Kenya: Why The Nation Is Enthusiastic About the Shift From Analogue to Digital TV

Technology & Convergence

This year, Kenya will migrate its four million analogue TV viewers to the digital platform. The switch over is the culmination of a journey that started in 2006, during the World Radio Conference in which all countries of the world agreed to adopt digital TV broadcasting by 2015.

Subsequently, the Ministry of Information and Communications set up the Digital Television Committee (DTC) to spearhead the implementation and to advise the Government on the migration process. The DTC is made up of representatives from the Ministry of Information and Communications, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, private broadcasters, National Communications Secretariat and the ICT sector regulator - the Communications Commission of Kenya.

One of its first tasks was to advise the Government on the appropriate digital technology, which led to the adoption of the DVB T standard that the public broadcaster, KBC, subsequently used to deploy the digital platform in Nairobi and its environs. In 2010, the Government resolved to upgrade to the DVB T2 standard, which has better spectral efficiency.

KBC subsequently upgraded its digital platform to the DVB T2 standard, which is now available in Nairobi and its environs. Most regions of the country are expected to be covered before the end of this year.

As alluded to above, digital TV broadcasting is poised to offer higher spectrum efficiency, better picture quality and clearer sound. As a result, more broadcasting channels will be available, offering more choice to consumers, interactivity and access to electronic programming guides (EPG), games, etc.

To fast-track deployment of the digital signal, CCK has already opened up its distribution to competition. As a result, the Pan African Networks Group Kenya Ltd was awarded a signal distribution license in October 2011 through a competitive tender process. An additional player will be licensed through a competitive bidding process targeting the national level in order to promote local participation in this strategic sector.

The introduction of the signal distribution market segment is a milestone for the broadcasting industry in Kenya as it has reduced barriers to entry. With the burden of infrastructure roll out now being shouldered by signal distributors, broadcasters can focus their investment and energy on the less strenuous endeavours of studio set up and content creation.

Digital broadcasting will move Kenya towards establishing a more equitable, just and people-centered information society.The spectrum freed as a result of the migration shall be re-planned and re-assigned to the ICT industry to support the ever-increasing need for wireless communication services.

The migration process has had its fair share of challenges. While the DVB T2 platform is ready, compliant set top boxes are yet to be available in the market. To overcome this challenge, the Commission has, on behalf of the Government, called on the private sector to import the set boxes. To increase consumer awareness of the benefits of digital TV broadcasting, CCK will soon launch a public awareness campaign.

Migration to digital TV broadcasting offers an opportunity for the growth of the creative industry in Kenya. With more TV channels, the market for content creation will grow by leaps and bounds, thus creating many opportunities. There is also good news for pay TV broadcast content service providers as the Kenyan model provides for their accommodation on the digital platform. The platform will be more useful when we have a collage of free-to-air, pay television and a whole variety of content providers to ensure consumers enjoy the benefits of migration by way of new, exciting and fresh programme content.

As Kenyans are known to have a very rich appetite for what is Kenyan, we as an industry have no choice but to work towards taking advantage of this predisposition to capture the local market as well as the export one. Kenya's overall approach is to ensure that there is adequate sensitization in order to keep an open and all inclusive path as we traverse the intricate space between public interest and investments in the sector.

The trick is to ensure complementary efforts of training, low cost of terminal equipment (particularly set top boxes), and continuous public awareness campaigns so that all can benefit from the new era of broadcasting.

The Digital Migration workshop by the African Media Initiative in collaboration with the United States Telecommunications Training Institute comes at an opportune moment as we all wait to learn from the successes and challenges of other regions.

Francis W. Wangusi is the Acting Director General, Communications Commission of Kenya.