Tag Archives: Social Media

FOUR LIES PEDDLED BY THE OFF-AIR TV STATIONS AND THE FACTS BEHIND KENYA’S DIGITAL MIGRATION

Kenya’s three leading media houses, (Nation Media Group, Royal Media Services and The Standard Group) have recently voluntarily pulled their TV broadcasts off air after failing to prepare for the digital TV broadcast migration. While independent media is historically vested with the noble duty of impartiality, accuracy and honesty in their broadcasts, the events leading to the said TV stations going off air have exposed how the three media houses can sacrifice facts and objectivity for self-interest and preservation.

According to the three, they are off air because of two reasons: one, the high court ruling in favor of digital migration did not give them time to import new equipment and two, Communications Authority forcefully raided their transmission site in Limuru and carted away their analogue transmission equipment. As a result, they say, ‘over 90% of Kenyans‘ have been thrown into an information-entertainment-education black hole. This, they add, is a constitutional affront on Kenyans’ right to information, Kenyans who are now ‘angry and frustrated’ at the lack of NTV, QTV, Citizen and KTN in their living rooms.

How much time?

To be fair, both reasons for their being off air are true and valid to an extent. However, both are dishonest and  twisted; this is why. The discourse on digital TV broadcast happened in the US in from the early 1980’s culminating into their adoption of digital TV (DTV) as a national standard in 1997. Other developed nations like Western Europe and Japan saw the economic sense of DTV and adopted it about then. For the rest of the world, the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) Regional Radio Conference (RRC) adopted a resolution in 2006 committing all member countries to the adoption of Digital Video Broadcasting (DVBT) as national standard by July 2015. Kenya is a signatory and therefore adopted the resolution in 2006. Kenya’s enthusiasm with DVBT saw her set her own migration date as July 2012, three whole years ahead of schedule! Kenyan media players therefore had six years to meet the internal migration deadline and a further 3 years to fine-tune any teething problems before the global deadline. Our neighbors Tanzania migrated in 2013.

The 2012 deadline was in fact beaten when Signet, a subsidiary of KBC, went live with Kenya’s first DVBT transmission in December 2009 in Nairobi. The following year Kenya adopted an even better digital platform, DVBT2, to save us the cost of a future migration. The dates remained the same. Again, Signet went live with DVBT2 in February 2012 in Nairobi.  A new company, Pan-African Network Group was live on the same platform in Nairobi in June of the same year. It is instructive to note that all these developments happened in the public space. Tenders were floated and won openly. Standards were set and deadlines announced.

In the meantime, KTN, Citizen TV and NTV kept themselves busy with the 2007 general election and the subsequent violence. They had live events, debates, analyses and all. Kofi Annan’s peace accord was actually signed live on TV. 2012 seemed millennial. These broadcasters either thought the migration was not happening or as happens in Kenya, felt insulated by the right people in they knew in the right places. Either way, they simply had no recourse plans. Having lost a bid for signal distribution following a half-hearted participation in the international tender in 2011, they successfully moved to court in 2013 to compel the then CCK to award them frequencies.The local migration date was then moved to December 2014, more time for them. Meanwhile, DSTV launched GoTV, a new service that would tap into the DVBT2 platform but NMG launched QTV, another channel on the analogue platform!

Another election happened complete with all the media frenzy. Come November 2014, the three moved to court in a grossly belated move to stop the digital migration. They wanted more time! Yes, more time to import decoders and transmitters! Eight years later!

The Law

As a matter of fact, all willing media houses have had more than enough time since 2006 to not only comply, but also chart the path of the digital migration. What is happening at the three media houses is a classic case of economist Joseph Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’ theory: new technologies disrupting interests and comforts of entrenched players in an industry while destroying entry barriers to new players. The only difference in this case is that the change has been brought about by legislation rather than innovation and the resistors have failed to garner the political muscle to thwart the change.

History is replete with grand examples of the cost of resisting technological change. Kodak, the inventor of the digital camera, was killed by the same digital camera because they failed to manage changes in the industry occasioned by their new technology. Nokia gave us mobile phones but died after failing to manage changing consumer tastes and trends. Same fate befell the pioneer smartphone maker, Blackberry. Here in Kenya, the then Kencell was a market leader in voice, data, geographical coverage and number of active mobile connections. As the market evolved to low income consumers and gadgets, our mighty Kencell stayed put. Several name changes later, they cannot provide a worthy alternative to the mighty Safaricom.

By law, the three media houses have until March 30th to broadcast in the rest of the country on the analogue format. Their joint decision to go off air in protest and blame it on the Supreme Court and CA is at best a fatuous teenage tantrum. While at it, they surely know a clause exists for the repossession of unused frequencies. CA’s action after the court ruling is not only legal but fair for those who have abided by the migration timelines.

Information Black hole

It is simply not true that 90% of Kenyans are now groping in the dark following this voluntary shutdown. TV ownership in Kenya stands at 30% of the households. That aside, we are in 2015. It means there are new media for accessing information, entertainment and education. The proposition that these three media houses provide material that would be deemed educative is one that is best not interrogated so as not to give it undeserved currency and in the interest of our comely friends in Nigeria and Latin America. For the 50% of Kenyans with internet access, this forms the main source of information and entertainment. The simple reason is that internet is mobile and individualized. You have it in the bus, in the club, at home, in the office, at school and everywhere else.

This lie is even made more interesting by the fact that the broadcasters went off air but continue to upload their programmes on YouTube. Obviously, they understand that we have alternative media. It is really their loss. No one pays viewers to watch advertisements on TV but free-to-air (FTA) TV runs on advertisers’ money. The intelligent thing would be to quickly comply, even compromise today’s profit, but maintain their respective viewership. The law requires that all FTA’s must be carried by all content providers free, subscription or otherwise. Therefore, GoTV, Startimes, Bamba TV, Zuku and the rest simply comply with the law by carrying the local FTA channels. Going off air does not punish them or the viewers; neither does it save or earn NTV/Citizen TV/QTV/KTN any money. In fact, less than 0.5m Kenyans have internet good enough to view a newscast.

Angry and Frustrated

We are supposed to be angry and frustrated that we can’t watch NTV/Citizen/QTV/KTN! Patriotism means I will not make an honest description of what I really think of the quality of content of these TV stations. Granted, they are the most popular in Kenya. Advertisers want numbers; the quality of those numbers may not matter. Two thirds of Kenyan households do not own TV’s for various reasons. Why would they be angry and frustrated? For their neighbors!

In summary, these TV stations have had over eight years to prepare for the migration. They still have a month to broadcast in analogue in the rest of the country and can reach viewers with compliant devices through digital frequencies they currently own. They must be included on all decoders free by the law. Kenyans have multiple other sources of information, entertainment and education and are therefore neither ‘angry and frustrated’ nor in ‘darkness’ at the absence of these stations on their TV screens. The law must be obeyed by all without undue exceptions and on this, the three have shown an inflated feeling of entitlement to special treatment and dishonestly tried to shape the facts in their favor. It’s little wonder when else these broadcasters willfully ignore facts and objectivity in pursuit of vested partisan interests.

In a country where top businesses thrive on political patronage rather than competitive and technological innovation, NMG, RMS and SG obviously feel lost in the absence of a political compass. They have been forced to play by the rules for once and are clearly unprepared. This may not be the cleanest of all government processes neither is digital TV Kenya’s pressing priority, but there were time and avenues for that discourse. It is my wish other government bodies emulated CA and that the politicians let these bodies work. Most importantly, Kenyans need to see our leading media houses for what they really are; brokers.

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Life (online) After Death

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One of the fastest growing technology platforms today is the internet. Not only are more people getting connected through the now ubiquitous mobile device – cell phones, tablets and wearable gear – and innumerable social media outlets – Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, Instagram, etc -; devices themselves are connected more than ever. In Africa, internet access has grown nearly 500% in the last decade; largely driven by the mobile phone. This is twice the global average. Elsewhere, particularly in Western Europe and the US, the so-called ‘internet of everything’ is experiencing a near-similar growth. Fridges, TV’s, printers, cars, houses, streetlights, car parks and virtually anything we use in our daily lives are now online. With cloud computing taking root everywhere, the virtual world is getting only larger.

In this ever-complex web of connections are multiple media owned and shared between us human users. These digital assets range from bio data, photos, music and books to emails, blogs, posts, tweets, reminders, directories and addresses. Beyond the soft assets, our phones, tablets and laptops are now so personalized they are actual extensions of our living selves.

However, unlike our physical lives that certainly end at some point, our digital side presents a rather new and unusual phenomenon. A photo online, blog-post or tweet acquires a life of its own and could potentially outlive its owner. How then do we manage our online digital assets upon demise? What happens to a deceased’s Facebook profile, email account, phone or even laptop? Moreover, how should we handle digital connections and linkages like phone-book entries, Facebook friendships or emails from friends gone yonder? Is deleting these ‘dead entries’ more viable an option than letting them ‘lie in state’?

I recently lost a friend from my college days in a road accident. There had been no physical contact between us since college but we kept tabs on each other via Facebook. I, like many other friends of his, learnt of his sudden and tragic demise on Facebook. His wall froze in time; the only new postings being our messages of condolence. Days later, still shocked at his demise, I stumbled upon his contact details while scrolling through my phone’s contacts list. Suddenly, the loss was all fresh once again. Images of our college days flipped through my mind in that brief moment of trance. Then the big question popped: to delete or retain the contact?

Social-media

Many have been at this crossroads. I chose to keep my friend’s contact details on my phone for no good reason. And his joins many others whose owners I know are no more. Friends and relatives I once had close relationships with. Like mementos, these contacts act as – if fleeting – psychological links to people with whom a physical reach is no longer possible. A probably greater reason for keeping these contacts is the avoidance of the guilt-feeling of throwing away a once treasured contact.

Certainly, opinion is divided on this. Others feel a sure part of the healing process is cutting out unnecessary reminders like phone entries. Further, service providers will re-issue such numbers and the startling possibility of a shocking call from a long dead contact may be unwelcome. It may be easy to simply tap ‘delete’ and do away with the digital links with our departed fellows but the more complex part arises at our own demise. Our online footprints will linger indefinitely; on social media, game accounts, subscriptions and so on.

Just over half of today’s internet users are younger than 35, as such, death and its consequences on their online assets are the last thoughts in their minds. Our lives are increasingly moving online and the question of what happens to this digital other life continues to gain currency. Already multiple avenues are available just in case. Many are subscription services that offer to delete or memorialize one’s accounts and online resources upon demise.

Facebook, Twitter and Google offer free such services free upon request. Other third party providers (see a list at the digital beyond) have recently come in to fill the void. Even then, a different individual nominated by the subscriber must do the notification of one’s death to these providers. In other circumstances, an unreturned regular inquiry by the service provider is presumed for the subscriber’s death and initiates the after-life-management process. Legal challenges and gaps exist though as the transfer of login details or personal online digital assets to third party entities remains outside the scope of most End User Licence Agreements.

Whichever way these new services and the socio-legal environment evolve, it is worth giving a thought to our posthumous online footprint. For those grappling with digital memories of long gone friends and relatives, there’s really no right way of handling these. The common call is for each of us to only go online with what we would not mind losing or surviving us. What’s your take?