Friday 6 July 2018

South Africa at Digital Crossroad: FM Radio Will Be Retained.

Inquiry reveals digital radio doubtfulness.
Media authority ICASA has conducted an inquiry in order to examine the prospects of implementation of digital sound broadcasting services. Most entries are submitted by broadcasters in South Africa but also from international stakeholders as WorldDAB and DRM Consortium. The most of the 22 submissions clearly indicate that analogue FM radio should be retained and terrestrial digital radio should only be introduced as a complement. Input indicates that both the DAB and the DRM system might be introduced in South Africa.

To pave the way for the introduction of digital radio in South Africa, ICASA will soon issue a policy directive allowing an initiative for a licensing framework. Public hearings will be held 11–13 July in Johannesburg.  Here are four submissions which present a typical picture of the position regarding analogue versus digital broadcasting taken by the South African broadcasting community:

The public broadcaster South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) says in its submission that it is ”highly discouraged to switch off traditional analogue AM and FM transmitters.” It is about costs. Not everyone will be able to afford, a radio set for R1,000 at this stage in our country. This implies that the switch-off of analogue services should be determined by the adoption of digital services by the consumers.

SABC also writes unlike DTT, there are no international pressures either from the ITU. Or from the neighboring states, to switch-off the analogue sound broadcastings services. Hence, analogue sound broadcasting services must be left to continue alongside digital services. Market forces should determine the switch-off date of analogue services. The two (2) major market forces underpins the switch off date of analogue services - the cost of receivers which will drive adoption of DSB services and the cost of signal distribution which will motivate broadcasters to switch-off analogue services and adopt DSB services.

National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is the leading representative the broadcasting industry, comprising all three tiers of broadcasters - public, commercial and community,. NAB emphasises that DSB technologies should not be regarded as replacing analogue radio, but rather as co-existing with FM in the same area without any interference.

NAB confirms the test results revealing lacking geographic reach and therefore recommends DAB only for metro area broadcasting.

Classic FM says it is not envisaged that traditional analogue AM and FM broadcasters should switch off at this time. We view the introduction of terrestrial DSB services as an added delivery medium, says the broadcaster with DAB experience at the UK market. ClassicFM has participated in DAB+ trial in all its phases and understands that this is not seen as a migration from analogue to digital as in the case of Digital Terrestrial TV but the introduction of an additional technology to enhance and future proof radio. 

DAB+ radio could be stillborn, commercial broadcaster warns. 

Commercial broadcaster Primedia said the digital radio technologies, known as DAB+ and DRM, have “already been superseded by broadcast over Internet protocol (IP)”.The broadcaster said it is “concerned” that South Africa’s DAB+ trials have mainly focused on the technical aspects and capabilities of digital sound broadcasting and no insight or detail has been forthcoming on the actual commercial benefits for sound broadcasters.

The media regulator ICASA must appreciate the difficult financial conditions that broadcasters have to operate in as well as shrinking revenue in the sector”.“Any broadcaster will be reluctant to take on any further financial commitment that will further reduce its profitability.

Despite these warnings, Primedia said there is a need to introduce digital radio services due to the scarcity of radio frequency spectrum. However, it said IP-based delivery of audio programming risks making any launch of DAB+ and DRM obsolete before commercial services are even available. The increase in broadband ubiquity and the gradual decline of data costs has resulted in broadcasters seeing an increase in the number of audiences using internet platforms for radio consumption.

We are of the view that this trend will keep growing significantly, more so as we see a broader access to smart devices, car infotainment systems and satellite television. Primedia does not see the value of investing in digital sound broadcasting technologies, particularly considering that the success and benefits of digital broadcasting is dependent on the uptake of DAB+ and DRM receivers by the general public” writes Primedia.

Read more
Discussion document and submissions to the ICASA Digital Sound Broadcasting Inquiry 2018
Digital radio in SA could be stillborn, Primedia warns (TechCentral)

Also read

No FM Switch-off in South Africa
First South African Digital Radio on Medium Waves