Lessons and Opportunities in Rwanda’s Digital Migration fairy tale

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Rwanda’s Digital Migration process has emerged as a fairy tale of success compared to challenges faced by its East African neighbours.

The analogue switch off took place in July 2014, a year ahead of the June 2015 global deadline. Tanzania has also switched off Analogue television while Kenya remains embroiled in litigation between the sector regulator and a consortium of 3 broadcasters. Burundi and Uganda lag far behind without adequate coverage and with a limited chance of meeting the switch-over deadline.

However, Digital Migration in Rwanda has not been without challenges in a country with only 7 per cent TV viewership and limited capacity in local content production. The country was also forced to migrate using a digital network based on the older DVB-T technology. A significant cost will be incurred when upgrading to the agreed DVB-T2/MPEG4 system. This was highlighted in our 2014 article – Migrate then Upgrade: Rwanda to use older DVB-T technology.

The process started in 2006 with the installation of a pilot digital transmitter in Kigali that was tested using a few DVB-T/MPEG-2 (older technology) decoders. This was followed by the roll-out of a DVB-T network across the country by the then public broadcaster (ORINFO) between 2009 and 2011; based on a government decision arrived at in 2008.

In 2010 adopted a Broadcasting Policy that enabled the development of a licencing framework in 2011. This was followed by the re-organisation of ORINFO to RBA – the Rwanda Broadcasting Authority – under the leadership of Arthur Asiimwe.

With the policy and licencing framework in place, RBA was issued with a Digital TV broadcasting licence in February 2013 and a simulcast period was launched in March 2013. This meant that both analogue and Digital TV broadcasts were to continue in parallel until December 2013. The country’s analogue switch date had initially been set to December 2013.

However, Rwanda failed to meet the 2013 deadline because there were only a few decoders/STB in the market. The decoders were also unaffordable and their quality was not assured due to many fake products. The consumers were also unprepared for migration due to limited awareness of Digital Migration.

Starting with only 3 TV broadcasters – RBA, StarTimes (PayTV licenced in 2007) and TELE 10 (PayTV) – and low TV viewership of 7 per cent of the population, Rwanda’s migration had to be rejuvenated.

A new migration timetable was set to run between January 2014 and end with analogue switch off on July 31, 2014. The need for a second Broadcast Signal Distributor – or Multiplex operator – had become a necessity. StarTimes had already rolled-out a network in the same locations that hosted the RBA transmitters. The second licence was however to be issued to a consortium of local broadcasters and Star Media – known as Pan African Network Rwanda Ltd. The new licencee would help ensure that the technology upgrade from DVB-T to DVB-T2 would be achieved faster. Some issues between members of the joint venture are however yet to be finalised.

Further, RBA had to embark on a more aggressive consumer awareness campaign to sensitize the public and resolve all other challenges before the July 2014 deadline. The analogue switch off happened as expected but challenges continued to plague the migration process.

To address the shortfall in the supply of decoders, four resellers had been licenced. The decoder importers are Sorim, Startimes, TransAfrica and Tele10. This however is considered an inadequate number considering countries such as Kenya have approximately 70 decoder types and resellers already approved. The licencing of more resellers along with removal of all taxation on imported decoders may help Rwanda to guarantee quality products at an affordable price. During the switch off in July 2014, atleast 27 per cent of TV households did not have decoders and were therefore left in the dark. They lack the capacity to test genuine decoders yet the challenge of ensuring that only DVB-T2 compliant decoders are sold requires enforcement by the regulator – Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA).

The lack of local content has remained a challenge for both the broadcasters and consumers. RBA has made efforts in engaging content producers in East Africa to assist in improving their local content development capacity. In June 2014, RBA had 7 FTA channels on their broadcast including Rwanda TV (RTV), TV10, France 24, TV5 Monde, Aljazeera and BBC. New local channels such as Family TV, Lemigo TV, Yego TV, Goodrich TV, TV1 were launched later in 2014 – bringing the number of FTA to eleven. The content production sector, especially for local content, remains an opportunity for both local and foreign investors in Rwanda.

Consumers remain dissatisfied with the quality of service and support from PayTV operators and decoder resellers. They have raised concerns that the cost of set top boxes remains prohibitive while the subscription costs to PayTV services are high considering the limited content. Content on both FTA and PayTV services remains predominantlying foreign.

The lack of adequate electricity infrastructure has led to development of solar power alternatives such as those promoted by Startimes in Rwanda.

For countries such as Kenya and Tanzania which have vibrant film industries based content production capacity, Rwanda’s TV market presents an opportunity. The predictable policy environment and the willingness of RBA to engage with content investors should especially be of interest the 44 broadcasters in Kenya’s tumultous migration to expand their business and support Rwanda.

However, the success story of Rwanda’s digital TV market remains incomplete unless the population of viewers rapidly grows from the current dismal number below 200,000 households. The doubling of TV viewership to 15 per cent of the 12 million Rwandans (World Bank, 2013) in 2.75million households will create a market of atleast 400,000 television devices with approximately 1.8 million active viewers. This will be an opportunity for both decoder resellers and content producers. It will also result in a more informed public engaged in socioeconomic development.

(This post was first published on the Pablo Divino blog).

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