Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The people who decide the future of television (in America AND in South Africa) are absolutely clueless as to what HBO is.

In America today, the Supreme Court heard arguments over the Aero TV service - a TV service which the broadcasters and pay-TV operators there don't like.

The broadcasting industry there was left stunned today when one of the Supreme Court justices, Anthonin Scalia, didn't know what HBO was - which is basically America's version of M-Net - a pay-TV broadcaster and pay-TV channel.

Why it is so disturbing and so shocking, is that the Supreme Court (and judges like Antonin Scalia) are the people who eventually decide the future of America's TV broadcasting industry - but has no clue about something like HBO before they start their questioning about an extremely serious matter brought before court.

Here's the funny thing - the exact same thing has happened and is happening in South Africa.

Here in South Africa, in the same way, those who are to decide (or are supposed to decide) over South Africa's TV broadcasting future - likewise don't have the foggiest clue about something like HBO.

When it comes to South Africa's digital terrestrial television (DTT) future, as a journalist covering the South African TV industry and this extremely important story which is not getting enough public coverage, I heard with my own ears, and saw with my own eyes, how a member of parliament, of parliament's portfolio committee on communications, naively and completely clueless, asked our country's experts, during a hearing on DTT, if South Africa will finally be getting HBO when South Africa migrates to digital television.

It defies belief and it takes your breath away.

These are the people who are supposed to be clued up, the people not just supposed to know what is happening, but who are supposed to know the very intricate details in order to ask the questions and get to the real information they're not being offered.

Yet parliament's portfolio committee on communications - the supposed "oversight" body which has presided over South Africa's extremely delayed non-starting digital migration process, asks if HBO is coming to South Africa as a TV channel on digital terrestrial television.

The TV expert from one of South Africa's prominent broadcasting companies had to patiently, kindly and in a non-condescending way, explain to the dear member that no, HBO is a pay-TV channel. No, HBO is an American TV channel.

No, digital terrestrial television means the existing TV channels broadcasting the same content just in a digital way, as opposed to an analogue way.

No, HBO as a channel cannot ever be shown on DTT in South Africa, but HBO separate programming bought through licensing deals for this territory has been shown for years on specific pay-TV channels which South African viewers can subscribe to.

This interaction which I thought of today when I heard of the American Supreme Court judge who is sitting in an Aero court case but is clueless about HBO, is indicative (and part of the reason why) South Africa's digital terrestrial television migration is itself in such a mess.

It is because the people in charge on government level and parliamentary level are clueless (and lets be frank: useless) as to what is really going on, how it really works, what is really required, and what the industrial and real operational technical details around digital television in South Africa are.