South Africa: SABC Needs R600 Million for Digital TV

Investment

Business Day’s Chantelle Benjamin reported on 6 October 2010 that the SABC needs at least another R600m for the technology and skills to meet an international deadline of 2015 for migration to digital terrestrial television. This is what its acting CEO Robin Nicholson said.

In the SABC's 2009-10 annual report Nicholson said: "The move to digital broadcasting is an irreversible reality and investments required in technology, skills and industry need to be made but are beyond the current financial capacity of the SABC."

Nicholson added that the government's R900m grant over the past six years had enabled the SABC to upgrade a lot of its 1970s analogue-based infrastructure, but a final control centre to distribute the SABC's 15 digital channels to Sentech, and the conversion of the analogue archive to digital, required about R600m.

The broadcaster last year asked the government for R2bn in the short term to help the corporation out of its financial crisis, but warned it would require R6bn over the next five years if the SABC was to carry out its mandate as a public broadcaster.

The SABC began conducting digital trials in 2008 and is providing content for an M-Net and e.tv trial in Soweto using the upgraded version of transmission standard DVB-T, called DVB-T2.

The government's last-minute decision to review digital terrestrial television standards with the possible intention of switching to the Japanese standard (the Integrated Service Digital Broadcasting Terrestrial) after South Africa had spent two years successfully testing the DVB-T system has caused uncertainty in the broadcast sector.

It is estimated the broadcasting industry has spent R250m on these trials.
The government also moved its own target for digital migration to 2013, from next year.

Nicholson said in the report: "Certainty is needed about the timing of digital migration as new competitors enter the market with diverse content offerings. Terrestrial broadcasters will find themselves unable to compete in the new market while these competitors are left with a clear playing field on which to attract predominantly SABC audiences."