Why Uganda will most likely miss the Digital TV Switch-Over Deadline

With now only one month left to the deadline set for all countries to migrate from analogue to digital TV, Uganda will most likely miss the deadline, and instead opt for a post deadline switch-off date.

As we approach the internationally mandated Analogue TV switch-off date of 17 June 2015, Uganda’s major players on the transmission side are eerily quiet. Besides the media Ads from Uganda communications Commission (UCC) and jamboree marketing by Pay-TV subscription providers, there is practically no information on how far the roll out of digital TV is going. Instead Ugandan consumers are being urged to buy analogue-to-digital TV converter boxes that are certified by UCC. But what are consumers finding out after they purchase these boxes?

Kampala in the central region, was the first and still the only place where one can receive terrestrial over-the-air (OTA) digital TV feeds. The transmission in this area continues to be very spotty. If you are one of the few early adopters, and owns a digital TV tuner device, then you’ll have noticed that a number of TV channels on that platform are intermittent i.e. ‘On and off.’ As of Today, major television stations in Uganda like Urban, WBS TV, Bukedde-2 are not viewable on the distributed signal from Signet. For nearly two months even market leaders like NTV were off. For a full status on what station is on or off, take a look at: Available Digital TV Channels in Kampala.

Beyond Kampala, there is not much happening as Analogue TV continues to rein. The few Digital TV migration Ads that have been running on TV, radio and newspapers do not seem to be making any impact. Most people are just simply unaware of what is supposed to happen. But most importantly, these upcountry areas are not covered, so even if someone say Soroti town was to listen to UCC’s Ad, oblige and go out to buy an analogue-to-digital TV converter box, it would be useless as they would not be able to use it until the transmission rolls out to that region. Most people will not spend their hard earned money to buy these devices before the service is available in their area. So for most areas in the country, and depending on availability, Pay-TV is the only route to Digital migration at this time.

So what happens when the above deadline arrives?

The parties responsible for the Migration process will probably blatantly declare that the migration process is complete (Hoping that the upcountry areas at least major regions are covered). UCC is likely to ask Broadcasters to switch off Analogue TV transmissions for the Kampala area, but leave upcountry stations on. However, even in Kampala, the Analogue TV feeds are likely to be switched on again after some days of a blackout attempt. Why you ask?

The answer is very simple and very much similar to answers to other processes that required Ugandan citizens to spend more on infotainment – Remember the TV Tax? So the answer you guessed right is Politics. It is the political season here in Uganda, and a blanket and permanent switch-off of Analogue TV stations is likely to trigger a backlash and protest from several quarters. No Ugandan politician during this election season would want to be seen as the one depriving a citizen of their source of information. And by the way you know where those who don’t have Digital TV units now will run to for help on stopping the switch-off!

Also, as Uganda’s politicians return back to their rural constituencies to campaign for votes, they are likely to find a population that is already tired and angry of unfulfilled promises. Adding another ‘hot button’ like ‘You need to spend more money to continue watching your TV’ will not be easy. So Analogue TV switch off in these areas of Uganda will not occur for sometime. Remember, a lot of Ugandans have not been sensitized on why this Digital TV migration process is necessary.

Back in Kampala, most households (which don’t already have) will opt to buy a set top box aka ‘decoder’ from pay TV providers like Star, Go TV, Azam etc. In fact for the first few months, this will be the only way to ensure your favorite local TV channels are always available and not intermittent. This is because, even before the Digital TV migration process started, several of the Pay-TV providers signed monetary agreements with the broadcasters for their channels to be carried. This ensures that these feeds are always quickly worked on if they are having issues. Not quite so for the centrally distributed Free OTA Signal.

For the brave and those who will opt to buy analogue-to-digital TV converter boxes, expect the TV digital experience to remain similar to what it has been in the testing phase i.e. TV stations being on and off periodically.

So with Analogue TV likely to still be on, You might be wondering why any one would bother with all this ‘digito’ stuff. Well for one thing analogue TV must and will eventually go. It is not politics, but simply a technically efficient way for TV signals to be carried and distributed. But even if this reason is not convincing enough, compare the two types of broadcasts. If you watch your favourite local TV show in digital format, then you’ll agree with me that watching it in analogue format is not visually appealing at all. Really Digital TV is the way to go, there’s no turning back.

In conclusion, I doubt the major players see Free Over-the-Air Digital TV as a big priority. For the Pay-TV providers, luring consumers to a subscription model is now big business. And as long us the Free OTA transmissions are iffy-iffy then poorly informed consumers will continue to line up at Pay-TV dealer shops for those decoders.

If it can not do this at this late hour, UCC needs to prevail on Signet Uganda, the party responsible for Digital TV signal distribution and ask them to: step up and start informing the nation where Uganda stands on the Digital TV roll-out. The last time I checked, the information on Signet’s website was very dated and the last social media update on their twitter account i.e. @SignetUganda was on 11 December 2014!

Furthermore, UCC needs to know that its has failed Ugandans when it comes to a smooth transition from Analogue to Digital TV. No matter the country, people tend to warm up to a gradual and slow change but a drastic switch off is simply uncalled for especially given the 8+ years since the Ugandan government committed it self to this process. I understand, the constraints the commission has faced such as delayed funding, procurement, etc., but all of these issues should have been sorted out a long time ago.

Ugandans like citizens elsewhere deserve better on Digital TV migration, than these half-measure processes.

Leave a Reply