JOHANNESBURG: Kenya will start switching off analogue TV signals in the middle of December 2013 while South Africa has indicated it may fail to meet the 2015 deadline for the switchover on the continent. 

The International Telecommunications Union, the UN agency responsible for information and telecommunications technology, has set a June 2015 deadline for member states to switch from analogue to digital.

The timetable in South Africa is slipping however, reported Business Day, as broadcasters argue over the technical specifications of the set-top boxes that viewers will need to use in conjunction with their analogue TV sets.

Some want an access control system included to ensure that stolen boxes cannot be used outside the country and that "grey" imports will not be able to pick up a signal. Others favour a basic box, arguing that other countries have managed the move to digital without resort to access control.

While Kenya is set to progress with the switchover, the sheer level of content that will be needed has raised questions. Legislation currently requires 40% of airtime to be devoted to local content and, rather than fill the schedules with recycled international content, the government is considering raising the level of local content to 60% in order to create more jobs in the sector.

This point was echoed by Richard Bell, CEO of the Wananchi Group, a major pay-TV operator. He argued that ad revenues from free-to-air broadcasters in Africa were limited so constraining their ability to generate content, but this was not the case with pay-TV operators.

"The growth of pay-TV offers a fantastic opportunity to grow local content and on the back of that, expand the entire creative arts and sports entertainment industries on the continent," he told Screen Africa.

Bell expected dramatic growth in the medium term from two developments: cable TV, especially in urban areas, and IP-based streaming.

Data sourced from Business Day, Screen Africa; additional content by Warc staff