Kenya digital migration: TV stations’ analogue signals switched off

As per the events in recent days where the analogue signals of four TV stations (NTV Kenya, KTN, Citizen TV and QTV) were switched off, it is no question that the Kenyan government wishes the migration from analogue to digital would have been completed and going on as it planned.

But it is not. Things are not going as planned and no one knows (yet) the new day when the four TV stations will be back on air broadcasting to the public.

The row between the four stations owned by individuals in the private sector and the government of Kenya raises some serious issues.

Do Kenyans really need the four popular television channels?

There are many comments I have read on different social networks, and they go something like this: most Kenyans (at least the ones with access to these sites – I guess the access Kenyans have to TV is higher compared to the internet) actually feel like they don’t need the four. Why? They have varied reasons:

  • the four only fill the air with politics and soap operas
  • they don’t watch that much TV anyway
  • they can access news from TV stations like K24 or the government owned KBC Channel One
  • they have bought, or plan to buy Bamba TV set top box (which requires no monthly subscriptions but gives viewers access to a wide variety of channels) or pay TV decoders from Gotv, DStv, Zuku, Azam TV or Startimes and pay monthly subscription fees. After all the decoders give them access to more channels they didn’t have access to before. So, they have no qualms with parting with a few hundred or thousands of shillings every month
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Some of the ads aired on the TV stations whose analogue signals have been switched off (to not go with the pay TV providers and stick with them until they bring their own set top boxes) angered some Kenyans that they decided to not care about whether they had access to the four or not.

But the four can’t be dismissed like that. You know it.

No one knows about tomorrow. The four might be useful and helpful the next day, month, year airing the plights of Kenyans. You never know.

There is always this love-hate relationship with most things in our lives. Even the people who scream loud about how they don’t need NTV Kenya, Citizen TV, KTN and QTV, don’t love themselves the same way every single day of their lives.

Sometimes you even feel like you are a disappointment to your own self. Tell me, even some of the people you love hanging with and giving your time, there are times when you resent them, no?

I am not saying this to defend the four stations. This is a fact of life. No one knows about tomorrow. So, we shouldn’t let emotions drive us crazy because even with the digital migration, we don’t really know how things will pan out.

Are Kenyans educated enough to differentiate between pay TV decoders and free to air set top boxes?

Well they can ask the sellers and distributors questions that help them make the right decision, right?

But there is bound to be confusion and resentment. And even if everyone is left to deal with their own issues, in the mean time, the government should actively educate Kenyans on the difference between the two, the pros and cons and the cost of the variety of decoders in the market right now.

They can do this on radios and newspapers, especially right now that Kenyans have lots of questions for the government and four TV stations.

Are Kenyan private investors in the media industry, especially TV, intimidated by foreign investors?

That seems to be the case. But then which industry in Kenya isn’t intimidated by investors coming from other countries.

Even those that smile and say how warmly they are open to competition from foreign entities, say that with caution. No one wants his launch eaten by another.

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The private sector is fine with capitalism and is open to competition but there are always buts especially if the top regulators, like the Communications Authority of Kenya, seems to listen to their plight but at the same time seem like it isn’t doing much listening.

Are Kenyans ready for this or the government is too ambitious? Is the government behaving like a bully?

Most of the talk is between government and the four and it looks like the citizens aren’t getting enough attention as the two does.

The government is for the people and the people are always divided in opinion. But in this case, some Kenyans feel like the governments needs to go through this process gently.

They feel as if the government is rushing things and not paying much attention to their rights to access to information which is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Kenya.

But if you look at it from the government’s perspective, they in one way or another, strongly believe that Kenyans like rushing and doing things at the last minute.

So, the rush, the ambition, is but motivation to get people moving towards Vision 2030.

Remember how people dragged their feet when it came to registering their SIM cards with their respective mobile phone service providers awhile ago?

Looking back now, you can say that the government was justified in giving the citizens some motivation by appearing to be in a hurry, right?

The government seemed like a bully. But it got more people to take action (and there are many who will argue that the two changes are not related at all, but I am mentioning this merely to illustrate a point).

Does the media, especially the four, feel intimidated by the government, and has their trust on the government waned?

It may seem so. The four feel as if they are being separated from the people that give them power – their viewers (more viewers = more advertising and higher fees = more advertisers cutting them fat checks = the business they love – which is understandable).

The four feel like the quick move when their viewers aren’t ready with the kind of set top boxes they have in mind (set top boxes from the four television stations) is bad for their business.

And with viewers wandering all over, their loyalty may shift – and the NTV, Citizen, KTN or QTV that used to be their favourites may be replaced by some other station in operation (like the many channels that come with pay TV decoders) or one that is soon airing its programmes to Kenyans in a week, month, two months or three months from now.

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But say, the government allows the four to go back broadcasting using the analogue signals as before, some stations that have switched already may see government as flaky and not at all serious about digital migration – after all, all they want is a level playing field so that the stations migrate all at once and no one feels like one or two stations are treated differently from the rest.

Does the government feel that the four stations are trying to set a precedent where they can disrupt government’s schedule?

Yes. And you are right to think what I am thinking right now: the government doesn’t smile over something like this.

It is bad for governance, you know.

They want things to go as they have planned, allowing no one (no matter how big, small or popular) to disrupt their schedule.

But this reminds us of the fact that even government has to contend with headaches once in awhile. It keeps people on their toes, fosters discussion and in the end people come to the table to find a way forward.

Can the four TV channels be allowed to be back on air broadcasting on analogue before migrating at a later date?

This is possible. But there will be people ready to advance reasons why it cannot be done.

As always there are many people hired and ready to make the possible impossible.

Whatever decision the government makes, it remains to be seen if this will be the case as it appears that the set top boxes that the four TV stations want to distribute and let Kenyans buy aren’t already available in the electronic shops and supermarkets near you.

What are your thoughts on this row?

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