Digital migration: NBC/ One Africa on collusion course

The end of analogue broadcasting and the production of dedicated equipment have soured relations between Namibia’s two top broadcasters – Namibia Broadcasting Corporation and One Africa.  
Namibia’s single free to air and private commercial television station, One Africa is accusing NBC of abusing State resources for its own benefit following after former was omitted from last week’s technical launch of the N$500m Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) where China’s CCTV and South Africa’s CNBC were included.
Paul Van Schalkwyk, One Africa managing director, yesterday said it is a huge mistake for Government to allow NBC to be the custodian of the digital migration programme as the public broadcaster is failing to provide a level playing field.
“We are shocked and in total disbelief that NBC has not included us in this initial phase of DTT but chooses other international broadcasters who do not have licenses to operate in Namibia and have not befitted anything or anyone in Namibia.
“We were made to believe that we will be part of the DTT process with full access to the system. One Africa never, for one moment, thought that the new NBC leadership under Albertus Aochamub would continue with its uncompetitive behaviour which we have gotten used to over the past decade.  We can only hope that it was a genuine mistake on their part to omit us,” said Van Schalkwyk.
One Africa claims that by giving NBC the N$500m to run the digital migration, government is making a mistake as NBC will use the taxpayers’ money to gain unfair advantage over commercial broadcasters.
Their query is that NBC has denied them access to the broadcasting infrastructure over the last 10 years. Instead of using NBC towers including its reserve capacity on the satellite transponder, the private channel is currently paying MTC towers for its 29 transmitters.
“We could have paid NBC for using Government infrastructure but they refused which means that the taxpayer has been paying for capacity which could have been better utilised. We are willing to pay for it,” he said adding that the biggest loser has been Government and the tax-payer who keeps on subsidising loses of NBC.
Van Schalkwyk said being a competitor; NBC should not be the custodian of the digital migration.
“The infrastructure NBC is denying us access to is not owned by them just like DTT. These are national assets financed by Government. NBC is just a custodian and Government should give custody to Cran (Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia), which is the regulator. Cran will be impartial,” thus Van Schalkwyk.
But NBC boss, Aochamub says One Africa is just a cry-baby.
“There were at the launch (last week). Why didn’t they ask about their omission? It was just a technical launch not a commercial launch. We put TBN on because there have no commercial license.
“One Africa knows we are working out the pricing model which will be used to everyone. We have contracted Deloitte for that process. If One Africa wants to be on our test-signal; that is our own decision. We have nothing to fear. They will be fairly treated. NBC previously made the mistake of not pricing its transmissional value correctly. We want to do it right that is why they must wait. Van Schalkwyk wants everything for free but that era is gone now.
“For him to claim that we blocked them from our towers is baseless because in Namibia you can either use NamWater, Telecom, Leo or NBC and I believe they chose what they could afford,” said Aochamub.
One Africa wants NBC to switch way from the purely ad-driven revenue model in its DTT migration to allow it to carry channels on national development like an education channel, tourism and health channels for free while protecting cable companies from being charged too high a price.
Van Schalkwyk says the problem with the current NBC initiative is that in future advertisers may choose to place their material on other stations that are not NBC, like CNBC Africa.
“The advertising market is not only small, it is drying up. NBC cannot compete with private or commercial entities. It will get stuck,” he says.
He added: “You think a company like Standard Bank would want to have one advert in all five television channels destined for the same two million market? NBC should never make profit because its intention is to create a service. It is a strategic national asset that is the reason you will find a million dollar tower in an area of less than a hundred people, for Government to provide service to all its citizens.
“The reason why television is undervalued and under-utilised in Namibia is because of lack of a united front. NBC will never make profit and should leave that to commercial entities. Theirs is a national service,” he said.
Digital communication technologies as well as the convergence of telecommunications and the media will see progressive migration from analogue to digital production and broadcasting hence the appearance of radio and digital television by 2015.
Terrestrial digital television encourages an increase in the number of programmes available, improves quality and accessibility and creates new media services.
It also offers a solution to frequency congestion and encourages more programmes.
In addition, digital broadcasting (radio and TV) offers other benefits in terms of managing the frequency spectrum available, regional planning, a reduction in energy consumption and costs, etc.
Today, these various benefits make a move to digital broadcasting (known as digital migration) imperative for television and radio.
This is why the International Telecommunications Union has recommended all countries to move to digital broadcasting by the year 2015.
According to One Africa, Information and Broadcasting Minister Joel Kaapanda has been at the forefront of digital migration but his efforts could be thwarted by NBC’s arrogance.
“We have the assurance from Minister Kaapanda that we will work together to promote and grow the broadcasting industry in Namibia.
“He has told us he will not allow uncompetitive behaviour. So why is NBC denying us everything? We now intend to take the matter to the minister if that is the case. Our position is that if NBC locks us out like this, we will look for alternatives and duplicate the system which is not good for our country. If we get the assistance of investors, it would mean slicing the cake thinner and bringing more competition.”
Van Schalkwyk said the tone of the NBC chairman, Sven Thieme who is also the chairman of the Namibia Breweries Limited is far from conciliatory as compared to Minister Kaapanda’s.
“When we approached them for cooperation, the NBC chairman told us that we should expect stiffer competition. But I asked him, what if Government starts another loss making brewery subsidised by tax payers’ money and with a depot in every town, will he be happy?”