Digital broadcasting stirs up local TV industry, but...

Rwanda was the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to migrate from analogue television transmission to digital broadcasting by June this year.
Customers queue to pay for decoders at StarTimes offices in Kimihurura. (Ben Gasore)
Customers queue to pay for decoders at StarTimes offices in Kimihurura. (Ben Gasore)

Rwanda was the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to migrate from analogue television transmission to digital broadcasting by June this year.

During the four-phase exercise, over 51,000 television sets were switched off across the country by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (Rura).

Prior to digital migration, Rwanda had for decades only had one free-to-air television station, Rwanda Television. Those who could afford opted for pay TV Tele10, which aired foreign programmes.

Later in 2007, the pay TV market monopoly by Tele10 was broken by Star Africa Media (popularly known as StarTimes).

However, this did not greatly increase the TV penetration rate as shown by the small numbers registered over the time.

In 2008, the government announced plans to digitalise the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) network following the June 17, 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union for analogue TV switch-over. Rura then licensed Tele10, Star Africa Media, TransAfrica and Sorim to import top boxes (decoders) to facilitate the switch-over. At the time, 50 per cent of the TV sets in the country were for analogue transmission.

According to Rura statistics, there are currently over 192,000 users who have acquired decoders and digital coverage is now at 95 per cent. Decoders cost between Rwf23,500 and Rwf32,000, depending on the vendor.

The switch to digital broadcasting has boosted the industry, with a number of local TV stations setting up shop. Rwanda now has seven TV stations. They are Family TV, TV One, TV10, CNBC Africa, Lemigo TV, Contact TV, Yego TV and Rwanda Television.

However, the numbers are not reflected in content, with most of the stations still struggling to give viewers quality programming.

At the advent of digital broadcasting, it was envisaged that local content market would grow, but developers claim it is expensive to produce local content. They also argue that there is lack of skills and capacity needed to produce quality content in the country.

So, despite the opportunities digital TV presents, industry players are yet to tap the benefits.

However, some programmes look to have made the cut. TV One’s breakfast show has attracted viewers who contribute on current affairs through telephone call-ins. RBA’s Rise and Shine breakfast show, which hit the airwaves about three months ago, has also attracted a sizable viewership.

2015 challenge

However, Rwanda’s small economy coupled with the low television penetration rates means that big advertisers will continue shying away from using TV as a marketing medium to sell their products and services.

Digital broadcasting offers more freed-up frequency spectra, thus making it easier for more entrepreneurs to start TV stations. This presents creative Rwandans opportunities to produce cheaper local content that suits viewers’ preferences.

TV proprietors will have to come up with new marketing strategies to attract advertisers, as well as offer relevant and organised programming.

Market analysts say it is up to the media houses to convince companies and government institutions to advertise with them.

“Those that have good programmes will be able to attract high viewership, which also translates into more revenue from advertisers,” Arthur Asiimwe, the RBA director general, said in an earlier interview with The New Times.

ben.gasore@newtimes.co.rw

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