With the theme “Digitisation and the Challenges of Broadcasting,” the 2008 Africast Conference and Exhibitions featured the presentation of scholarly papers by eminent personalities, professionals, veterans and captains of the broadcast industry from Africa and beyond.
Communiqué issued by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) stated the resolutions of the participants to include: that digitisation of broadcasting is not only necessary but also imperative in Africa. This is because it has the potentials of revolutionizing the media and communication activities within the continent, creating better business opportunities, redefining national values and generally placing the continent on the map of the digitally compliant world; that African countries must strive towards meeting the ITU deadline of June 17, 2015 for broadcasting to transit from analogue to digital. Otherwise, they stand the risk of paying the painful penalty of being isolated from the world’s broadcasting community.
That policy makers and investors should take into consideration the peculiarity of the African environment, in terms of poor infrastructure and low personal income in planning for the inevitable transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. Thus, although some progress have been made towards digitisation on the continent, as exemplified by Mauritius, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria, a lot remains, to be done; that African governments should, as a matter of urgency, enact and enforce laws banning the importation of analogue television sets into their countries. Also, they should, through effective legislation and policy implementation, fast-track the transition process in their countries. Both measures would help protect the continent from being turned into a dumping ground for obsolete analogue broadcast equipment.
That African countries must adopt a deliberate policy of carrying their peoples along in the campaign for a successful transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. Accordingly, they should immediately embark on aggressive public enlightenment campaign to mobilize and sensitize the public on the process, benefits and implications of digitisation; that the success and sustenance of digitisation in Africa will also require that
Governments on the continent lay emphasis on manpower development, encourage a sustainable maintenance culture, and energize their broadcast regulatory bodies through adequate funding and less political interference.
“The digitisation of broadcasting has far-reaching implications and daunting challenges for governments, broadcasters, broadcast regulators and the people. The success of the transition will depend, to a great extent, on the co-operation of these parties and their willingness and readiness to play effectively their expected roles; African countries should realize that, no matter what effort they make to achieve total digitisation, some of the challenges associated with the transition would still remain due to the peculiarities of the African environment. Therefore, there is the need to set up appropriate mechanism to absorb the inevitable challenges, in order to make any meaningful progress towards digitisation.”
“The use of converter boxes or set-top boxes on the switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting should be seen only as a stop-gap measure. Therefore, African countries should strive for local production of digital broadcasting facilities, if they must save costs, achieve technological development and enjoy the full benefits of digitisation; operators of the broadcast industry must be prepared to re-equip their stations with appropriate digital equipment, recruit and train their personnel and produce adequate local content to service the increasing number of available channels resulting from digitisation.”
“Digitised broadcasting emphasizes content production and distribution. African broadcasters should plan towards feeding their viewers and listeners with adequate and quality African programmes.” That Advisory Committee on Digitisation in African countries should research into the needs and implications of the transition project, so that they can offer useful advice to the government for a hitch free transition.
Digitisation implies more than its technological dimensions. Governments should formulate comprehensive policies on digitization, and enact enabling legislations, based on the realities of their local environments; that planning for digitisation should include the procurement of spare parts along with the digital equipment. The old practice of acquiring broadcasting equipment without attendant back-up spares had been the bane of broadcasting in many African countries.
That broadcast regulatory bodies in Africa should look beyond monitoring content on broadcasting stations and creating awareness on the forthcoming digitisation. They should equally concern themselves with the quality and state of broadcast equipment, infrastructure and personnel all of which are indispensable for successful digitization; that African governments should be ready to empower their people to enable them benefit from the dividends of digitisation. This, they can do by subsidizing the cost of Set-top boxes as the United States of America did in preparation for her own switchover on 17th February, 2009.
That each African country should consider floating a single national carrier, while allowing individual stations to concentrate on content production. The prevailing practice whereby stations spend their fortunes on equipment provision and maintenance, while neglecting content does not augur well for broadcasting in the digital era; that while fashioning out a legislative framework for digitisation, frequency management and licencing, African broadcast regulatory authorities should consider, seriously, either to grant a single licence for both multiplex and channel, or a separate licence for each.
Digitisation poses a great deal of challenges to content producers, and so the older broadcasting stations, which have vintage programmes in their archives, should seek to meet the challenges partly by digitizing such archival materials; digitisation demands comprehensive planning, adequate funding, improved know-how, infrastructural development and aggressive content production, and African countries should anticipate and tackle these challenges if they were to transit to digital broadcasting by or before the ITU deadline of 2015.
Since most modern day broadcast equipment are software-driven, African broadcasters should seek to sustain productivity by recruiting younger generation personnel who are computer literate, in addition to training and retraining; that African broadcasters should use the forum of Africast to evolve a global African brand with a view to meeting the growing yearnings of a global audience for a truly African content that confers beauty and dignity on the continent as opposed to the present distorted image of war, hunger, corruption and disease.
At the switchover to digital broadcasting, African countries should reserve and equitably allocate the freed spectrum for the future development of digital community broadcasting, using appropriate technologies. Meanwhile, there should be no switch off timetable for FM and AM sound broadcasting services until there is a proven, viable digital alternative; that community broadcasting has far-reaching social, political, economic and cultural advantages, so African countries should ease off the stringent licencing and regulatory requirements to encourage the emergence, and facilitate the growth, of community broadcasting on the continent.
African broadcasters were advised to take advantage of the technological innovations as they plan for the transition to digital broadcasting; African governments and broadcasters must ensure that, from now, only quality digital–ready broadcast equipment are imported into the continent. However, where there are restrictions or high tariffs, governments should grant immediate relief, to make the digitisation process less cumbersome and pain-free for operators in the industry.
Public and private broadcasters in Africa have made significant efforts to acquire and install digital equipment in anticipation of the global switch over to digital broadcasting. Be that as it may, they were advised to collaborate and co-operate with one another for a smooth and cost effective transition process.