South Africa’s digital migration and analogue-switch-off (ASO), scheduled for 31 March 2022, is believed to be a threat to many free-to-air viewers who will lose access to analogue broadcast channels. For example, Cape Town TV (CTV), a non-profit community broadcaster, is reportedly fighting to keep its analogue signal, stating that at this stage, there are “only a few digital TV receivers in the market”.
CTV’s Station Director, Karen Thorne, says that the country does not have sufficient DTT decoders available at this stage. As a result, she explains that consumers will have to invest in either a digital TV set, DTT decoder, or pay-TV satellite service after the switch-off. She further highlights that recent research conducted by the station has shown that South Africa is not ready for ASO. “This is the main reason for eTV suing the government to postpone the switch-off”, she adds.
The Station Director explains that the majority of CTV viewers will struggle with securing finances to ensure the means to access digital TV. She also exemplifies that many citizens are unaware of the coming change. Thorne then goes on to challenge the government’s subsidised decoder model, remarking that if a person were to register now, it would take many months before they would receive the device.
“The majority of the existing stock has been earmarked for the 1.3 million people who have registered. There has been no sign telling when more DTT decoders will be available. The chip shortage, a global complication, will further extend the delay.”
Although digital migration will expand broadcast footprints and increase viewership into community TV activities, the road to the expansion poses significant challenges for community broadcasters. Thorne stresses that one of the considerable limitations is increased transmission costs as many more transmitters will need to be hired from Sentech, the national distributor. “CTV’s transmission costs will rise from $4000 to $120000 a month, which is a 2900 per cent increase,” says Thorne.
She continues by citing that “SABC saw a 30 per cent decrease in the Free State following its transmission switch-off. This level of loss will also hit community stations with the likelihood of higher losses as the station’s lower-income audience struggles to find viewing options.”
“The digital migration requires more time than what is currently allocated, and the government needs to engage with all affected stakeholders to ensure that the transition is successful,” adds the Station Director.