DTT’s slow progress in sub-Saharan Africa

By Content Nigeria reporter
March 31, 2023


The transition from analogue terrestrial TV to digital terrestrial TV (DTT) is moving ahead in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) but progress is slow, according to a report by research outfit Dataxis.

South Africa, the most developed country in SSA, is scheduled to switch off analogue signals and go fully digital today, eight years after the original deadline fixed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Some other SSA countries are much further behind in terms of digital switchover, despite the ITU signing agreements with 54 African countries to switch off the analogue TV signal by the middle of June 2015.

Dataxis said the number of DTT free-to-air (FTA) households in SSA is expected to increase slightly from 38% in 2022 to 41% in 2027, this is still a relatively low increase at the regional level, as direct-to-home (DTH) satellite TV will remain the most widely used technology for digital TV reception.

The roll-out of DTT has encountered numerous issues, such as countries adopting different technical standards, based on European, Chinese or Japanese tech depending on where the local governments saw their long-term allegiances.

The “significant financial resources” needed for digital switchover was also cited by Dataxis as a factor slowing progress, especially the costs of installing new infrastructure in very large SSA countries.

“The larger the territory, the greater the infrastructure required. This may explain why small countries such as Malawi or Eswatini already completed the transition while it remains ongoing in the two giants of the audiovisual market, South Africa and Nigeria,” said Dataxis analyst Léa Zouein.

“Some countries such as Nigeria also face administrative barriers, which can include misapplication of the funds granted for the transition. The lack of awareness from a part of the viewers on what the migration entails constitutes an additional hurdle to the efficient completion of the process,” she added.

Dataxis also found that some SSA countries switched off their analogue TV signals before all TV households were equipped to receive DTT. In Kenya in 2015, for example, over 1.3 million TV households lost access to free terrestrial TV due to analogue switch-off.

The research companies revealed that in 2022, the DTT signal reached more than 90% of the population in only 14 SSA countries. Of the 55 SSA countries, only Botswana, Burkina Faso, Eswatini, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia have completed digital switchover.

Many public DTT initiatives have run into problems and this has led to the emergence of several privately owned DTT platforms, such as GOtv, owned by South Africa’s Multichoice; the Chinese-owned StarTimes; and EasyTV, subsidiary of Canal+ of France.

The growth of private DTT platforms, rather than publicly owned ones, has meant that the uptake of pay DTT services in SAA is far higher than in other parts of the world. In SSA, pay DTT accounts for 24% of all direct pay TV households.

Returning to South Africa, the country faces an important paradox, said Zouein: “With only 20% of the population covered by DTT at the end of 2022, it cannot complete the analogue switch-off and release frequency for mobile internet development without leaving a large share of households with a blind screen.

“For the time being, not only have private and public broadcasters warned that a switch-off in March 2023 would cause them to lose between 50% and 70% of their viewers but mobile operators are also falling behind in the development of 4G and 5G, as they cannot take advantage of the frequency spectrum released by DTT.”

More on Dataxis’ research can be found it the company’s website and in its presentation at its upcoming conference NexTV Series Africa, due to take place in October in Johannesburg in South Africa.