Government compares SA TV biz to Ukraine

2014-03-25 10:08
Cape Town – The South African government is comparing South Africa's TV industry and the long-delayed dispensation for digital terrestrial television (DTT) to the Ukraine.

Instead of comparing upwards and to countries with more sophisticated television markets and TV industries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Western Europe and comparable TV markets like Australia, New Zealand, parts of Asia as well as South America, the South African government chooses countries with lesser developed TV markets when it wants to compare and rationalise the inclusion of a conditional access (CA) system or encryption for free-to-air public television.

At issue is a contentious standoff in South Africa's switch from analogue to digital television, already delayed for more than half a decade.

The majority of South Africa's broadcasters want public, free-to-air television in South Africa to remain unencrypted. Some local decoder manufacturers agree.

Some local decoder manufacturers, the government and disagree and want an encryption system be built into the set-top boxes.

South Africa's 11 million TV households will have to buy a set-top box at about R800 each, and in many cases also a new special antenna as an additional expense.

To help viewers or to help the industry?

Built-in encryption technology for free television – whether used or not – will make these boxes more expensive for ordinary TV viewers in terms of hardware as well as proprietary software licences.

Encryption will also lock the boxes for South Africa, making it impossible for South African viewers to possibly buy cheaper imported STBs which adhere to local standards.

Ordinary TV viewers will also not be able to buy TV sets from international manufacturers which have DTT receivers automatically built-in but which has no encryption systems.

An encryption system which makes boxes more complex and expensive for the ordinary TV viewer, will however aid the government's goal of using digital migration for job creation and to build and maintain a local set-top box industry.

An encryption system will also enable STBs to be switched off when they're taken outside of South Africa's borders like neighbouring countries. That will prevent TV signals from South African TV channels from being seen outside of the country.

The department of communications attacked the pay-TV platform MultiChoice, South Africa's community TV stations and the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (Namec), saying other countries are also using, or are about to use the same system where the signals for public television are encrypted and with an encryption system built into boxes.

"They include Zambia, Uganda, Botswana, Ethiopia, Seychelles, Malawi, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, Malaysia, Ukraine, Belarus and Slovakia," says Yunus Carrim, the minister of communications in a statement.

'Control system for industrial policy'

Carrim says South Africa's STBs "will have a control system for industrial policy and other reasons".

"The STB policies are consistent with the ANC's Mangaung resolutions and government's policies on encouraging competition in monopolised sectors, BBBEE, job-creation and advancing the needs of the poor and disadvantaged," says Carrim.

"The South African market will be flooded by cheap low quality STB imports and undermine the local manufacturing industry and the prospects of jobs," says Carrim in the statement.

"Poor people will not be able to buy new digital televisions for years to come".

"Most emerging black manufacturers anyway support control. Without it, they will lose out to foreign imports".

Disclaimer: This is an article written by an independent South African TV critic and journalist covering the TV industry. The views of users published on Channel24 are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Channel24. Channel24 reserves the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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