Uganda: Jacaranda Digital Broadcasting will invest US$2.5 million in digital transmission network; phase one goes live in February 2011

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The huge task of the digital transition in broadcasting is beginning to pick up pace in East Africa. In February Uganda will become the third country in the region to offer live digital transmission as an alternative to the existing analog signals. However, key obstacles still need to be cleared if the process is to find favour amongst Africa’s TV viewers. Russell Southwood has spoken to Jacaranda Digital Broadcasting’s CEO Richard Lutwama about its investment in a Uganda-wide digital transmission network.

Five Ugandan television stations took part in a digital broadcast pilot with 200 viewers receiving the signal in the capital Kampala in November 2009. The five television stations taking part in the pilot include Kenyan-owned Nation Television (NTV), WBS, East Africa Television and Nile Broadcasting Service. The pilot transmissions were carried out by Next Generation Broadcasting, a Swedish company in partnership with national broadcaster Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) TV.

Jacaranda Digital Broadcasting is one of four “pioneer” digital signal carrier licence holders, which also include the Chinese company Star TV and the Swedish company NGB. Therefore Uganda’s 10 terrestrial broadcasters will have a choice of signal carrier and will not be compelled to use the state-owned broadcaster’s transmission network.

Jacaranda Digital Broadcasting will be rolling out its digital transmission network in four phases: the first one will cover Kampala and surrounding areas and subsequent phases will cover the west, the north and the east of the country. The first phase, which will go live in the third week of February, will cost US$850,000 and the total network build cost will be US$2.5 million. When the full roll-out is completed in late 2012 the transmission network will cover 70% of the population.

Jacaranda Digital Broadcasting’s CEO Richard Lutwama has chosen the DVB-T standard over the more up-to-date DVB-T2 standard now being used in neighbouring Kenya:”According to our vendors, the DVB-T2 standard is still very unstable and the set-top boxes are expensive for end users, currently costing around US$200.”

Currently India is discussing rolling out straight to DVB-T2 and if it does so, then the current instabilities will be resolved and the long production runs will bring the set-top box price down. However, Lutwama believes that this means T2 will not be worth considering for at least 2-3 years.

Lutwama says that his company will roll-out 28 channels, 18 of these will be for national content and 12 will be kept in reserve for later local content channels. Jacaranda Digital Broadcasting’s business model is built on two elements: firstly, it will sell digital transmission capacity to terrestrial Free-To-Air broadcasters and secondly, it will offer Pay TV content. On the latter, Lutwama told us:”If we have 50,000 customers we will break even but we’ll be comfortable with 120,000 customers. We’re not aiming at the high end of the market and we want users not to be paying more than US$10 per month. If we’re able to achieve these targets, we’ll look to extend to hundreds of thousands of more customers.”

East Africa has got in place the licensing for digital signal carriers and attracted operators but Government has still failed to create the circumstances to make the changeover a rapid success. Currently a set-top box for an end-user in Uganda costs around US$60.

And as Lutwama told us:”The transition deadline is early 2012. We don’t think the Government has done enough to make the transition work. It has not moved a finger. It must meet us halfway by removing the tax on the set-top box. If they did that, the set-top box price would be US$40 and we could roll part of the payment into our monthly charges and offer a set-top box at a much lower price. If we could provide it for US$20, our monthly fees would still be very low.”

The other missing element is a unified marketing response by the Free-To-Air (FTA) broadcasters. In the UK, FTA broadcasters came together to promote a Freeview branded set-top box which offered all of the FTA broadcasters existing channels and their new ones.

Some of these new channels were extremely simple to create. Channel 4 simply used one to run programmes one hour later to allow people a second chance to see things if they weren’t home when the programme started. Five used an additional channel to create Five USA to package its popular US programming in a single channel.

The row in Kenya between the Government and the FTA broadcasters is over who gets the new channels: will it be the existing players or will it be the new Pay TV operators who tend to be the investors in the digital transmission infrastructure? However, thus far traditional FTA broadcasters have not put much on the table in terms of programming ideas.

So where Africa’s digital transition is taking place, it’s succeeding in getting the transmission infrastructure in place but too little attention is being paid creating a content bonus to attract African TV viewers to the new technology. Without this focus, the whole process will be extremely slow or may be still-born.

News announcement: Balancing Act’s new Web TV Channel

Also do not miss our Web TV channel (beta version) which highlights recent interviews with top African TV and Radio personalities. There are interviews in both English and French. In particular look out for Twitter’s Jessica Verrilli of Twitter talking about how African media is making use of its service. Click here

 

CALL FOR PAPERS

Africa’s broadcast and film industries are entering the new decade full of dynamism and potential as a result of last liberalisation in broadcasting and unprecedented entrepreneurial drive in film-making over the past decade. The 3rd African Broadcast and Film Conference will provide a stock-taking opportunity for players in both industries, and empower them with the knowledge and business contacts they need to build effectively on the gains so far.

The conference is aimed at senior and middle managers in:

- National television stations
- National radio stations.
- Pay TV companies using cable, IP-TV or satellite.
- International broadcasting services like CNN, BBC, NBC, VOA, China Broadcasting, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, Radio Japan, Radio Moscow, Radio France International and Radio Netherlands.
- Television and film production companies.
- Facilities providers including production equipment hire, post-production and outside broadcast.
- Organisations like donors and faith-based organisations that run their own broadcast organisations for development purposes.
- Television and film equipment vendors and satellite capacity suppliers.
- Advertising and marketing agencies.
- Mobile and fixed telephone operators looking at convergence opportunities.
- Library Facilities for music, commercials and programmes.

Themes

- Pay TV – How to extend services to the bottom of the pyramid

- Local content development – Success stories and hurdles

- The Digital Transition – Assessing progress and challenges across the continent

- Innovative radio broadcasting

- The Changing African TV and Radio audiences

- Building an African film industry – building synergies, collaboration and partnerships across the continent

- Sports broadcasting – carving out Africa’s stake in the run-up to London 2012

- Technological innovation – improving services, driving down costs and extending coverage

- The impact of social media – developing multi-media platforms

These themes are provisional and that we welcome conference presentation ideas. If you have a theme or idea you would like to present at the conference please contact Russell Southwood on info@balancingact-africa.com or Helen Moroney helenm@aitecafrica.com

3nd African Broadcast and Film Conference, Laico Regency Hotel, Nairobi (13-14 July, 2011), Nairobi, Kenya