#SaveFreeTV campaign supports free-to-air broadcasters opposing the analogue TV switch-off!

17th May 2022

 #SaveFreeTV campaign supports free-to-air broadcasters opposing the analogue TV switch-off!

Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni

The #SaveFreeTV campaign looks forward eagerly to the coming Constitutional Court case set for 20 May 2022 where eTV, MMA and SOS are attempting to delay the switch-off of analogue TV broadcasting. The campaign fully supports the objectives of the litigants because if the switch-off happens on the designated date of 30 June 2022, millions of South Africans will be left without access to the information resource of public benefit broadcasting.

eTV is arguing that the analogue switch-off (ASO) must be delayed until a sufficient number of so-called ‘indigent’ TV households have had their government-supplied DTT decoder installed. This refers to the 1.5 million set-top boxes (STBs) that the government had manufactured.

While the #SaveFreeTV campaign supports the objective of getting these free STBs rolled out, even if all 1.5 million are installed by the end of June this number represents just 12% of the total free-to-air TV audience of 5.7 million households, as calculated by the Broadcast Research Council (BRC) which provides viewership figures for broadcasters.

Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni is at pains to refer to the government provision of free STBs as a simple act of kindness on the part of the Cabinet and to recall that there is no regulatory or legislative requirement on the government to do so. She omits the fact that many other African countries have also taken steps to provide free STBs to their citizens to facilitate the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. 

However the ‘elephant in the room’ is that no one is talking about the ‘missing middle’ of TV households that earn above R3500 a month but who still won’t be able to afford either pay-TV or a new integrated digital TV set (IDTV). 

Our research shows that there are very few alternative STBs in the market - the major retailers do not stock them and typically only ‘grey’ imports that are not SABS approved are available in some smaller retailers.

While the pay-TV platforms, MultiChoice and OpenView are signing-up thousands of new subscribers every day, those who can’t afford these satellite-based services are left to fend for themselves. 

Minister Ntshavheni has stated that the SA government will commission the manufacture of more STBs for the open market, but this is going to take some time to happen (if at all), with the result that millions of South Africans stand to be without access to free-to-air TV services at the time of the ASO.

The #SaveFreeTV campaign supports eTV’s contention that the ASO can be postponed without affecting the frequencies that are being sold-off in the frequency spectrum auction. Some TV transmitters reaching the country’s major urban areas can remain on analogue transmission by utilising frequencies below the 700MHz level, a frequency range that must be protected for broadcasting purposes according to international industry standards, or in the spectrum reserved for the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) which the government has now shelved. 

It is deeply unfortunate that Minister Ntshavheni has chosen to pursue a path of belligerent confrontation with both our movement and free-to-air broadcasters instead of providing effective leadership which will secure an efficient broadcast digital migration and ASO in the interests of all parties involved.

The #SaveFreeTV campaign calls on the Minister to engage with all parties concerned in a reasonable and responsible manner in order to achieve a solution that will be of benefit to all, not least the South African free-to-air television audience, and through this measure secure the future of the DTT platform.


Issued by The #SaveFreeTV campaign