The story begins when the 150-year-old telecoms organization, called the International Telecoms Union (ITU), decides that globally; all television transmission must be conducted in digital as opposed to analogue broadcasting which had been the traditional method of transmission.
Analogue TV and digital TV
The difference is similar to the analogue mobile phones, where phone calls to a handset, did not indicate the name or number of the caller, and when phones could not send text messages across to other phones. So, just as the GSM network allowed the phones to offer information and quality of voice by showing the name of caller during a phone call and being able to send text, picture and video messages, so will digital TV offer more detail and quality of the content we will be watching.
Key characteristics of digital TV
*All TV stations can be seen nationwide
*All TV picture and sound quality will be high and the same for every station
*TV pictures will mostly be seen via a box or a decoder.
How will the occurrence of digital TV appear in homes?
So the system (analogue) by which we watch general free-to-air TV Chanel’s such as GTV, TV3, METRO TV and VIASAT or UTV, will be switched off as according to ITU directions. That means, we can only continue to watch TV by obtaining the decoders or boxes that will be provided in the market.
This box will have at least 40 channels. The first 20 channels will have all the 20 TV stations that we are used to watching for free. So we can now see our favourite TV stations on those 20 channels with standardized good picture and sound quality and also across the nation.
The next set of 20 or more channels may be designed as pay TV channels so that people must pay per month, or in the case of special events pay per view to see those channels.
What kind of content will be on the other channels?
What has happened in other countries is that, the existing channels as we know them have created new platforms and migrated their most popular programs onto the other pay channels.
So for instance, TV3 could create TV3 plus; and migrate their best programs to those channels. That means, a non-paying subscriber will be limited to see only the first 20 channels, which will include TV3 regular, but may not see “Ghana’s most beautiful” if that has been shifted to TV3 PLUS.Same as if VIASAT decides to migrate a program like, “at home with Joselyn Dumas” to VIASAT EXTRA on the pay side of the box, a subscriber who is non-paying; will not see that show live.
The TV channels may decide to show the premium content the next day on the free channels as well. So that “Ghana most beautiful” will show live on Sunday night on TV3 PLUS; but will show the next day on Monday evening on TV3 regular etc.
The other kind of content that could be made available on the pay side; is the SPECIAL EVENTS channel that will broadcast special events such as sports events (Black Stars games or Mayweather fights) movie premiere and reality shows etc.
These will also be aired at high premium so that even if a subscriber is already paying, she may have to pay extra fee to see that premium content whilst non-paying subscribers will pay a bit just to see the special event content only. So that one may be a non-paying subscriber; and therefore sees only the regular 20 channels; but on a particular day, he wants to see the Black Stars game against England, he is happy to pay for that only; and return to his non-paying status, the system and decoder should allow one to see that.
How close are we to full migration?
Currently, the NCA appears to have completed the roll out of transmission capacity almost across the entire country, and should complete the process later in 2017, to meet the new deadline so that migration should begin with key regions in Ghana from last quarter of 2017
What is the policy to get out the decoders/boxes to the general public?
Research has indicated that in Ghana, there could be about 8 million households with TV sets watching TV in the current analogue system. That means, at the outset, we will need 8 million decoders for our people to acquire. The NDC government’s published decision was to secure 1 million decoders to distribute to identifiable people who may not be able to afford to pay for boxes.
The other citizens were to acquire the boxes from vendors licensed by the NCA, and who will sell different capacities of boxes from the basic to the more sophisticated, and able to conduct different application of transmission, such as recording live programs, catch up with old programs, video on demand etc.
What is encryption?
Encryption is understood as the system that creates a conditional access to the content from the decoder. That means some of the content is blocked until a subscriber has paid to open up access.
So that is the system that will be used for the second set of twenty channels. Most likely, mobile phones will become the platform on which we will pay to get access to the encrypted content for the encrypted content.
Concerns over the use of encryption
The NCA seems to have adopted and expressed a policy where the encryption of the boxes will not be compulsory especially for the first 1 million boxes or the basic standard. They have defended the view that encrypting those boxes will make it expensive for government to purchase for our people (that is granting that the new NCA/Ministry adopts that policy).
Why must all boxes be encrypted by a common standard set by the NCA?
The boxes must be encrypted so that the subscriber can decide to pay for more content or to keep to the free content available on the box. If for instance a non-paying subscriber wants to pay to watch just a special event say a Black Stars game, he must be able to do so and return to his non-paying status until the next event that he wants to pay to see. If the first million are not encrypted, that subscriber may have to get another decoder that may have encryption into his home to see a special event or a program that he likes, that means two boxes in his home.
Why must the NCA determine a common encryption standard for all boxes?
The NCA must be guided by best practices, to establish a common encryption standard for all boxes within Ghana.
If content providers and TV stations are allowed to engage their own encryption, this is what will happen, a subscriber will find out that his favorite program, say Ghana’s most beautiful, is on a decoder B which is encrypted, then another favorite program is on decoder C encrypted differently, then the special events is on another decoder with a separate encryption system, so the subscriber needs about 4 or 5 decoders in his home, that’s unhelpful.
When we have a standardized encryption system, the subscriber can watch free to air channels, can switch to become a pay subscriber and switch back to non-paying the next month, and can also watch special events all on the same single decoder in his home.
How will government generate revenue?
The idea is that, government will set up a digital migration company that will manage the channels. That company will take a commission for all content encrypted. So that the more content and the more subscribers that pay for content, the more revenue at hand for government.
For instance in a particular month, 10 million Ghanaians have each paid 2 cedis for content ranging from people who watched Ghana’s most beautiful on TV3 PLUS, those who viewed entertainment programs, news programs and special event programs, the government receives commissions and fees for being the spectrum operator, those monies can be used to run the system to reduce burden on tax money.
How will employment be created?
Because content can be monetized, more people will get into providing good quality content, as the system will birth a new and profitable industry around TV and video content.
Many more music videos will be done of good quality, news type content and films will be produced and monetized for profit. This industry will spur on other connected industries like garment, food, transport, etc.
Once people like the content and are happy to pay minimum fees of say 1 cedi and 2 cedis for it, the industry will be kept alive and can employ many more people. That’s how the American TV industry became great, that’s how Oprah Winfrey was created, that’s how news media in America became sustainable to facilitate good governance and democracy, that’s how reality shows produced wealthy outcomes to spur the growth of wealth in the industry
How will the advertising market benefit?
The advertising system will now be able to obtain objective numbers on the ratings of programs because under digital TV, the system can produce the exact number of eyeballs that watched a TV show and the social and economic demographics to which they belong.
That way, the advertiser can decide clearly where to place his adverts depending on the type of audience that he targets. It will signify the end of subjective guesswork on program ratings.
Digital television has been used to create huge industry and wealth for nations such as the US, Europe and Asia. We now have a wonderful opportunity to stop applying taxpayer’s money to pay our Sports men, as we can generate money from monetizing their content both in Ghana and abroad whenever they play as in the case of our footballers.
Content monetization must be the key driver of digital migration, so, will Joe Anokye’s Anchor hold, Congratulations Sir and welcome aboard.
By: Paul Adom-Otchere/Ghana