Digital Migration – the truth, the half-truths and the outright lies

I have tried to stay away from the conversation around the digital migration save for a few tweets for the fear of being seen as biased towards my colleagues in the media.

I was however compelled to add my voice to this debate after a very engaging session held yesterday by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) at Nailab in Nairobi. I will however try not to insult your grandmother like Larry Madowo did in his article.

The session which was hosted by Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) gave CAK an opportunity to tell their side on the story on a neutral ground. You can follow the conversation on twitter using #CAExp.

What came out clearly from the BAKE Experience (#CAExp) and several articles (including Larry’s) that I have read over the last few days in the media and on the blogs is that both the Communications Authority and the “Analogue 3″ are being economical with the truth.

The Truths

1. Digital Migration is definitely good for this country. It will ensure that broadcasters can reach wider audiences than they would on their analogue transmitters. It also provides audiences with better quality sound and pictures.

2. We cannot run away from digital migration. A famous quote credited to French poet Victor Hugo goes, “not even the strongest army can stop an idea whose time as come.” Digital migration is one of those ideas. The wealth of opportunities for content creators, advertisers and audiences is just enormous for lack of a better word.

3. New players are accorded a level playing ground with existing media houses. We all agree that it is much easier to set up a digital broadcasting platform than an analogue one. The content producers or broadcasters do not even have to worry about signal distribution costs which is very prohibitive in the analogue setup. You might be wondering now that why then does the “analogue 3″ insist on doing their own transmission? I will address that under the half truths.

The half truths

1. The now infamous “analogue 3″ have been labeled as anti-digital migration. I don’t think these three companies are in any way anti – migration. If anything migration will give them a bigger audience and better reception in almost all parts of this country.

Every media owner dreams to reach their audiences with good quality signal something that is very difficult to guarantee with analogue transmission.

So why is this an half-truth and not an outright lie, the three media houses have for a long time enjoyed dominance of the industry mostly because of their financial might. They control more than 80% of the total viewership and advertisement revenue. This made it difficult for new entrants to join the market and compete effectively.

Like I said before, with the ease in which one can set up a digital broadcast, many entrants have entered the scene and without worrying about prohibitive signal distribution costs, these players might eat into their revenue. Probably why they want to have their own calibrated set top boxes that entrenches their monopolistic tendency.

KTN, NTV and Citizen did not switch themselves off.
2. The “analogue 3″ switched themselves off. The Standard Group, Nation Media Group and Royal Media Services did not wake up one Saturday morning and decided that they no longer want to broadcast to their viewers. Their signal was switched off by CAK and that’s the truth. At no point was any of these media houses supplying any third party signal distributor with a digital signal…the distributors took their analogue signal and distributed it digitally.

3. The current pay TV services are not infringing on copyright. What do you do when you pass someone else’s work as your own without their express approval? (I don’t need to answer that) That is exactly what Star Times and GOTv are doing. While pay TV channels claim that they only charge you for premium content, why is it that when you have not paid for your TV they also switch off your local content? That basically means that you are paying for them. The fact that these providers also have FTA decoders is a whole different argument. As far as I am concerned I pay to watch KTN, NTV and Citizen on GOtv, Zuku and Dstv (I don’t own a Startimes decoder but I know people who do).

4. That the “analogue 3″ do not have valid reasons to object to a third party carrying their signal. The fact that the third party carriers are selling their content is reason enough to be opposed to them carrying their signal. Why are we allowing these foreign players to reap where they did not sow? If they have to carry local channels, why don’t they carry KBC because at the end of the day that is the only must carry channel…(ignore the lie about 5 must carry channels).

The biggest concern however to these media houses is that having their signals carried by a government owned or foreign distributors makes it easy for the government to exercise censorship on unfavorable content.

We all know that KTN, NTV and Citizen TV (I am intentionally ignoring Qtv in this piece) regularly spend millions of shillings on investigative stories that “makes the government’s inside to turn.” Imagine how easy it will be for the government to switch off Jichopevu if it was carried by PANG or SIGNET. It’s not that the government has not tried it before, we all remember March 2nd 2006 when Michuki was minister of insecurity (pun intended).

5. Kenya is ready for digital migration. If a recent report by Ipsos Synovate is anything to go by, only 20 % of Kenyans own set top boxes.

Of the 20 percent that own set top boxes, 96 % of those set top boxes are actually Pat TV decoders – so the “analogue 3″ actually had a valid argument.

Whose fault is it that actually less than 4% of Kenyans own FTA STBs?

CAK, of course…even as the battle continues there is no clear civic education or public information coming from the industry regulator about the digital migration and the fact that Kenyans need to buy STBs. In fact to the ordinary Kenyan digital migration is synonymous to paying for TV.

At the #CAExp the CAK officials claimed that the three media houses thwarted their efforts to carryout public education on digital migration and I am here asking myself, does the Kenyan Media Industry only consist of 4 tv stations?

Why could they not use hundreds of radio stations, newspapers and the other TV stations like KBC & K24? Wait….somebody was expecting free advertisement. This is 2015, media owners want to make profit and don’t give a rat’s a$$ about public information.

The CAK is solely responsible for this and people’s heads should start rolling.

The rest of the world is moving over to digital broadcasting in 2015 June, what hurry was this that we were in that we had to switch over six moths before the rest of the world did?

I am not encouraging anybody to be a last minute man but truth is would we have lost anything if we allowed simulcast until May 31st midnight then switch off all the analogue signals?

In south Africa, they are switching over in 2017.

Is it too much to give these stations until May 31st to switch over because from where I stand we won’t be flouting any international engagements?

The outright lie

1. Hundreds of journalists will lose jobs to digital migration. This is a lie that has been peddled by some of the media houses. Digital Broadcasting is quite simpler and this will lead to redundancies of some of the technical personnel in our media houses. No journalist of producer need to lose their jobs because of this.

I know the technicians are people too but if we compare the random jobs that will be lost to the enormous amount of opportunities for independent content creators then the gains far outweigh loses.

2. That Kenyans suffer because of the blackout by the three media houses. The blackout has indeed given us a chance to realize that K24, KBC, Kiss TV, Ntaja TV and the likes also exist (not hating but they belong to the same category). We have as well realized that the content is still lacking. We do miss the three stations – Qtv might stay switched off for all I care.

I would love to know what you think, talk to me in the comments section.