Gary Allen | TVJ and digital switchover – expanding footprints
Last week we looked into the transition of TVJ into the digital era and what value additions it is bringing to our viewers. Part 2 looks at the way forward as we embrace the new technology.
Another interesting feature is that this technology is now able to be delivered to some mobile phones and tablets FREE of data charges. Indeed, some of our television executives were in Detroit, Michigan, earlier this year to get updates on the inclusion of TV receiver sets in cars for passengers to receive this service in their vehicles. That feature will expand viewership of TV in markets like ours where people spend hours in traffic on our roads, especially in morning and afternoon periods.
It was the discussion of this new digital broadcasting environment for our TV stations and what it means for consumers that generated so much interest for our shareholders. It was also this understanding which gained their support for our calls for an ENABLING environment to be created for this aspect of the media evolution to take place.
Consider this; a few years ago, shareholders were advised that TVJ had purchased a new world-class Outside Broadcast Truck that was used in the production of English Premier League matches for a short while. It was to facilitate multi-camera, High Definition (HD) television productions, with superior graphics, multiple slow-motion options, exceptional audio capture among other features in the field. Although with the incentive that exists for local film producers under our permit from Jamaica Promotions Corporation, JAMPRO, we did not need to pay import duty on the truck, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, we nevertheless had to pay over $50m in Special Consumption Taxes, SCT, on it!
That is a real experience which has led TVJ to call on the authorities to create an enabling environment for DSO – one that rebates and removes Special and General Consumption Taxes on all equipment broadcasters acquire and import to make DSO happen.
REMOVE IMPORT DUTIES
We also call on the authorities to remove import duties and consumption taxes on TV sets and set top boxes that consumers will have to acquire to continue to receive their local television service.
We ask that the authorities waive all spectrum and regulatory fees on broadcasters who are undertaking this switchover process for the switchover period and for the first ten years after analogue switch off, so that we can provide consumers with a full range of new digital services that broadcasters have to fund from our own coffers.
It is our view that since the Government has mandated this change within a certain time frame, Government should within that same time frame lead by example and purchase its new digital TV sets or set top boxes to replace or convert signals for TV sets in its ministries, government offices, police stations, tax offices, schools, hospitals and other health facilities islandwide, thereby demonstrating that it is committed to the switchover it has mandated, and it is committed to do so within its own stipulated time frame.
As I explained to our shareholders, all of us as stakeholders know that the January 2023 Analogue Switch Off date that was set cannot be achieved. With global logistics delays affecting manufacturing and delivery of all types of equipment, that date could no longer be met. In any event, few countries have been able to set one date and achieve it, unless it was fully funded by the government. Even in some small island states that require the use of only one transmitter, it has taken longer than a year for the consumers to change their sets or get converter boxes. Indeed, when the USA named its first ASO date, it had to extend the deadline twice before it eventually achieved the mark. This was between 2009 and 2014. They were not operating in a pandemic. There was no global supply chain issue.
So, broadcasters and the authorities need to agree a new time frame and advise consumers. However, the new timetable must remain an urgent timetable because analogue networks will crumble without the switch to the equipment used for modern, indeed NEXTGEN broadcasting as the ATSC 3.0 standard is being called. It has been so branded because not for another generation or two is it envisaged that the fundamental base of TV transmission technology will change this radically and consumers gain so many new options and benefits.
TWO OTHER POINTS
I raised two other points with our shareholders which they readily embraced and so I commend them to the authorities. The ATSC 3.0 format has strong applications for “edu-casting” (using datacasting over the new network for educational purposes). We therefore encourage the Government to seek developmental funding support to help put an ATSC television set or a regular TV with an ATSC converter box, in the home of every student on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education, PATH. That would allow educational material to be shared with them in digital format, across this broadcast network (not requiring data or internet connectivity). Educational material could be shared in this way to get to many of those children who cannot afford to purchase that material or access it at school every day. This dramatic widening of access alone would deliver significant benefits to the neediest in education. Widening the access to public broadcasting, by carrying that channel on our network could also increase the positive impact of public service programming on communities and the society as a whole, give a fillip to the cultural industries and spawn new segments of development in that sector. The grandiose talk of developing material from Jamaica’s world-demanded cultural cache could finally get good traction.
Last, our Group proposes that the authorities consider and offer incentives to broadcast equipment manufacturers who could set up factories in Jamaica, to make or assemble broadcast, TV and set top box equipment for use in OUR market and for export to the Caribbean, North, Central and South America where the demand for ATSC 3.0 equipment is poised to explode. Jamaica could become a manufacturing hub in this hemisphere for such exports, meeting our TV market needs, creating employment and earning foreign exchange from the industry. This is an opportunity to improve economic growth while transforming a crucial media and communications sector.
This exciting prospect is good for television. If the policy approaches are not set right, it could have a negative impact on some radio services in the country. However, that is an examination to be done at another time, since only TV is being switched at this point.
So, TVJ is ready to offer consumers multiple high-quality channels FREE of charge, even as we are also ready to offer other channels in partnership with other content producers. We are ready to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to our country and to the cultural industries based in Jamaica but always reaching out to impact and impress the rest of the world!
- Gary Allen is the chief executive officer of RJRGLEANER Communications Group. Send feedback to email@example.com