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November 21, 2018

Content not transmission, the future of TV houses

Tuesday marks the final day of analogue TV transmission in this country when the remaining parts of Kenya that had not switched off analogue signals do marking the end of an era.

Predictably, the three media houses most resistant to the digital migration process, after exhausting their litigation cards in the courts, are now seeking an alternative path to prolong their analogue transmission: the Senate.

They want to have the deadline extended for them to bring in their equipment and set it up.

This is a tired argument that they parlayed and lost with, in court.

It is even laughable that they can openly talk about being given time to bring in their equipment as if government bodies exist to protect the interests of cartels by mark-timing the competition.

Sure, if I’m Airtel, I should wait for Safaricom to put up its LTE network then rush to court and demand that 4G transmission should be put on hold until the Communications Authority first grants me a 4G license, and I bring in the equipment and roll out my network.

Only then should 4G transmission be allowed.

Nobody in government, the courts or the legislature, cares or should care when and whether these media houses bring in their equipment.

It is a free market where players are free to come and go.

Indeed that is what Safaricom is doing.

The listed telco has announced that it has received a license to broadcast digitally and is ordering its set top boxes.

It has not requested for extensions to deadlines and is doing things at its own pace.

It does however present a daunting challenge for competitors.

To begin with, Safaricom has an existing network and relationship with about 22 million Kenyans.

It has masts/cell phone towers all over the country and mounting transmission equipment is easy.

In fact it is putting up a 4G/LTE network that can be used for transmission of high-definition.

Equally, Radio Africa has taken to the ground running with its Bamba TV and word is its aggressive campaign is winning over viewers.

Multichoice which has been in Kenya longer than NTV and Citizen, took tech journalists from across Africa to its South African headquarters in December 2010 to train them on the process of digital migration and digital terrestrial transmission.

It has equally invested billions in infrastructure, programming and developing local content such as sports, dramas and production studios.

In that time, media houses who have been part of the migration process all along, instead of investing and preparing themselves for the move, chose to first of all stall and then attempt to use the courts to stop the process.

They successfully stalled the process for a year from December 2013 to December 2014.

During that time, again they did little to prepare themselves only to now demand to be given time after losing the case.

The recent rush to the Senate is actually contemptuous of the judicial process where their case went all the way to the Supreme Court before being thrown out.

One wonders if they expect to overturn a Supreme Court decision through the legislature.

The arguments about what they have invested do not hold water. Like earlier pointed, Multichoice has been in Kenya longer than them so if it is a question of investments, it should be the first one to make this claim.

Secondly, these media houses are in business. Every business is a risk. You must prepare yourself for changing circumstances or go under. You cannot rush to the government to ask for protection when you refused to adapt to the changing times.

Lastly, these media houses should know their place. They are not content carriers, they are content providers.

In much bigger TV markets than the Sh40billion advertising kitty they are fighting over in this country, there is differentiation.

Carriers like Dish Network, DirectTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable etc, own the infrastructure that is used for transmitting.

Free to Air channels like ABC, Fox, CBS and NBC develop programming that they pass over to the carriers for transmission to viewers.

This is why these channels compete to bring the best programming. Many of the so-called 'series' that Kenyans buy for Sh50 per DVD are the product of this content development. Complemented by award shows like the Emmys, these stations draw in millions of viewers and advertising dollars.

They also invest in sports coverage from NFL football to NBA Basketball and so on. Right now, the National Collegiate Basketball tournament is taking place, drawing millions of viewers and raking in billions.

Media houses need to invest in this sort of content and not raise ruckus over non-issues.

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