interview


Digital migration for the Southern African region

Gelfand_Kausiyo

We speak to Gelfand Kausiyo, general manager of broadcast facilities at South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

What developments have you witnessed in Africa’s broadcasting industry in the past 12 months?

In the past 12 months Africa, and in particular, South Africa has been abuzz with fancy digital trends. Firstly, there was an attempt to introduce DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting – Handheld) to the South African broadcast mobile market, but the uptake has been a real doubtful starter, signalling a big problem with the continued DVB-H rollout. It has not been impressive at all.

On the other hand everyone is talking HD (High Definition) for television, whilst plans are on the cards to test digital radio (with current tests already available on the DMB – Digital Mobile Broadcasting platform) in South Africa. DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) trials have been wobbling on the sidelines in the Johannesburg area with limited success, little focus and it does look like nobody really cares about DAB in this part of the world.

The buzz word in the whole of Africa at the moment is DTT. Whilst others pronounce the acronym DTT as Digital Terrestrial Television I prefer to call it Digital Terrestrial Transmission as plans abound to accommodate both radio and TV on this digital platform. However, the primary services carried on DTT remain solidly television as that is where the biggest business drivers lie. On the other hand radio is very much a mobile medium with high portability and it is the mobility factor that makes DTT less attractive for the South African radio consumption.

What challenges have you encountered as a result of this progress?

Too much talk on the choice of DTT technology standard to adopt for the region, less action, aborted take-off resulting in confusion on the market place. The whole of the Southern African region comprising countries like South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo were thrown into turmoil as a result of a mix-up of the choice of the preferred DTT technology standard.

The region was confused between the European DVB-T standard versus the Japanese ISDB-T standard, with proponents of both standards pushing hard and taking a hard line stance for adoption of their own preferred choice of the DTT technology standard. This debate went on for far too long over the whole of last year in the Southern African region, resulting in major delays that upset the broadcaster’s plans for digital migration.

Only at the beginning of this year was the choice of DVB-T2 standard announced by the authorities in South Africa as the way to go. That was also quite problematic as DVB-T2 is itself quite a leap-frog from the DVB-T standard and the two are not wholly compatible – that’s causing further confusion on the market.

The Southern African region quite frankly didn’t need that level of confusion, but people believe it’s a better devil to adopt the DVB-T2 standard, so everyone is now rallying behind that choice of technology, at least for now. There seems to be some direction to take – so digital migration for the Southern African region here we go!

How do you believe new technologies can improve viewer engagement?

There are definite obvious benefits associated with the introduction of DTT technology to the African market. The first one that comes to mind almost immediately is better and more choices becoming available to the consumer on terrestrial platforms. For instance, the biggest public broadcaster in the Southern African Region – the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) – could previously only operate up to three television channels. However with the onset of DTT the public broadcaster will be able to offer a wide variety of educational, informative and entertaining programmes on multiple platforms.

There are of course other added benefits in the ability of DTT to support multiple language programmes. For instance South Africa has got 11 official languages that can easily be accommodated on DTT. The quality on DTT is much better. The element of interactivity is key to promoting viewers/audience participation into programming on certain DTT technologies. Viewers will, for the first time in poor communities, be able to record programmes or programme their DTT set-top boxes for later viewing, etcetera.

What role do you think online video will eventually take within the overall mix of television technologies in Africa?

Whilst the developments of online video are a real force to reckon with elsewhere in the developed world, unfortunately the same cannot be said about this type of video consumption in the African market, at least for now whilst the challenges of broadband penetration are a huge impediment. Both the availability and cost implications of bringing good quality video to one’s computer or onto any other form of receiver using broadband technology make it prohibitive.

It is argued that the cost of broadband consumption on the African continent is ridiculously high. Maybe with time we can see a big drop in the cost of broadband and that might influence better uptake of online video with obvious improvements on quality of service.

How do you believe content providers can best tap these new opportunities?

A cautious approach with joint promotions and serious collaborative efforts between the telcos and broadcasters might just do the trick. The telcos need to realise that they have to make broadband easily and more cost-effectively available in order to drive up usage on a massive scale.

This would make the technology attractive enough for broadcasters to put their much beloved and hard-earned content online, knowing fully well that they would be reaching a sizeable and growing market. So far it is extremely difficult – if not impossible – to throw compelling content on a limited platform. It just doesn’t make business sense and certainly cannot be sustained in the long term.

How quickly do you think viewer behaviour will change?

The positive uptake and unprecedented growth levels witnessed on the cellphone market in Southern African region is an indication of just how ready the market can embrace and adjust quickly to new technology and develop complementary lifestyles that will enable further growth of this market. Once viewers can witness the power of interactivity brought about by the new technology it will most likely be successful, resulting in self-promotion of the added benefit.

Which markets do you think offer some key insights into the future direction of Africa’s broadcast market?

Viewers want to watch their favourite programmes as and when they want. in whatever format they prefer, wherever they are. They have become very demanding and sophisticated and so the overall winner in this broadcast market will be the one service provider who will be able to skilfully adapt to all these changes, taking advantage of the convergence of technology to offer multimedia  services on multiple platforms in order to stay relevant, be first to market and stay top of consumers’ mind.
Gelfand will be speaking at the AfricaCast 2011 event taking place in Cape Town, South Africa on 9th-10th November 2011. For more information and to register, please click here


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