New twist in set-top box saga - TechCentral

New twist in set-top box saga

Faith Muthambi

Faith Muthambi

With just four months to go until the deadline to switch off analogue television broadcasts, the digital migration programme may be about to be thrown into disarray once again.

This is after a report in Business Day on Wednesday that says that communications minister Faith Muthambi has defied her colleagues in the ANC on the use of encryption in set-top boxes.

Despite pressure from within the ANC and from alliance partner, trade union federation Cosatu, Muthambi has recommended that cabinet opt for set-top boxes without conditional access, according to the Business Day report.

Consumers will need to buy set-top boxes to continue receiving terrestrial television once analogue broadcasts are switched off. Government, through the Universal Service & Access Agency of South Africa, intends subsidising the cost of these boxes for up to 5m poorer households.

A commercial battle between pay-TV operator MultiChoice on one side and free-to-air broadcaster on the other now appears set to lead to a political showdown.

Last month, Muthambi was told by her colleagues at an ANC lekgotla to implement the decision of cabinet of December 2013 that the set-top boxes use an encryption system, according to the report. Former communications minister Yunus Carrim, who, in a shock move, was removed from the cabinet by President Jacob Zuma after the 2014 general election, had developed a compromise policy that would have mandated an encryption system but that would have required prospective pay-TV broadcasters to pay to use it.

Former communications minister Yunus Carrim

Former communications minister Yunus Carrim

MultiChoice is vehemently opposed to encryption of free-to-air set-top boxes, arguing it would amount to unfair competition in that it would allow new pay-TV rivals to launch services in competition with DStv without first incurring the high cost of deploying a conditional access system to subscribers. has argued that encryption is necessary to allow free-to-air broadcasters to secure the latest international content to compete more effectively with the dominant DStv platform.

According to Business Day, cabinet will discuss the encryption issue over the next fortnight.  — © 2015 NewsCentral Media


  1. And in other news, today marks the first day of the year 2027 and south africa is still the only country in the world using analogue broadcasting…

  2. Again, we find ourselves in a situation where the tail is wagging the dog. The entire CA/NoCA argument has nothing to do with what is best for the country but everything to do with vested commercial interests. The multichoice/etv spat is a red herring, the real conflict here is between groups of connected tenderpreneurs vying for the lucrative STB tenders. Evidently Muthambi’s patrons are in the group that want to make their money as quickly as possible without having to modify the chinese electronics and software that that they’ll be slapping together in a South African “factory”, those that are vying for CA have a longer view. Implementing CA requires more investment, but also locks out competition for longer.

    For the consumer and taxpayer, strangely enough, Muthambi’s decision is the better one. The sooner the farce of STB subsidisation ends (due to imported units undercutting the govt sanctioned ones), the better for everybody. Everybody that doesn’t have their fingers in the till, that is.

  3. wow. going against lekgotla could be a career ending move…not that anyone will miss her.

  4. Screw MC! Jesus… If the scribes had their way back in the day then the printing press would never have taken off. Really. Screw them.

  5. > Consumers will need to buy set-top boxes to continue receiving terrestrial television once analogue broadcasts are switched off

    Please don’t continue to propagate this misinformation, Duncan. The line should read:

    “Consumers will need to buy set-top boxes OR A DIGITAL TV to continue receiving terrestrial television once analogue broadcasts are switched off” (capitals for emphasis)
    The standards for both DTT and DVB are substantially finalised, so Integrated Digital TVs (IDTVs) should be on sale shortly.

  6. Unless, of course, government chooses some non-standard encryption and CA in order to protect the local STB “industry”

  7. The actions by Faith seem to suggest she has a commercial interest in CA not being included. Perhaps an investigation of her directorships, relations, friends etc is warranted. There doesn’t seem to be any other explanation for not following the party line.

  8. I’m baffled. Whatever happened to the Vivid service? Vivid worked just fine, all it required was a dish, decoder and a Sim card. Is this service still out there? I had it for a couple of years, it also carried a superb news channel called France24. ALL FREE TO AIR.

  9. It is still around but has less than ten thousand subscribers from what I have heard. The decoder was recently upgraded so all Vivid users had to purchase new decoders with new sim cards.

  10. Actually it’s a p!ss up in a brewery where the patrons are already ticking, the booze is free, and the Boks are 10 points up on the All Blacks in the RWC Final with 30 seconds to go.

  11. I took one look at what they have on offer and very smartly knew that as a white male over 65 I was certainly NOT in their Target Audience!

  12. Sierraechoromeo on

    I take it that the objective of going digital is to improve the spectral efficiency of terrestrial broadcasting ie get 4 to 7 times the number of digital broadcast channels within the analogue frequency allocation. Setting aside the possibility that some of the frequency allocation can be lost to wireless networks, and since the SABC only has 3 channels to broadcast over the digital network, aside from eTV, who will fill the remaining channels?

    If we make the assumption that the remaining terrestrial channels are commercialized, there may be a revenue stream that will support public broadcasting and this is good for the tax payer. However, the cost of implementing the DTT network is likely to cost the tax payer many times more in the end, than to leave the analogue network in place until the business case demands the switch over. By way of comparison, Sentech currently has a state of the art digital platform available over satellite with well prices set top boxes containing CA technology. Why not use this platform to establish a base of free to air channels until the DTT business case is met, its paid for and operational.

    Since the ITU is an international organization that coordinates things like spectrum allocation etc between countries, it would be difficult to understand why they would force a deadline for transition of terrestrial broadcasting to a digital platform at such a high cost to the countries that can least afford it. It would be good to know exactly how many countries in Africa have national DTT networks in place. Is South Africa enhancing it’s public image at the cost of the tax payer?

    The politics aside, channels and studios would welcome conditional access in set top boxes as it not only protects distribution rights but also provides feedback on the number of registered users viewing their material, an absolute necessity for the advertising community from which public broadcast funds will become available and relied upon in the future.

  13. Vivid was launched somewhere in 1999 or 2000 using the DVB-S system with Nagra encryption. One just had to call Sentech to get it registered and for the rest it was FTA, Free to Air. It never became very popular, the decoders were not marketed, remained quite expensive, I believe the never became cheaper than R 1150, EXCl dish and install, and were hardly available.
    Sentech sold a mere 60,000 over more than 10 years. The signal was far more used in neighbouring countries where receivers without smartcard which had cracked the Nagra encryption were very affordable and widely available under brands as Philibao. In 2012 I spotted one in Botswana, which had a USB connection for PVR function on a separate hard drive or flash drive for 250 Pula, R 270.
    Initially besides the SABC tv channels and all radio channels, plus some background music channels for chain stores like Pep, Ackermans it had Etv, France 24, MSNBC and some more. They gradually removed all channels except SABC and numerous FTA religious channels.
    Apparently more than 3 million households in Zim were still receiving the signal when they finally removed even the SABC TV stations in June 2013, just before their general elections. In Zim they found the SA channels still a far better and more objective way to learn about politics in their own country than their own ZBC. Imagine.
    Sentech sells now through Teljoy, I believe, their new Freeview DVB-S2 sat decoders. I cannot imagine them to sell more than 5000 ever.
    A well managed and marketed Vivid or Freeview system could have eliminated the need for Digital Migration, or DTT altogether.
    Satellite for traditional unidirectional TV, and fibre combined with 3G/LTE/other broadband services using the TVWS, TV white spaces, the digital or spectral dividend, for internet and video streaming.

  14. Solid comprehensive reply, thanks.
    I fully agree that the Vivid concept would have been an ideal solution and what’s more it would have had everyone on board with paying their TV licence. As in: no licence paid = Sim card dead. So simple, maybe too simple for the likes of Faith and Ivy.

  15. Vivid, like Dstv, TopTv, Starsat or OVHD never required the owners of their sat decoders to show proof of a valid TV license.
    TV license should be scrapped altogether, as only something like 30% of households with TV have one.
    The requirement for receiving of subsided DTT decoders for the poor to have a valid TV license will never work out.

    Scrap Digital Migration, TV licenses and privatise SABC/Sentech is the way to go for this muddling, dilly-dallying, money wasting ( and grabbing) Gov of ours. Leave it to the new private broadcasters to implement digital terrestrial TV or choose for sat transmission.

    But this is way beyond the scope of these semi-stalinists, neurotic control freaks of our tripartite alliance.

  16. The official cabinet approved amount of this STB subsidy scheme, managed by USAASA is R 4.3 Billion. For 5 m decoders or STBs, meaning R 860 per unit, while DVB-T2 receivers can be imported for R 600, without encryption, and probably only R 100 or 200 more for ones with a CA, conditional access system.
    And soon all newly sold TVs will have a DVB-T2 tuner built in when the signal remains unencrypted.

  17. The reason for pushing to DTT is a simple one: Spectrum. Analogue broadcasting is inefficient. By shifting the broadcast signal to digital, a huge swathe of spectrum in the 800MHz band becomes available for telecommunications.

    The 800MHz band is ideal for mobile telephony as tower coverage is greater, and the signal is not attenuated as much by buildings.

  18. You don’t need to obfuscate URLs, Andrew. Simply wait for your comment to be moderated

  19. Ah. The crappy encryption in Vivid was hacked, so it failed to “protect” the fat-cat “Rights holders” interests.

    That’s why they had to “upgrade” the decoder, and lost serious market share. Who’s interested in buying not one but two decoders for the same thing?

  20. > I take it that the objective of going digital is to improve the spectral efficiency of terrestrial broadcasting ie get 4 to 7 times the number of digital broadcast channels within the analogue frequency allocation.

    Actually, it’s up to 300 times more efficient. Currently, 36 transmitters in Gauteng broadcast the three SABC channels using 32×8 MHz channels. With the DTT SFN (Single Frequency Network), 12 transmitters broadcast up to 20 channels using 1×8 MHz

  21. > However, the cost of implementing the DTT network is likely to cost the tax payer many times more in the end, than to leave the analogue network in place until the business case demands the switch over.

    It’s already done, up and running. All paid for by the taxpayer. Twice, actually. Once for DVB-T and once for DVB-T2. The sticking point is those pesky STBs. Which boils done to who makes the most money out of “local manufacture” of something that’s available on the international market for half the price.

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