Potential Impact Of Analogue To Digital Migration In Ghana

The much talked about the need to migrate from analogue form of broadcasting to digital broadcasting has been with us for some time now. The migration has become necessary due to the fast nature of technological innovations and inventions in the broadcasting industry and the world at large.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a global telecommunication union with responsibility of developing policy and standards that guides the improvement of telecommunications infrastructure held a conference in Geneva (2006) and signed a treaty which recommended that member states migrate from analogue to Digital television broadcasting. Ghana, also a member of the ITU signed onto the treaty to phase out analogue television broadcasting from 17th June, 2006 to 17th June, 2015.

Digital broadcasting is a process in which broadcasting services offered on the traditional analogue technology are replaced with digital base networks over a specific period. Digital television broadcasting will allow so many programme signals to be compressed and transmitted. The receiving end will also be able to make meaning of the compressed transmitted signals thereby allowing viewers to experience different variety of television channels. The analogue to the digital migration is envisioned to be the largest initiative to impact the Ghana television broadcasting since the conversion from black and white (monochrome) to colour television in 1980’s. The migration process will not only affect the broadcasting industry but will also be a major undertaking for TV viewers in Ghana.

The difference between analogue television and digital television differ in the way information is carried from the source to the receiver. Unlike Analogue broadcasting which requires every terrestrial television station to transmit its signals on a separate transmission platform, the digital television broadcasting on the other hand, offers an opportunity to overcome the challenge of the unwillingness of individual broadcasters to share broadcasting infrastructure, since one transmission network can carry multiple programme channels.

For more emphasis, in analogue television broadcasting, each broadcaster must distribute signals from the main point of transmission to every transmission site and must own and operate transmitters in all areas that are to be covered. Hence, ten broadcasters for instance will need ten transmitters for the ten programme to cover a given locality with each using a separate frequency channel. Digital broadcasting will thereby overcome this challenge of analogue broadcasting and allow the ten programmes to be transmitted by one digital television transmitter at different frequencies.

Ghana is already behind time regarding the deadline for the analogue switch off and may likely not be able to completely finish the migration process by the end 2016. Experts in the industry are of the view that the slow pace of the digital migration in Africa can be seen as a dark cloud hanging over the African TV market. Currently, the geographic extent of TV signal in Ghana is 80% coverage of the land area and 70% of the population is covered and the uncovered areas are due to gaps caused by an unseen distribution of the analogue transmitters. The digital rollout have future plans to extend the coverage and also close gaps in the existing analogue system.

Despite the numerous benefits (clearer pictures, better sound quality, more television programmes and infrastructure sharing by broadcasters etc.) the digital migration offers to the broadcasting industry and viewers, there have been serious concerns about the impact of the migration on the industry and the viewing public. Already, there have been issues about the job security of technicians (including GBC technicians) and those manning the analogue television transmitters across the country, delay in migration & unrealistic timelines (that could probably lead to dumping of obsolete analogue TV sets by countries that have completed the migration process) and the uncertainties surrounding the migration process (especially concerns raised by the independent broadcasters).

Key among the impacts have been the issue of the job security of GBC Technicians manning the analogue transmitters across Ghana. GBC Union have staged a series of protest to ensure no staff loses his or her job due to the migration. Despite the protest, there seems to be a glooming danger of some in the industry loosing their jobs. Much of the protest is heard on the side of GBC because of its widest coverage and the number of personnel the corporation have manning their analogue transmitters sites across the country. What also appears to be causing this uncertainties (within the GBC cirles) is the decision of government to award the installation of the digital transmission platform to a private institution by name K-net.

One area, also of serious concern after the migration is the issue of signal loss (either due to weather, uploading challenges etc). Mostly in analogue transmission, the transmitters for individual broadcasters, covering a particular location, are situated at different locations, thereby reducing the effect of signal loss from the satellite when the weather (either due to heavy rain) poses a challenge with reception within sections of the coverage area. The digital transmission on the other hand will have all individual terrestrial broadcasters on a common transmission platform. This will however increase the tendency of a total signal loss (due to heavy rain) which will affect all the television stations on that common platform at the given coverage location (This impact can therefore be liken to a total black out of terrestrial television reception). For this reason, fiber optic cable for transmitting the signal from the source to the transmitter sites should be seriously considered.

The issue of the moral fiber of the Ghanaian society after the migration has also been of concern to some section of the public. Because a lot of television content will be available after the migration, there are fears that foreign channels and programmes will fill our television space thereby influencing and exposing the citizenry (especially the youth) to immoral & unacceptable foreign cultures. A research conducted by a student of the University of Education Winneba to ascertain the impact of the digital migration found that 80% of the respondents were of the opinion that “the moral fiber of Ghana’s society is likely to be influenced by foreign cultures because of the plenty channels and different television content of all kind that is foreseen to be made available on the digital Terrestrial television experience. The research work concluded by drawing government and the stakeholders attention to ensure proper regulation and monitoring is Instituted to avoid airing of programmes that does not promote our heritage and aspirations as a country.

To this end, the digital migration will in no doubt impact heavily on the broadcasting industry and the viewing public. For this reason, all stakeholders must brace themselves for whatever might come up after the full migration.

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