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Kigali Forum's Conceptual Note

AFRICAN AUDIOVISUAL LANDSCAPE : Fierce Battle around Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT)

The completion point of June 17, 2015 was not respected. By this date, African public television should have switched to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). A tiny minority was able to tackle this challenge. More than 90% of the countries are still unraveling. The operation, akin to a basic technological advancement, revealed the presence of blind spots. On June 16, 2006, in Geneva, African countries signed the Regional Agreement for the planning of the Terrestrial Broadcasting Service (TBS). In doing so, they adopted Terrestrial digital for their Sound and TV Broadcasting Networks. With an international treaty value, the agreement ordered the 55 African countries to install their DTT by 17 June 2015 at the latest and to permanently switch off their analogue systems on 17 June 2020. The strengths of DTT have been rehashed to satiety. The transition to the era of digital connectivity which is the new frontier of civilization is breaking down on a new world. According to a politically-strategic stand-point, DTT allows us to exercise sovereignty over public audiovisual infrastructures. The migration process also has an economic and financial windfall. According to experts, African countries would gain a jackpot of more than 30 billion dollars a year if this migration process is achieved. This will integrate, at the same time, the mainstream of the new global economy and its networks, including those of financial flows. Finally, there is a profit on culture. Through the satellite, foreign audiovisual programs were like falling from the sky and crushing African cultural values. Because it is controlled by the national creative genius, DTT would be the indispensable knob to activate the growth of an endogenous industry of radio, television, telephone and internet. But since the signing of this agreement, DTT has turned into an implosive field of battles, anecdotes, suspense and tribulation. In fact, in its realization, the operation becomes a field of torments: States huge financial contributions, public service’s vision shape, the genesis of new audiovisual scenery, the juicy presaged advertising revenues, the muffled or noisy clashes partners, unforeseen obstacles to land use planning, managerial pitfalls, oscillating relations with telecommunication administrations, cultural and educational traps, etc. Each of the committed African countries is experimenting with a curriculum that, more often than not, is stressful. Therefore, does the complete Africa’s migration process to DTT remain problematic? Faced with these rich but contrasting national itineraries, the AUB forum gives the floor to everyone to unveil new lessons and draw horizons. During this critical self-reflection, debates will turn around four main themes: 1) Technological concerns: At the heart of the operation are the infrastructures and equipment. This is the practical and visible part of the system. These issues carry the diagnosis and the audit of the context and the existing, the knowledge of the structuring elements, the understanding of the geographical, physical architecture and the technological formatting. But it also supposes an adjustment of the physical space, that is: “How do we engage this practical phase on the field without inconvenience?” 2) Economic and commercial concerns: The switchover involves huge financial transactions and sharpens financial and industrial appetites. It is the bed of deadly clashes of foreign multinationals with each other or with national operators on funds of juicy advertising revenues and important interests. So, can we look for new solutions to control these interests for the benefit of Africa? 3) Culture and content concerns: DTT allows broadcasting on the same channel dozens of channels instead of one in analog. This results in a mechanical increase in the supply of programs. And of course the impasse on domestic production is resurfacing. Therefore, what opportunities do we have to produce, produce well, and produce to value African identity, to produce for oneself and for the huge market and possibly with which partners? 4) Socio-political and legal concerns: The changeover to DTT is a "full-size inconvenience" of national or even continental scope. The audiovisual landscape, its legal and regulatory instruments are to be re-evaluated. Putting together the policies and the multiple actors involved requires consultation, collaboration and coordination. Therefore, what form does this upheaval take? In a nutshell, based on the experience of its members, what learnings are being revealed from this challenge? One goal: renew the terms of reference by taking into account the huge potentials of Digital Terrestrial Television, but also the appetite that it stirs. Since the audiovisual field of the future Africa has become a ruthless field of rivalry, it is also up to Africa to reinvent strong and innovative solutions if the continent intends to remain fully in the game.

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