London — This week adds one more African country, Benin, to the list that are making progress with implementing DTT. The interview below with Aurelie Adam Soulé, Minister of Digital and Digitization lays out what has been achieved so far.
Q: The Council of Ministers adopted in its meeting of Wednesday February 10, the decree appointing the members representing the Government on the Board of Directors of Société Bénin Diffusion (SBD). What is the significance of this decision for the digital switchover in Benin?
A: It is part of the implementation of this structure which will be responsible for broadcasting DTT TV programmes to Beninois households. With DTT, the value chain changes. There is no longer a concentration of the functions of multiplexing, production, editing and distribution, within the same structures.
The value chain is more distributed with publishers and distributors on the one hand; and on the other hand, the broadcaster Bénin Diffusion. The law on digital broadcasting in the Republic of Benin provides for this broadcaster to be a semi-public company in which the State is present alongside private partners wishing to take part. The state appoints its representatives to sit on the board of directors of this semi-public company, just as publishers will also appoint their representatives.
Q: Within the framework of the establishment of the DTT broadcasting network, what has been achieved in terms of dedicated infrastructure?
A: Without infrastructure, households cannot receive DTT. Given the benefits of DTT, it is important that the equipment is of high quality and in a configuration that allows as many of the population to receive the signal. To date, the government has set up 29 terrestrial digital television broadcasting sites, which cover approximately 95% of the population.
I’m talking about population coverage, not geographic coverage. When the TV channels put together their programmes, they must be able to route them to Bénin Diffusion so that the latter broadcasts them properly. This infrastructure for collecting and routing programs from TV publishers is also in place. We also have a satellite infrastructure which makes it possible to take into account the part of the population that the terrestrial infrastructures cannot fully cover, in order to very quickly achieve a coverage rate of 100%.
Q: Last October, Benin decided on the terms of placing digital decoders and DTT reception accessories on the market. What are the next steps in implementing DTT?
A: Today we’re addressing the issue of set-top boxes. Indeed, the October decision of which you speak concerned both the technical standards of the decoders as the government strategy for the diffusion of DTT. On the second part, we had to decide whether we were going towards a “free to view” encrypted mode or a more open “free to air” mode for the basic package. The government wanted to play its part for a great adoption of DTT by deciding on free to air option, and went even further by deciding to exempt from customs duties and certain taxes, the decoders which will be used for reception of the basic bouquet.
In terms of DTT, certain so-called regional standards are currently widespread but already subject to change. Indeed, the two standards DVB-T2 and MPEG4 AVC which had been retained at the level of ECOWAS are evolving. In view of the evolution from MPEG4 AVC to HEVC, Benin has chosen HEVC and is one of the only countries in the sub-region to have chosen this standard for implementing DTT but which does not contradict not the regional choice. Indeed, in 2010, during the discussions around the choice of DTT standards for Africa, we decided to go towards the most evolving standard of the moment at that time, that is to say the DVB-T2 / MPEG4 AVC, although at that time DVB-T was more popular than DVB-T2. It is in this scalability approach that Benin has chosen the more recent MPEG4 HEVC standard, which has technical, economic and better social advantages for the benefit of our populations.
Q: What is the advantage of the “free to air” option?
A: This option allows households to acquire their decoders freely. As long as the decoder (or television incorporating a decoder) complies with the chosen standards, they will receive the basic package when their receivers are switched on.
Q: Is the viewer obliged to buy his or her decoder from Bénin Diffusion or from a free distribution channel?
A: The government has chosen to open the market for decoders to any entity that respects the laws of our country of having the decoder approved by the High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC). As long as all the standards set are met, at least for the basic package, the population should be allowed to get them where they have the best opportunity.
Q: How many channels are currently available on the DTT platform?
A: We are in the first stages of building up the content of the DTT package. We have a basic package that all households will receive, apart from subscribing to paid package services when they become available on DTT.
In the current basic package, we have the eight national private channels, the three channels of the Benin Broadcasting and Television Office (ORTB) and three additional channels that complement the package.
Q: What is the economic model chosen for the widest household access?
When we talk about an economic model, we must not only look at the economic profitability. Today, a Beninese living in Kèrou [a town located 624 km from Cotonou], for example, can only receive the ORTB and a few private channels. With DTT, this person will also have access to all the channels available in the basic package. For populations outside urban areas, switching to DTT has a strong impact. A viewer living in these areas uncovered by analogue TV and who did not receive all these channels, will now do so. It changes the current paradigm currently in place with analogue TV.
The impact is no less for the populations of urban areas, in terms of the quality of reception of DTT programs. National channels will be received with a better quality than that on satellite packages, and in addition, viewers will have all national channels. Profitability will also be seen in terms of advertising revenue (because of the widened coverage area for all channels in the package).
To facilitate access to DTT, the government has decided to waive customs duties and taxes collected from distributors. This measure makes it possible not to pass these costs on to the costs of the decoders. And to make sure of this, the government has decided to regulate the selling prices of set-top boxes. An interministerial decree was taken to set the ceiling selling prices for basic equipment (decoders and antennas) for DTT reception. The decoders have been set at a ceiling price of 10,000 FCfa [or 15 euros] and the outdoor antenna, when it is at low gain, costs 6,000 FCfa maximum [9 euros] and 8,000 FCfa [12 euros] for the antenna at normal gain. This makes it easier for all Beninese to access this equipment for DTT reception.
Q: What about content?
A: When switching to DTT, the viewer is more inclined to ask for quality content. Television publishers should take this concern to heart. We had several consultation sessions to provide them with information on what we are doing and the mechanisms planned by the government. They told us that they were preparing for this new revolution, together with their line ministry, to whom they expressed needs in terms of training and support. In the digital sector, we have a program that focuses on the production of content and we will make sure to make our contribution in this area.
Q: What are the measures to make the population aware of the switch to DTT?
A: In recent months, we have already implemented the first measure, which consisted in explaining to the population what DTT is and its benefits. The message is not the same for the inhabitants of Cotonou for example [capital of Benin] and those of the interior of the country. Compared to each of these people, DTT will have a different added value. We explained to people that DTT will bring better quality TV programs, more beautiful images, better sound, and access to a larger bouquet of channels. And all this, mainly thanks to an antenna instead of an installation with satellite dishes.
This is why in October 2020, the government chose the broadcasting mode and standards that present the best advantages, granted exemptions to facilitate the cost of access for decoders and finally, set the ceiling prices to avoid populations to suffer speculation from traders. The third level of awareness is going to be operational in a few weeks because we are moving towards the launch stage. We will run a high profile communications campaign for these populations to make them aware of DTT and the decoders needed for it.
This high profile campaign will begin after the launch. With the media regulator HAAC, we have finalized the decree on the amounts of fees and charges for decoder approvals. All the pieces of the puzzle are now in place.
This interview is translated from French and first appeared in the excellent CIO online magazine and it has been edited to shorten it slightly. The interview was carried out by Michaël Tchokpodo: https://cio-mag.com/aurelie-adam-soule-zoumarou-au-sujet-de-la-tnt-le-benin-a-choisi-la-norme-plus-recente-mpeg4-hevc-qui-presente-des-avantages-technique-economique-et-un-meilleur-choix-social-pour-l/?utm_source=sendinblue&utm_campaign=Newsletter_Hebdomadaire_24022021&utm_medium=email
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