17 June 2015 marked the ostensible deadline for the digital TV switchover: however in many African countries full DTT looks a very long way off.
Namibia, however, is an exception: the country already boasts 70% coverage. To find out how it has been so successful, IP&TV News spoke to Aldred Dreyer, TV Connect Africa keynote, CTO at the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation and the man responsible for the implementation of the digital migration project in Namibia.
IP&TV News: Namibia’s had huge success with DTT, but the original launch date was delayed wasn’t it?
Aldred Dreyer: The aim was to launch in December 2012, but by that time we were not yet ready with the commercial aspect of DTT, especially regarding the shops and outlets needed to sell the decoders.
The other reason we couldn’t launch then was that, while we had 20,000 decoders in stock, the regulations were not in place yet. That was the big hurdle. And some of the frequencies that we needed for the transmitter sites were not available also.
So we did a technical switch-on, a symbolic start of the project. That was in December 2012, and then in October 2013 we commercially launched DTT in Windhoek. We are now at 70% DTT coverage, surpassing the 66% analogue coverage by 4%.
50% of the previous analogue covered viewers have also now been fully migrated to digital. These viewers now only receive a digital signal.
How did people work together on this?
There was a DTT forum set up nationally, chaired by the permanent secretary of the ministry of information, communication and technology. The stakeholders on the forum were the NBC, One Africa Television, as well as TBN, which is the community broadcaster.
And then obviously the ministry and communication regulations authority of Namibia were also part of that team. We also had DStv (the private TV operator operating on the African continent) on the forum.
How has the project itself functioned?
The project is fully funded by the government. The decoders are all subsidised. We ordered 100,000 decoders. We are currently sitting on 48,000 decoders sold as of May 2015.
We are selling the decoders for $199 Namibian, and then half of that price for pensioners, disabled persons and war veterans. There were discussions around an income based help scheme but we opted for the simpler subsidy option.
We do have a TV license system in Namibia, so people need to have proof they’ve paid their TV license in order for them to buy a decoder. That’s one way to get more compliance on the TV license side of things.
And what about distribution?
Initially we went out to tender and got an outside provider to do the decoder distribution for us because it’s not our core business. Now recently we opened up the distribution to any company that is interested. We also made an arrangement with SME bank, the small micro enterprises bank in Namibia, so that anyone that wants to be a distributor could get seed funding to procure the first batch of decoders. Distributors then earn commission on the sale of each decoder.
At the moment we have 14 distributors. We’ve also have 7 regional offices throughout Namibia that we sell decoders from. Recently we also signed up the post-office as well. They’ve got 144 post offices nationwide. That’s quite a big distribution network.
What do you see as the main impediments to the same success in the rest of the continent?
I think a big issue is government priorities. When a minister of finance of a country needs to decide, okay there’s this thing called DTT, and there’s a ministry of health wanting to increase healthcare: what are they going to choose?
I think another problem concerns the strategy of a public broadcaster; how do I operate in a multichannel, multiplatform environment? The digital multichannel/multiplatform environment is very different to a single channel analogue environment. It requires different approaches to its management and organisation. The other big concern currently is content availability to fill these DTT multiplexes. You can’t build a highway and have a donkey cart ride on it. You need to develop strategies to create more content to fill the new highway!
Aldred Dreyer is a confirmed keynote at TV Connect Africa (17th – 19th November 2015)