieve certain policy goals".
"We do not have any direct benefit from implementing this system as e.tv," Kantor said.
"We believe that as long as there are debates on whether it's required, how much it will cost, and who should own it, we cannot finalise the free-to-air STB standard. As long as that standard is not finalised, manufacturers can't produce boxes and we cannot launch."