, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 11 -The government is optimistic that digital TV broadcasts will be available to 70 percent of Kenya’s viewing population by the end of the year.
The digital signal is currently only available in Nairobi and its environs, but the service is expected to be rolled out in Mombasa by the end of April, followed by coverage in Kisumu, Nyeri and Nakuru in May.
Information Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo announced that the DVB-T2 platform operated by SIGNET has been running 10 free-to-air channels on a pilot program since January and plans are in place to upgrade this capacity to 20 channels by May.
“To ensure that Kenyans are sensitised about the migration process in order to promote the uptake of the service, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), in liaison with the Digital Television Committee (DTC), shall shortly commence rolling out a consumer awareness and education campaign,” he announced.
“This will involve advertising in the print and electronic media, branded give-aways, road shows and other activities in the next three months targeting Nairobi and its environs,” he added.
The digital migration process is expected to be complete by the end of the year which will force four million viewers using analogue TV sets to purchase set-top boxes, with Ndemo urging entrepreneurs to import the boxes for sale.
“We are asking those of you who are businessmen to actually go import the set-top boxes,” he said.
“The government cannot do it because the last time we did it was a failure. We want more people to import so that the costs can be lower,” he explained.
He added that this shift to DVB-T2 set top boxes or integrated digital TVs presents a huge business opportunity to importers, suppliers and retailers and it has the potential to create employment opportunities for Kenya’s youth.
“Kenyans have a rich appetite for what is Kenyan and let us therefore take advantage of this predisposition to capture the local market and also export locally produced programmes,” he emphasised.
The PS encouraged broadcasters to raise content and increase their programming to populate the available channels on the new platform to compel viewers to switch from analogue to digital.
“Let us begin to move new content to the new platforms that we’re putting in place because this is what will attract Kenyans to begin to migrate,” he said.
“One of the problems we had was that the broadcasters were producing the same content that they were airing on analogue as well as on digital, so there was no incentive for anyone to move,” he acknowledged.
Ndemo also addressed the issue of whether the government will give tax relief on the set top boxes.
“We presented the case last year and the Treasury is looking at it favourably this year. By July we should know their decision and the signs are that we will get tax relief because in most countries, the government actually buys the digital converters for the citizens,” he stated.
The government issued a second broadcast signal distribution license to Pan African Networks Group late last year and they are required to roll out 12 sites by the end of the year, with their first digital transmissions on the air by June.
Acting Director General of the CCK Francis Wangusi maintained that the competition between signal distributors would result in a better product for viewers.
“As a regulator we believe that the competition introduced in this market segment will go a long way in improving quality and offering choice to content providers, while maintaining higher service standards,” he said.
Ndemo acknowledged that there will be challenges going digital countrywide, but he highlighted the benefits of completing the migration.
“Digital broadcasting provides tremendous benefits to the consumer, the broadcasting industry and vendors by offering a higher spectrum efficiency, better picture quality and clearer sound,” he revealed.
“The migration will allow more broadcasting channels to be available, creating more consumer choices, value added services and greater interactivity such as electronic programming guides and games,” he noted.