2013 has been a year of missed deadlines for many African countries intending to switchover to digital broadcasting, often as part of regional pacts. The five-member East African Community had set its transition date of December 2012.

The contrast in approaches and success in even this small group of countries is stark. Tanzania steamed ahead and started switching off analogue signal in the capital Dar es Salaam by the deadline, some say prematurely, leaving black screens for those who hadn’t purchased set-top boxes (STBs). Meanwhile Kenya, which has begun some digital broadcasting, has been tied up in challenges from a consumer rights watchdog over switching off the analogue signal. The deadline to start switchoff was moved to September this year, then December, and is now June 2014.

Uganda has simply pushed it straight to the worldwide deadline of June 2015. Meanwhile among the 15 Southern African Development Community countries (SADC), Botswana has gone out on a limb by commencing broadcast using a different digital standard to the rest of the continent, ISDB-T, which has currently only been adopted by a handful of countries in South America and South-east Asia. The SADC too had set a December 2013 deadline, but countries such as Zambia have already announced they will miss this. The group’s largest and most prosperous nation, South Africa, could have led the way, but has been embroiled in legal battles over which entity should have encryption control over STBs and how this should be decided.

Set-top boxes are, unsurprisingly, at the root of digital migration hurdles in Africa – whether it is a question over how many will be able to afford them, how much they will be subsidised, whether there are enough of them, who will control them, who will make them and even who will profit from making them. This is even the case for the continent’s digital TV trailblazer, Mauritius, so far the only African country to have complete digital TV coverage and whose last areas of analogue signal will be switched off by the end of this year. Even there public demand for set top converter boxes (STBs) was low because of weak content and lack of public awareness. There were also compatability problems with cheap imported STBs.

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