SA: Skills, budget hurt SABC digital TV

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Paul Vecchiatto, an ITWeb Cape Town correspondent wrote on 24 Nov 2010:

The SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is keeping the digital TV test signal going, but is not expanding the coverage, due to budgetary constraints, says acting group CEO Robin Nicholson.

Speaking to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications yesterday, during the SABC's report back on its turnaround strategy, Nicholson said developing the necessary skills within the corporation for digital TV was also a major factor. The SABC's board has been plagued by in-fighting, following the broadcaster's revelation that it was R1 billion in the red more than a year ago.

An interim board and then a full-time board have since been appointed, with the aim of ensuring the public broadcaster becomes financially sound and attracts audiences back to its services. It told Parliament that it now had halved its losses and had only drawn on R487 million of the R1 billion government-guaranteed loan that had been raised.

In answer to a Member of Parliament's question on disabled people's use of digital TV, Nicholson said the tests had shown that the technology allowed for simulcast dubbing of content in all official languages. “We have seen that in the tests. But the budgetary constraints mean that we cannot expand the test signal coverage. We are also waiting for standards to be set,” he said.

South Africa is two-thirds of the way through its dual-illumination phase, with the analogue signal scheduled to be switched off on 1 November next year.

Training of employees is part of the budgetary process and the SABC's turnaround strategy indicated it would pay incentives to certain skilled staff to stay. However, Nicholson made it clear these incentives would be phased out as employees began to gain skills in the digital broadcasting arena.

He also stated the SABC's management structure would be reviewed once the full impact of digitisation became apparent. “Eventually, we would like to have only six levels of decision-making within the organisation,” Nicholson said.

“Digital TV is a major way in which we can attract audiences back. Its flexibility will allow us to bundle programmes and content in various ways,” another SABC board member told the committee.