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BATTLE FOR DIGITAL TV CHANNELS CONTINUES

THE battle for digital terrestrial TV (DTT) continues today, with the SABC and e.tv making their cases for new digital channels.
The jostling for new platforms began on Friday as players made presentations at public hearings convened by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) on the draft digital migration regulations.

Digital migration is the process by which SA will migrate from analogue TV broadcasting to digital broadcasting.

The migration process started on November 1 and is scheduled to end on November 1 2011, when the analogue signal will be switched off.

Until then, existing terrestrial broadcasters — the SABC, e.tv and M-Net — will broadcast both analogue and digital signals, at enormous cost.

Pay-TV broadcaster M-Net wants up to eight channels in return for completing its digital migration within a year, freeing up valuable spectrum for the country, it said on Friday.

M-Net CEO Patricia Scholtemeyer told Icasa that the broadcaster was able to do a “hard switchover” by swapping its subscribers’ analogue decoders for digital set-top boxes.

The cost of doing this within a year would be more than R750m, M-Net said. However, this would benefit SA as a considerable amount of spectrum would be freed up, enough for several new digital services.

In return, M-Net wanted to keep full use of the multiplex which would be created by the freed-up spectrum, allowing it to broadcast eight channels

But subscription broadcast licensees On Digital Media (ODM), Telkom Media and Walking on Water TV (WOWtv) have all opposed M-Net’s plans.

They want to be allowed to start broadcasting on the DTT platform, which is intended for the exclusive use of the three current broadcasters until digital migration is completed.

Only after the analogue switch-off does Icasa plan to allow competition. The new entrants view M-Net as a direct competitor and are opposed to it being further protected.

Icasa issued ODM and Telkom Media with technology-neutral licenses, which do not restrict them to satellite and cable services. WOWtv and Icasa are still discussing its licence conditions.

ODM and Telkom Media argued that as they hold technology-neutral licences they should be allowed at least one channel each on the new DTT platform.

Source: Business Day – Jocelyn Newmarch