Yesterday when I tried to follow up on the status of the digitisation project, I was amused by the fact that very few people were in the office at Transmedia, supposedly running with the digitisation cross over. This painted a picture of students scurrying around to prepare for a test they knew about 9 years ago but still weren’t ready for.
Well, the test has finally arrived and as most people are already aware of, Zimbabwe has missed the ITU digital migration deadline. It’s what most of us expected really.
This isn’t the first digital migration deadline to be missed. SADC set its own deadline of 2013, by which time the SADC block was supposed to have complied with the ITU requirements. We missed that one first and were supposed to be ready for this ITU deadline by today.
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The funny thing is that these regulations were agreed to way back in 2006 and here we thought we could do a last minute crunch and complete it in six months.
To be fair, Zimbabwe isn’t the only country that’s missed the deadline. South Africa and Nigeria, the two largest economies in Africa also missed the same deadline. The ITU, on the other hand, has stressed that it will not be moving the deadline to accommodate the slow movers.
The signs were clear really. Firstly at least 3 million set-top boxes were going to be needed to connect households. With no talk of who could have been selling these and no tenders announced in the same manner ZBC shouts about licencing, one could easily assume the worst.
The issue around the securing of the right sort of content for digital broadcast hasn’t been fully wrapped up also. If that had been the case, we wouldn’t have heard the last of it, with constant reminders of awesome programme lineups.
Struggles with the finances, the usual scapegoat for project delays wasn’t the factor this time. While the 2014 budget allocation for Information, Media and Broadcasting Services was a mere $5,5 million against a required $173 million, the funds required for migration were secured earlier this year.
Still, this didn’t prevent some mention of challenges with dollars in this deadline failure. It’s been reported by The Herald that the CEO of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, Obert Muganyura, has said that sanctions affected the wiring of money to equipment suppliers.
So we missed a deadline, what does that change anyway?
What does this failure mean anyway? Zimbabwe will only start receiving digital signals in November according to Obert Maganyura, we get that. But what are the implications for everyone?
Firstly, it means that ZBC television viewers will not be switched off or interrupted from their normal viewing schedule as there is no need for the set-top box, well not just yet.
Secondly it means ZBC viewers will be stuck with the same 2 channels that they have been watching all along. The 8 channels provisionally spoken about for the initial stage of digitization will not be available just yet, nor will PayTV, Mobile TV, Web TV or the interactive services currently available on DStv for example. Basically, it’s the same Dead-BC that we are accustomed to.
At a more international level, it means that these countries that have failed to migrate have wavered their right to protection from signal interference. This means Zimbabwe may find it very difficult find ground to shut out problematic offshore radio stations like Studio 7 not accredited to broadcast in Zimbabwe.
What does this mean for SADC? One of the challenges of analogue terrestrial broadcast is that it crosses state borders, a situation that allows one country the ability to broadcast into and interfere with another’s sovereign space and broadcast signals.
The indications at SADC level are that Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa were finalising agreements to control and minimise the threat of signal interference across borders as a provisional measure.