SABC wants R1.6bn for digital TV

2011-09-23 14:26

The SABC, e.tv and M-Net are planning to launch the broadcasters’ digital terrestrial television (DTT) offering in April next year but the SABC wants R1.6 billion from government to do it.

The broadcasters are planning a “soft launch” as the South African television industry moves from analogue to digital broadcasting, a process known as digital migration, but the SABC told parliament it has applied for R1.6 billion in funding, as well as many millions more for related services, and that the SABC’s DTT plans predicated on getting this funding.

R1.6 billion is for TV content for the new channels, another R90 million for marketing of DTT, and another R145 million for a new digital master control centre over the next three years.

The SABC is currently also upgrading all the public broadcaster’s playout centres, called final control centres (FCC).

They’re all being digitised with SABC1 which just went operational.

“Basically over the course of the three years – 2013, 2014 and 2015 – content cost is in the region of R1.6 billion,” said Richard Waghorn, the SABC’s chief technology officer.

“That’s excluding the SABC Sport channel and the new 24-hour news channel. In terms of the infrastructure for marketing for DTT it’s in the region of R90 million, again over three years,” he said.

“The cost of the SABC’s digital playout centre is R145 million including the new master control centre.”

New features
The estimated 11 million TV households in South Africa will have to buy a set top box (STB) when the digital migration happens in order for TV sets to receive the new digital signals.

The commercial free-to-air broadcaster e.tv told parliament that it wants to do a soft launch in April next year and “a full commercial DTT launch” between July and September next year.

The SABC, which is planning 18 TV channels – 17 linear TV channels and one interactive video services channel – as well as 18 SABC radio stations plus Channel Africa, also promised several features and services that will come with the DTT roll-out.

“The SABC will also use the functionality of DTT to provide the following services: closed captioning (on-screen subtitles) in multiple languages that can be accessed by the set top box’s remote control, multiple language soundtracks – up to four different audio tracks which can be provided per programme – audio description to provide contextual information in programmes, and interactive applications which will assist with e-government services,” Lumko Mtimde, SABC board member and chairperson of the broadcaster’s technology committee told Parliament.

New news channel in 11 languages
He revealed that the SABC’s planned new 24-hour news channel will broadcast in all 11 official South African languages and that the channel’s programming will include talk shows, documentaries, news bulletins, breaking and live news coverage.

The SABC worked under the assumption that “the full channel line-up that we have, is subject to funding [from government]”, said Waghorn about the broadcaster’s proposed 18 TV channels.

“The SABC’s intention is also not to make all of TV channels available at the launch of DTT immediately.

The availability of STBs will still be very small. The intention is to ramp up the launch of channels as STBs increase within the market.

We will have a phased launch in the market through the following two to three years,” Waghorn told parliament.

The SABC’s DVB-T2 trial will also be extended to Cape Town in early next year in advance of the April 2012 soft launch window of DTT.

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