Digital Broadcasting Migration in Africa – Options, Alternative and Pitfalls

As a solution provider and tech pundit, I make it my business to survey the business and economic landscape and determine the potential technologies that will radically change the future for Africans. Particularly in Africa – we have a tendency of arriving as late comers to the technology party BUT we more than make up for it in adoption and other value added avenues.

The digital broadcasting and migration guide indicates a subtle shift from analogue broadcasting technologies to digital infrastructure powered by IT systems that are becoming pervasive and more commonplace in our everyday lives.

It is safe to say that the availability of various technologies in the broadcasting arena provides various alternatives and avenues of exploration for this migration. And each player may choose a common, tried and tested route or opt for new solutions.

On a personal note and from my professional standpoint – the INTERNET provides one of the lowest barriers of entry and a cost-effective means to digital TV migration. As an infrastructure, it already exists and supports the display of almost all types of media. The major/ONLY constraint is bandwidth which will have to be managed on a user by user basis based on capacity or through a clever means.

In this regard there has been a steady expansion by most internet companies operating in Africa to grow their capacity to provide bandwidth to a growing subscriber base – whose preferences for video continues to grow. Today users are both “viewers” and “publishers” and this self authoring capability is now the future of broadcasting.

Various companies have invested in technologies that brings the internet into the broadcasting realm – Hulu, Chromecast and other contenders. There are also new mobile apps that provide a measure of content creation tools and broadcasting via a common platform – that have further eased the barrier of entry or content creation.

It is ONLY a matter of time (i dare say within a five-year limit) that broadcasting will have gone full-bore on the internet and also straddled new and innovative mediums (think virtual reality, augmented reality, etc.).

We currently have internet radio stations and from surveys and polls taken from  over the last seven to ten years – there has been a steady decline of viewership on traditional media stations as more attention is shifting to user preferences which can be found more readily on the web. Today i no longer have to subscribe to a bouquet that does not allow user choices or offer flexibility – today i am presented with content that can come from multiple sources and caters to different listening and viewing habits.

The cost of setting up a digital broadcast hub that will rely solely on the internet as a major propagation channel is already in the works by some companies and i have started doing the due diligence required to investigate the take off of such in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Zambia and then by extension – the rest of Africa.

Set Top boxes that connect directly to the TV set either via video/HDMI or other available channels are already present. Their cost point ranges from 20$ – 250$ depending on the capabilities and requirements of the subscriber.

Scenario 1:
If these set-top boxes are paired with paid subscription plans that already factor in Data Subscription from various internet providers – we can begin to see the traction and viability of using Internet ONLY as a primary broadcast medium.

The internet is already considered a “utility” in most parts of the world. The technology aspect is to create a networks that supports all types of media without overtly large bandwidth and costs to the end-user or broadcast entity.

There are even SMART-TVs that have built-in web capability and access and these will continue to proliferate over time and in various guises.

Even the market for content generation, distribution and transmission will be a separate income segment with several stakeholders in different kinds of partnerships.

Scenario 2:

This option may depend on content being hosted and pulled from a central body with large-scale access currently present. Examples of these include Telecom companies, cable satellite companies and/or internet service providers. These already have reach and may therefore opt to create a model that bundles internet access and/or access to content in the form of radio, video and text.
For mobile operators – they have large-scale reach and equipment and most users already have cell phones. Their subscriber base numbers in the millions and account for more than 40% of the entire population of the country. They currently provide standalone access via dongles and hotspots – the only major challenge is capacity. How do they handle large demands for bandwidth from such a very large pool of users who may be downloading or uploading videos, images etc?
For Internet service Providers – these already provide internet access through their dongles or devices. The question is thus – how can we create value added incentives to a pre-existing business model using currently existing equipment?
These are the questions, issues and challenges that we aim to deal with in subsequent follow-up engagements on this article. We hope to hear your views and inputs to better shape this debate and perhaps – we can build a new type of business from the deliberations on these hallowed pages of knowledge.

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