Commercial broadcasters M-Net and e.tv have torn strips off the department of communications over government’s decision to revisit SA’s commitment to the digital video broadcasting terrestrial (DVB-T) standard.
At a joint press conference on Tuesday, both broadcasters said that if government went back on its commitment to DVB-T, and instead stumped for Japan’s integrated service digital broadcasting terrestrial (ISDB-T) standard, then it would be “disastrous” for the country.
The decision to reopen the debate was “silly” and undermined efforts by broadcasters and “earlier government officials”, said e.tv CEO Marcel Golding.
Listen to Marcel Golding at the press conference:
[slaudio: https://techcentral.co.za/wp-content/audio/marcelgolding.mp3, Marcel Golding]
“We are not satisfied with this, and we are not happy with the way things are going,” Golding said. “This whole process, since it started, was collaborative, informed, transparent and participative. Now all of a sudden, it’s quasi-unilateral.”
The department of communications dropped a bombshell on SA’s broadcasting industry in April when it called a symposium to discuss whether the country should maintain its commitment to DVB-T, a European standard, or whether it should consider other standards, including ISDB-T.
Most industry players are dead set against moving to ISDB-T, a version of which has been adopted by some South American countries, including Brazil. Both Brazil and Japan have been lobbying the SA government to adopt ISDB-T.
“We don’t want to be remembered, when things go horribly wrong, for not having stood up and said this was wrong,” Golding said at Tuesday’s press conference.
“We are saying unequivocally that the way things are going is wrong and we want to remembered for having stood up when things were going bad.”
M-Net CEO Patricia Scholtemeyer said the success of SA’s digital migration is “hanging in the balance” and the communications department’s review was of “great concern to the broadcasters and should be of concern to all television viewers”.
M-Net and e.tv regulatory executives used the press conference to outline a series of “myths” they said have been perpetuated about DVB-T by advocates of the ISDB-T standard.
“Both M-Net and e.tv are at a complete loss as to why the department of communications would even consider a review in 2010, just before we’re about to launch digital broadcasting services to SA,” said Karen Willenberg, M-Net’s director of regulatory and legal affairs.
“The consequences of such a change at such a late stage are very severe for the country,” she said.
E.tv group executive for regulatory affairs, Lara Kantor, said that despite claims to the contrary, the country’s investment in DVB-T infrastructure — estimated at more than R250m — would go to waste. State-owned broadcast signal distributor Sentech would probably require millions more in taxpayers’ money to switch to a new standard, she said.
Kantor warned that if SA were to switch to ISDB-T, or another standard, it would set back digital migration by as much as five years. “It would jeopardise the [International Telecommunication Union] deadline of 2015, by which time we must have switched off our analogue networks,” she said.
“We are hopeful our concerns will be heard,” Kantor said. “We have to focus on moving this process forward and preparing ourselves for commercial launch.”
Dave Hagen, head of M-Net Broadcast Services, warned that switching to ISDB-T would require an additional R2,2bn in subsidies for set-top boxes for the poor. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral