SOUTH AFRICA’S TELEVISION INDUSTRY MOVES INTO THE DIGITAL AGE

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Sentech says that there is no doubt that Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) will benefit the citizens of this country, as well as Government, which has championed broadcasting as a critical information delivery mechanism for all South Africans.

At a press briefing on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) held at Sentech Offices on 21 September 2006, Dr Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane, Chief Executive Officer of Sentech, says the company has started the move to DTT, which will take South Africa into the digital television age and bring an enhanced viewing experience into the living rooms of most South Africans.

“Government has already committed to fund R208 million to Sentech over 3 years and we have already commenced rolling out DTT infrastructure,” says Mokone-Matabane.

Sentech is presently in discussions with Government to provide further funding options, which will be required to complete the digitisation roll-out.

In these discussions, Government has shown full commitment to make the required funding available, Mokone-Matabane adds.

Global deadlines

South Africa is part of the global community in terms of trade and commerce, technology and standards among others. It is also an affiliate of international bodies such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is an organisation of the United Nations where governments and the private sector work together to address issues of common interest.

The ITU at its recent conference agreed to set the deadline of June 2015 for Africa Regions to have migrated to digital broadcasting. According to Mokone-Matabane South Africa is aiming to migrate before this time.

An update on the process

DTT test transmissions commenced in March 2006 from Sentech’s main broadcast tower site in Brixton, Johannesburg.

The first phase involves upgrading the Sentech broadcast network and duplicating the current analogue network channels on a digital system.

Sentech anticipates the first phase of network upgrades will take two years, with digital migration commencing in 2008.

“Most of the 220 sites needed to broadcast DTT to 92% of South Africa’s population are in fact already in place and only need to be upgraded to become fully digital,” says Mokone-Matabane. Once that process is complete, DTT and analogue systems will be run side-by-side (a dual illumination process) until South Africa is ready to switch off analogue transmission, a decision which will be made by Government.

FIFA World Cup 2010

By 2009 all the requirements of the FIFA World Cup 2010 broadcasting requirements will be met by Sentech, the parastatal said.

As stated in the Sentech Annual Report 2006, the completion for World Cup 2010 is dependent on:

--The Department of Communication’s Digital Broadcasting Advisory committee, which includes regulatory, industry players and government, who will submit a draft report on DTT policy by the end of 2006. -- Final funding required to complete the DTT roll-out.

The benefits

DTT will give users access to a multi-channel, multi-platform viewing experience and will finally bring true convergence into living rooms.

Digital TV sets will increasingly become integrated with fixed and mobile broadband networks, allowing viewers to switch easily between watching television, surfing the Internet, or even doing online shopping.

DTT therefore opens the way to combine the pay-per-view services and the Internet with the simplicity of television.

By being able to deliver multiple channels on the same platform and multiple language offerings per channel, government will be investing in a technology that delivers higher technical quality and potentially more relevant content to citizens.

Even more exciting is DTT’s ability to facilitate interactivity, allowing users to not only find and view information relevant to their needs, but respond to it as well by asking questions and expressing their views.

This allows Government to take the next step in e-government and meet overall goals of socio-economic development by providing a host of e-services such as e-learning and e-health.

Another benefit of DTT, which is sure to delight consumers, will be the clearer, sharper pictures provided by DTT, without the interference and ghosting that some residents of built-up areas or hilly terrain sometimes experience. DTT also offers a wide screen format.

Costs

A set-top box costing approximately not more than R500 each is required to decode the signal, even for public broadcasting service and free-to-air channels.

Although the cost of the set-top boxes should reduce significantly over the next four years, they will still need to be subsidised if the main aim of reaching the masses in a relatively short time is to be achieved.

The success of the DTT project lies primarily on Government, the Public Broadcaster (SABC) and Sentech. This will ensure that public interest and access to broadcast services is not compromised.

By using digital broadcasting technology, South Africa can take a giant step in making effective e-government work and an information communications society a reality.

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