May 20, 2018

The Kenyan digital migration is becoming a battle of interests

matiangi and wasungu

Kenya has finally done away with analogue broadcasting joining few countries in Africa who are quite ahead of the June 2015 deadline. In an ideal situation this would mean that much of the country is now able to access digital broadcasting going by the earlier target of 80% coverage by the time the deadline came to pass. As things stand now however, much of the country has been plunged into a TV blackout after the Communications Authority switched off the analogue signal.  It is clearly obvious this is not an ideal situation and a majority of citizens who have no access to Pay TV are being taken for a ride.

RMS, Nation and KTN directors expressing their position on digital migration
RMS, Nation and KTN directors expressing their position on digital migration

The government through the regulator CA and the Cabinet Secretary for information has laid the blame at the doors of the three leading media houses, Nation Group, Royal Media Services and Standard Group. According to the government, these three who have formed the consortium African Digital Network have conspired to switch their digital signals and as a result have caused about the TV blackout.

On the other hand the leading media houses have blamed the government for pushing Kenyans to Pay TV services, allocating a majority of scarce national resources to a foreigner, frustrating local investors and acting unfairly in the provision of both the frequencies and licenses for Broadcast Signal Distribution. Sure the three media houses have their own vested interests especially since digital migration opens up the competition field lowering advertising costs. Their actions, including the removal of their content from the other Broadcast Signal Distributors, point to market leaders protecting their turf and finding ways to minimize losses.

This debacle has only served to deny a greater percentage of Kenyan TV users with independent broadcasting. Whatever the arguments of the government, the regulator has failed to explain why the three media houses are being forced to have their content broadcast on the other BSDs yet they have been given a Self Provisioning License. It also shows the lack of capacity by the rest of the other players to meet the demand for television content especially considering the remaining leading services GOTV and Star Times are all Pay TV services.

That the CA took time earlier at the onset of the process to have a Task Force come up with the best way to undertake digital migration only for them to turn down all recommendations points at a conspiracy at work. The regulation body has already shown it has taken sides with the unfortunate consequence that the players with the biggest viewership have to suit the needs of costly, foreign owned companies.

This impasse if allowed to continue will only result in losses in terms of revenue, jobs, advertising space, and confidence in the government’s commitment to a free press. Digital migration is about offering more choice to the consumer yet it has kicked off with the most popular stations out of the package offered.

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