What is the latest on digital migration? If the reports in the state media are anything to go by, everything is “on track” and we will be ready to join the rest of the world in migrating from analogue to digital broadcasting.
But just how ready are we, really? We were told that the funds for the entire exercise had been acquired from the government and more recently through NetOne’s $200 million acquisition of an analogue based broadcasting frequency.
Even with the funds for it in the bag, there still is a lot of work that is supposed to be carried out on the ground. Between the construction of sites, raising awareness of the process and transition and figuring out how to roll out set top boxes to the masses, there’s a tonne of homework for everyone involved.
In an interview with the Sunday Mail, Mrs Florence Sigudu-Matambo, the Chief Executive Officer of Transmedia (the state-owned enterprise running point on the whole exercise), pointed out how Zimbabwe will not rush to switch off the analogue signal when the ITU deadline lapses.
Zimbabwe will extend transmission of the analogue signal for an extra six months in a simulcasting process that will have analogue and digital signals being broadcast concurrently. This is permissible according to ITU regulations.
The main concern for Transmedia right now is covering the border areas with a digital signal to avoid any interference with the broadcasts from neighbouring countries.
It all sounds too ambitious
While we are rallying behind Transmedia, ZBC Holdings and Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to pull this off, it all seems too ambitious.
It is difficult to see these guys completing the work before the 17th of December 2015, their new unofficial deadline.
Last year, only 10 of the 24 sites were ready for digital migration and there was work being carried out on the ground. Fast forward to February 2015 and we are being told that we still have 10 out of 24 sites ready and work is still going on to set up the rest.
Whichever way you want to look at this latest update on digital migration, it’s clear this 6-month transition period looks like our salvation in the event that we fail to meet the initial June 17 deadline that we were told we could meet.
Translation: We won’t meet the June 17 deadline and we have to explain to everyone what we will do when the big day comes.
As if that isn’t the only challenge, there is the issue surrounding the set-top boxes that viewers who don’t have compliant TV sets have to get. A digitally compliant TV means one that is LCD integrated or digitally ready.
This means a lot of viewers without HD ready TVs won’t be able to access the digital signal unless they fork out the $30- $50 needed to access the ZBC content. Somehow Transmedia and ZBC have to figure out how to get a lot of Zimbabweans these set-top boxes, something that was a challenge for Kenya and Tanzania.
There is one interesting observation though. With ZBC set to introduce pay-per-view TV after this digital migration, this means every Zimbabwean has to choose whether to get a ZBC set top box or a similarly priced MultiChoice decoder.
If you are paying for both services and you have to choose one, what will it be? Multichoice or the 20-some channels ZBC has lined up for you?