E-tv threatens legal action over digital TV

eMedia Holdings plans to launch legal action against communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni over government’s intention to switch off analogue TV signals in South Africa by January 2022.

The CEO of eMedia, Khalik Sherrif, says that they have been left with no other option.

Ntshavheni has confirmed that her department has received notice from eMedia that it intends to file court papers to stop government from proceeding with its digital migration plans.

“We are going to have to take the only recourse available to us. We have to go to court. There is no other way,” Sherrif said in an interview in eNCA, eMedia’s news channel on DStv.

eMedia’s threat comes after Ntshavheni announced yesterday that government aims to complete South Africa’s migration to digital terrestrial television in the next four months.

Instead of a switch-off by January 2022, Sherrif said that eMedia proposed a plan to complete the digital TV migration in 15–18 months.

This would give enough time to get decoder-like devices, called set-top boxes, in the hands of households that rely on analogue terrestrial TV transmissions.

Sherrif warned that 5.6 million households in South Africa rely on the country’s ancient analogue TV signal. Simply switching them off would hurt free-to-air broadcasters like E-tv financially.

Broadcast Research Council of South Africa CEO Gary Whitaker participated in the eNCA interview and agreed with Sherrif, explaining that South Africa’s TV viewership would see a sudden drop if the analogue signal is switched off too soon.

Sherrif said that this would place the entire free-to-air TV industry in jeopardy.

He said that while they will be challenging the government as eMedia, they are fighting for South Africa’s whole free-to-air TV industry.

When the switch-off happens and South Africa’s TV viewership drops, advertisers will be disappointed, and marketers will pull away, stated Sherrif.

While eMedia believes that analogue switch-off must happen, Sherrif said there are three major reasons it is “absolutely unachievable” to do it by January 2022:

  1. There’s a set-top box shortage
  2. There’s a chipset shortage around the world, contributing to the box shortage
  3. Unrealistic timeframes for the logistics on the set-top box rollout

“You need to do 500,000 boxes a month to meet the January date,” he said.

“It’s not going to happen.”

According to the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, 3.75 million impoverished households qualify for a government-subsidised digital TV set-top box.

To date, just over 1.18 million households have registered for a free set-top box.

Of these, 556,954 have already received set-top boxes from the government.

Cabinet approved 31 October 2021 as the last call for registration, citing the low number of registered beneficiary households.

Ntshavheni assured that the government would connect all qualifying households registered before this date to digital TV before the analogue switch-off.

Government will connect households that register after this date with a digital set-top-box three to six months after switch off.

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E-tv threatens legal action over digital TV