By Ben Kangwa
Digitization is the current trend in broadcasting the world over, Zambia included. Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) broadcasting is far more efficient, allowing better picture, clear sound quality and improved programme presentation.
It is expected that DTT will have the potential to increase the amount and variety of television content. It will also afford the industry opportunities for interactive broadcasting as the television sets will now do much more than receive signals such as perform the tasks of computers and telephone handsets. This implies that TV sets will be able to provide access to the internet - add to the list, enhanced applications such as the electronic programme guides.
On the side of broadcasters, digital broadcasting equipment will enable the simultaneous transmission of a minimum of 20 Standard definition channels using MPEG 4 compression on one frequency that used to transmit only one programme or channel in the analogue transmission. In the case of Zambia, this shall mean that in each location in Zambia, one digital transmitter shall be capable of carrying all existing analogue channels from ZNBC , ZNBC TV2, Muvi TV, MOBI TV, TBN, CBC and others simultaneously.
For this reason, there will be no need for all broadcasters to have to put up their own transmitters, multiplexes and network. It is also worth noting that a sizeable number of people in Lusaka, the Copperbelt and Livingstone have been accessing Digital Terrestrial Television through GOtv services, which as we understand is an undertaking between ZNBC and Multi-Choice.
Malolela Lusambo is Director of Technical Services at ZNBC and says, “The quality of the picture residents experience on the GOtv platform is basically the arrangement that Zambians will also enjoy, unless otherwise due to technical hitches, save for content.”
For this reason, various benefits of digital transmission make digital broadcasting imperative for television and radio. This is why the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recommended, in the Regional Radio Communications Conference of 2006, also known as the RRC-06,that all countries were required to move to Digital Broadcasting by the year 2015.
This conference also resolved that the (ITU) would not protect any anologue television broadcasting, meaning analogue TV signals will be susceptible to interference from different transmitters thus suggesting an Analogue Switch Off.
In order to regularly update Zambian stakeholders such as the Public and Private media on the implementation of Digital Terrestrial Television broadcasting transition, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) organized a Stakeholders’ Meeting at Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka themed ‘Digital Migration’ on 13th May, 2015. The workshop addressed Policy makers, Regulators, Broadcast Engineers, Broadcast Managers and officials from both Public and Private Broadcast Media.
Power point presentations were made by the IBA, the Zambia Information and Communications Authority (ZICTA) the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC- the public broadcaster) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services (MIBS) that suggested “Zambia will fully implement the first phase of Digital Terrestrial Migration along the Line of Rail and that other broadcasters would be able to transmit their content through ZNBC.”
It should be observed that the public broadcaster launched the Digital Terrestrial Television test transmission in January, 2015 at ZNBC, as a first step to mark the full roll out of Zambia’s digital process. The Second and Third Phases would be done at the same time - the installation of studio equipment at the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation and roll out of Digital Transmitters in the Provincial centres as well as areas beyond the Provincial Centres.
It is worth noting that as June 17, 2015 draws nearer, it will become increasingly important for the public broadcaster to respond to changes in the media environment much faster. The public broadcaster will certainly need to build ties with its audience by offering more services through a range of different platforms by ensuring that it reflects the views of its audience and show that it is accountable for its actions.
From a programmes creation point of view, Digital Terrestrial Television will create growth for local content production as well as skills development. Put simply, many channels for the public broadcaster will require more quality content and more skilled personnel to produce the content. More TV channels will also create an opportunity for the public broadcaster to tell the Zambian story across different platforms as in Business, Culture, Education, Health, News, Social Development and Sports.
With analogue “free” broadcasting on the way out, Pay TV providers have already timely rushed to fill the gap with a primary strategy of investing in local talent. Multi-Choice Zambia in March, 2015 organized a Producers’ Forum meeting at which M-Net Africa and DStv announced the launch of “Zambezi Magic”, a new channel that will showcase content from Malawi to Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia to use the platform as an opportunity for film makers and producers in the SADC region showcase their content.
Mr. Ndelela Sichizya, Marketing Manager at DStv-Zambia says, “What we would like is for filmmakers to see this as an opportunity to showcase their content across the region and we are looking forward to a longer and more sustainable relationship with producers.”
The content offering is from M-Net Archive to introduce local content from across the SADC region as channel viewership grows and in light of the changing consumer preference that is gradually shifting from international to local content as well as the global shift from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television.
It should be mentioned that two years earlier, in 2013, Multi-Choice launched M-Net and Super Sport studios in Kenya to enable the two content providers download and upload content straight to South Africa for bouquet selection, while the first Africa Magic Channel, which has since grown to eight channels across Africa, and whose objective is to ensure local talent is harnessed and promoted on its channels, was pioneered in Nigeria in 2003.
In Zambia, the first commercial operation using the Digital Video Broadcast standard – DVB-T2 was rolled out in June 2011, in a partnership between GOtv, a product of Multi-Choice and the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, representing one of the most advanced Digital Terrestrial Television broadcast system and infrastructure in Africa. With it came a bouquet called GOtv Extra, offering Zambian television viewers access to 24 channels, including, among others SuperSport Select2, Telemundo and M-Net Movie Zones.
Not to be out done and left out in the competition, MUVI TV started offering two new channels in December 2013 and now offers a total of eleven channels. These are MUVI TV, MUVI Africa Unite, MUVI Nyimbo, MUVI Muviz, MUVI Prism Africa, MUVI Nkani, MUVI Combo, MUVI Bakadoli, MUVI Emmanuel, HC Zambia and MUVI Novela. The expansion of the eleven channels facilitates the provision of enhanced entertainment, religious and education programmes. They are beamed on the latest MPEG 4 decorders, preparing the station for Digital Terrestrial Television. CEO of MUVI TV Steve Nyirenda believes Digital Terrestrial Television will enable all homes in Zambia benefit from the quality of Digital TV.
As the June17, 2015 deadline draws nearer, when all television broadcasters in Zambia will move to Digital Terrestrial Television, the television landscape will definitely move to the next level technically. Undoubtedly, this new situation will change the habits of the population. The latter have to equip themselves with television sets capable of receiving high quality picture and high quality sound. It will afford viewers more programming choice and more optimum utilization.
More channels will also mean more competition, more local content accessible via broadband internet and a mix of satellite free-to-air and TV bouquets as well as potential revenues and more skilled labour.
The writer is a Broadcast Journalist/Media Consultant