After a delay of years the SABC is finally switching its TV channels to high definition (HD) with the South African public broadcaster upgrading the broadcast quality of its channels from Monday 11 June.
SABC1 and SABC3 will both switch from standard definition (SD) to HD from Monday 11 June, with SABC2 that will go HD sometime next month in July.
The upgrade will ensure crisper, sharper and clearer images for viewers watching content on the public broadcaster where those programmes are broadcast or have been filmed in HD. The free-to-air commercial TV rival, e.tv, upgraded to HD in October 2013 with the SABC that has been lagging far behind.
Analogue viewers – those without a satellite dish or a decoder – will however still experience the SABC channels in standard definition.
The SABC channels will only be able to be broadcast in HD and be able to be seen in HD on MultiChoice’s DStv satellite pay-TV platform, StarSat from China’s StarTimes Media SA and On Digital Media (ODM), eMedia Investment’s Openview, and digital terrestrial television (DTT) platforms.
With less than a year left and tens of millions of South African viewers who haven’t been switched yet, it has meanwhile become clear that South Africa will once again very likely miss yet another DTT deadline and won’t make the June 2019 deadline to switch off analogue broadcast signals in the country since millions of TV households still have to make the switch.
South Africa has missed multiple DTT deadlines the past decade with the government-led process botched by corruption, in-fighting between stakeholders, drawn-out court cases, constant switching on broadcast standards and fighting over conditional access and encryption system issues.
South Africa started planning for the switch to DTT in 2008 but embarrassingly missed the June 2015 deadline that was set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to complete the process.
Meanwhile many poor TV households earning less than R3 200 who quality for a free government set-top box (STB) are however still waiting for one.
That’s also not solving the problem of households earning more than R3 200 but who are still very poor as well as those who can afford a STB, and how they are supposed to get one.
The government isn’t giving any indication of how it will incentivise households who don’t quality and who must buy one at around R700 – or get a DTT-enabled TV set – to do so. The government has only committed to hand out 5.2 million free STBs but millions more South African TV households need one and will have to buy one.
If the government were to switch off analogue signals before the bulk of TV households have migrated, it will not just take away a public service from millions of South Africans but will have a sudden debilitating impact on especially the SABC’s TV ratings when millions of viewers will "disappear" – the currency used to set ad rates, and with the size of a TV channel’s viewership that is the driving force behind its advertising income.
The department of communications needs another R6.6 billion to complete the DTT process.
There is also questions around the June 2019 deadline. The Democratic Alliance (DA) member of parliament, Marian Shinn in a recent statement said that the department of communications' latest new deadline of June 2019, apparently instituted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), is apparently bogus.
"The minister of communications now claims that a new deadline of mid-2019 has been agreed to with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a date that coincides with South Africa's next general election."
"Correspondence I have had with the ITU office in Geneva, shows that there is no 2019 deadline for South Africa," said Marian Shinn. "A parliamentary question I submitted to the minister asking documentary proof of the 'new' deadline has not been answered."