Terrestrial television

Digital terrestrial television 101: the long and the short

Despite the length of this transition process, and with a lot of recent press surrounding the switchover to DTT, it is still common to find people confused or lacking in understanding what exactly digital terrestrial television is.

DTT uses a network of TV transmission towers on earth instead of satellites in space to transmit digital signals instead of analog. DTT offers better picture and sound quality, more options (additional channels) for consumers and frees up the radio frequency spectrum for mobile broadband services.

What is the difference between DTT and satellite TV? They are simply different ways of broadcasting a signal. Satellite TV broadcasts from a satellite in space from which you receive the signal through a satellite dish mounted on your house. Digital Terrestrial Television uses ground-based transmitters to broadcast the signal which you then receive using a TV antenna and decoder.

So when people talk about “digital migration” or “digital switchover”, it means the process of switching from an analog TV broadcast to a digital TV broadcast. When South Africa goes digital, anyone currently using a TV aerial will need a set-top box (also known as a decoder or decoder) that will decode the digital signal. Without a decoder (like an Openview or M-Net decoder), your TV will not be able to display the digital TV picture.

Who are the different actors and what are their roles?

The government has been tasked with developing the Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) policy. They are also responsible for ensuring that funding is available for the Ownership Support Program (SOS) for poor households and for the development of an STB manufacturing strategy. The Department of Communications leads this process on behalf of the government and works with other government departments such as the National Treasury.

Terrestrial broadcasters must migrate their services to digital

Signal distributors are responsible for deploying the digital network infrastructure on behalf of broadcasters. The main signal distributor concerned is Sentech. Other signal distributors like Orbicom (for Mnet) are also involved.

The role played by the South African Post consists mainly of disbursing the subsidized decoders to around five million of the poorest television-owning households, considered to be needy and deserving. For people wanting to buy a box, there are several outlets available including Makro and Takealot, and a DTT set-top box will cost between R600 and R800.

The digital migration process presents opportunities for job creation in the manufacture of set-top boxes and antennas as well as in their installation and repair. In addition, the establishment of a call center as part of consumer support would also create employment opportunities for young people.

The consumer benefits from digital switchover are widely recognised, occur relatively quickly and are primarily driven by increased choice and quality of programming.

The wider benefits

The introduction of digital television also brings wider benefits to our society, including the ability to use digital broadcasting to bridge the digital divide, reach unserved areas, and provide e-government and other digital services. Cheaper access to the internet will mean better access to information and education, skills development, access to e-commerce and therefore overall growth and empowerment.

Cabinet reshuffles, corruption and repeated litigation have slowed the transition process over the past decade, but it is finally happening. Minister of Communication and Digital Technologies Khumbudzo Ntshavheni switched off the last SABC analogue TV transmitter in Limpopo province on February 8, 2022. This change made Limpopo the fifth province – after Free State, Northern Cape, Northwest and Mpumalanga – to switch from analogue transmitters to digital terrestrial television under the government’s Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) programme.

After missing the International Communications Union deadline in 2015, the South African government is determined to accelerate the migration process to catch up with other global players. During this year’s State of the Nation Address (Sona 2022), President Cyril Ramaphosa promised that by March 2022, all nine provinces will have completed the switchover to DTT.

TV audience loss

The impact of DTT deployment on advertisers is some TV audience loss, and the job of media planners and strategists is to manage these audience fluctuations. We think the initial drop will be the worst, after which some stability will return as people find their bearings with the viewing solutions they land on. With so many new options available to people who were once limited by access to internet services, it’s unlikely that “traditional” television viewing figures will ever return to what they used to be. The global TV universe is likely to decline, so it won’t be possible to achieve the same levels of reach – in fact, we’ve seen this for some time now, even before the transition to DTT.

This is due both to the proliferation of content available for consumption and the fact that it can be consumed through multiple devices, many of which are not yet able to capture audience figures.

Selling portions of the spectrum will mean there will be new players in the party, and even established players have plans. SABC in partnership with TelkomOne will offer live streaming of SABC 1, 2, 3 and SABC Sports. SABC sales are in the final preparations to adapt the reservation system with Telkom1 and ensure that it is properly tested. Once this is finalized, they will launch it in the industry. Viacom plans to launch the free streaming service “Pluto” in South Africa in August this year, and although paid streaming services are known in South Africa, there seems to be a gap for free streaming services – so watch this space.

So for TV planners, the days of stacking multiple TV channels to achieve greater reach will be over, and we will likely need to use a stacking model that incorporates a mix of multiple content platforms. to achieve greater range. The job of TV strategists and planners is about to get infinitely more complicated…and interesting!

Megan Walker is a media strategist at The Media Shop.

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