Posted by: cathscott | August 26, 2009

Digital delay, and other stories

Following the trend of every other sector in the country, different areas of the South African TV industry have found a range of things to publicly complain about.

ETV is attempting to interdict the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) from implementing the regulations, published last month, which were set to govern broadcasting and the digital migration process.

Without digital regulations there can be no digital migration, which means no digital benefits like new channels, better quality TV, or market competition.

According to AllAfrica’s report ETV’s Chief Operating Officer Bronwyn Keene-Young argued that the enforcement of the regulations would lead to “absurdity and unreasonableness [which] gives rise to fundamental unfairness”.

Thankfully she elaborated, saying that the regulations would compel ETV to contract with government-owned signal distributor Sentech. Sentech would effectively become a monopoly, able to demand the price ETV would have to pay.

Keene-Young said that ICASA should have regulated distribution tariffs before commencing the digital migration. She further complained about the absence of a dispute resolution mechanism within the committee which was set up to govern the dual illumination process.

ICASA is still processing the court papers and has not responded as yet.

And in other disputes…

SABC thinks it’s a clever idea to cut local television content budgets by R500-million to remedy the embarrassingly large debt it has incurred (last time I checked it was R40-million the figure goes up all the time).

The Television Industry Emergency Coalition (TVIEC) announced on Tuesday that television workers across the industry will protest this week. The TVIEC stated that “a country without a platform for its stories to be told would lose its culture, as well as its power to educate and entertain.”

The TVIEC is comprised of the Independent Producers’ Organisation, the South African Screen Federation, the Producers’ Alliance, the Documentary Filmmakers’ Association, the Writers’ Guild of South Africa and the Creative Workers’ Union. Writers and actors belonging to these organisations will take “visually powerful guerrilla action” to make their opinion on the matter known.

Michael Lee, a producer/director from Jonhannesburg has taken extreme measures in support of local content by embarking on a hunger strike. He is currently entering his third week of surviving by only drinking water.
He encouraged other industry workers to join him:

“Let’s let the broadcaster know in a clear, communal way, we won’t tolerate the starving of local content.”

Very interesting but I always wonder if this sort of action is effective. Is SABC going to hastily withdraw their decision because for fear of Michael getting peckish? I must ask my activist colleague for her thoughts on this.

Reality TV that cares

It is a pity that the SABC is looking to cut South African content budgets now, just as is experimenting with ways to use local reality television for social change.

A show called Kwanda is set to start flighting on 2 September on SABC 1. It’s from the makers of Soul City so you know it’s good.

Five teams of volunteers will compete in different communities across the country to see who can work best to resolve issues like poverty and unemployment.

Minister of Social Development Edna Molewa said, “Kwanda demonstrates government’s commitment to improving the living conditions of poor people in South Africa…it promises a powerful new approach to engaging communities in sustainable development and promoting sustainable livelihoods”.

Good stuff. It’s just a shame that the SABC plans to strangle the local television industry right after it has started producing things I actually might consider watching.

Posted by: cathscott | August 19, 2009

Mobile TV: hello the future

With all these exciting new gadgets set to revolutionise TV viewing in our lounges I’ve completely neglected to mention that TV in the digital age has moved expanded to different platforms and spaces.

Mobile TV services are being launched in countries all over the world (two new articles covering such launches appeared on Google news within 30 minutes of starting this article!), as more and more people turn to mobile phones for their TV fix.

A study released yesterday by Infonetics Research predicts that 397 million mobile video phones will sell world wide in 2013, creating a market worth tens of billions of dollars. The number of mobile video subscribers hit 41 million worldwide in 2008 and is expected to grow nearly 10-fold by the end of 2013.

Courtest of Infonetics.

Courtesy of Infonetics.

Other key findings were that a primary driver for mobile video adoption is access to live sporting events, primarily soccer, cricket and motor sports. Asia Pacific is dubbed the “mobile video titan” with the highest volume of sales, while Nokia is the leader in worldwide DVB-H phone revenue market share.

Mobile phone TV is not only a case of transferring normal TV onto a new platform, although there are services like FloTV which have done just that. FloTV is an American mobile TV provider that operates like a normal broadcast service with scheduled programming on a variety of channels. Subscribers can view a range of live or time-shifted content (news, sports, series and music) just like normal TV.

The inclusion of time-shifted programming is very important. No one is going to stop what they’re doing and whip out their phone just because something cool is airing on mobile TV (except perhaps for new episodes of Grey’s). In fact, models like FloTV may fail completely with the increasing availability of various applications which allow viewers to choose their own content to be consumed at their own convenience.

Mobile TV or mobile video?

Essentially this is what Andrew Bud, Chairman of the Mobile Entertainment Forum – a London-based trade association for the mobile media industry – refers to when he makes the distinction between mobile video and mobile TV. In an interview with Reuters Bud said:

“Mobile TV is all about real-time, linear transmission … where the timing of the programming was set by the broadcaster and the consumer would dip in and dip out…mobile video is much more about video-on-demand. It gives the consumer much more freedom. It’s also a little less stressful on the mobile networks.”

Mobile TV works for important not-to-be-missed events. FloTV’s viewership shot up by 80% on the day of Michael Jackson’s memorial service, making it one of the service’s biggest viewing days on record. However old broadcasters still committed to the traditional broadcast model will experience problems.

The average viewer on the average day in the digital age does not want to be told what, when and where to watch. Would you not just love a video-on-demand application by the likes of Apple, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson that would allow you to catch up on the latest news (at Seattle Grace) while on a long journey or waiting in a queue?

Right here, right now...or whenever you please.

Right here, right now...or whenever you please.

The mobile TV market is also steadily growing in South Africa, so much so that, according to Die Burger, SABC is looking to make up some of its embarrassing R839 million debt by introducing mobile TV licence fees. This will be a substantial source of income, particularly during next year’s Soccer World Cup where millions of South Africans and foreign visitors are expected to watch matches and highlights on their mobile phones.

Does this mean we can look forward to another amusing “Pay your mobile TV licence, it’s the right thing to do!” campaign? Excellent.

For more on this and other mobile matters read my mobile guru colleague’s blog: Mobile Takeover.

Posted by: cathscott | August 14, 2009

Your TV is watching you – say what?

Our newest nominee is PrimeSense, a device which enables your TV to see exactly who is watching it. Repeat that slowly to yourself: a device, which enables your TV, via a set-top box, to see who is watching it. Is that not the most insane thing you’ve ever heard? It’s like Big Brother for everyone.

Geeks and inventors everywhere have been working tirelessly, hoping that their contribution to the development of futuristic television technology will be honoured with this esteemed prize. There’s a trophy and everything.

Every technology kid's dream

Every technology kid's dream

Our weekly voyages into the future of television have been pretty intense at times. But our most recent discovery is by far the strongest contender for the prestigious “Next Generation TV Show Craziest Thing of the Year Award”.

PrimeSense was on display this week at the CableLabs’ Innovation Showcase in Colorado, USA. The technology works through a chip inside a camera that plugs into the set-top box, but what it sees look more like thermal imaging than a clear detailed picture.

Though the image is not clear, the television will still be able tell how many people are watching and whether they are adults or children.

Watching TV

Watching TV

Panic over privacy

Of course online respondents have expressed major concern about issues of privacy in the home. On his blog, Open Source, Vlad Nedelcu makes the point that digital TV sets already keep track of every remote button pressed, but PrimeSense takes the concept a whole lot further. Personally, I like to dance to Beyonce music videos in my lounge and I imagine that the knowledge of something staring at me would definitely kill the vibe.

However, the idea is obviously exciting for TV networks, which could use PrimeSense to customise advertising and target content so much more effectively. Also, PrimeSense and other products that follow it could see the end of TV remote controls or keyboards.

Because the television set will be able to detect the presence of people it allows for the possibility of virtual touch interfaces, whereby viewers can interact with a menu as they would a touch screen, but from a distance. No more getting off the couch or lifting up sofa pillows to find the remote, brilliant.

The new technology is also good news for the gaming industry, as the PrimeSense website says, “making video games more immersive and fun to play by allowing users to play naturally using body movements and gestures” – Wii without the controls.

PrimeSense is ready to start mass production, with some undisclosed customers already in the pipeline.

I think I need to spend the weekend reading 1984 and watching The Truman Show.

Related Link
PrimeSense tech watches you watching TV

Posted by: cathscott | August 5, 2009

3D: the revolution is here

My friends, we have come a long way since the days when finding a pair of 3D glasses in a cereal box was the height of excitement. Up until now only computer-gamers and regular IMAX-goers were privy to the 3D experience.

What we’re dealing with now is the real thing: TV programming, movies, sports events, music concerts and porn – all available in three dimensions.

The news broke last week that British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), the company that operates UK subscription television service Sky Digital, plans to launch Europe’s first 3D TV channel next year. The broadcaster decided to go ahead with 3D after the number of subscribers to its 3D-capable Sky+ HD set-top boxes doubled to 1.31 million in the past year.

The only setback is that customers will need to pay for special 3D glasses as well as new “3D ready” TV sets. Consumers who have just recently forked out for high-definition (HD) TVs might not be so excited at the prospect, although BSkyB hopes that 3D TVs will not cost much more than the standard HD plasma screen.

In addition to shape, colour and line used in traditional visual media 3D adds an element of depth, giving creatives a whole lot more to work with in terms of story-telling. At the same time the experience becomes more intense as viewers become a part of the action like never before. Can you imagine Grey’s Anatomy in three dimensions?! Being made to feel as though you were inside Seattle Grace Hospital!

3D entertainment could take your home-viewing experience from this:

Watching TV in 2D is so two thousand and late.

Watching TV in 2D is so two thousand and late.

To this:

"Woohoo, awesome!!!"

Woohoo, awesome!!!

Better on the big screen

Now that 3D-capable cinema screens have popped up all over the world, South Africa included, Hollywood is also stepping to the 3D plate. Indeed the film industry has enthusiastically joined the revolution with 15 3D movies being released this year such as Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Disney and Pixar’s Up.

The movement is not confined to animation feature films, with James Cameron’s highly-anticipated Avatar due for release in December this year. The Titanic director has spent almost a decade experimenting with the 3D technique for his sci-fi action adventure, which is expected to be the most expensive movie ever made.

In an interview with BBC Cameron said that the key to making 3D films is ensuring that they look good in 2D as well, so that the experience of viewers who will later watch the film on DVD is not compromised:

“Before we spent hundreds of millions of dollars making a movie, we had to say is this movie going to be in any way compromised in its 2D presentation. Because the reality is that in the short-tem DVDs are still going to be in 2D.”

How it works

In order for us to see in 3D on a screen each eye must be shown a different perspective to simulate the way we view things in real life. This must be done with a degree of accuracy so that as a result the cortex of the brain is tricked into merging the two images, creating a perception of depth. Previously this was achieved using glasses with different colour filters but these days the method is far more advanced.

PC Authority explains it well:

“Polarisation is the simpler method: the left and right images are interlaced and displayed together on a special LCD, with a filter over the screen to polarise alternate lines at opposing angles. Corresponding lens filters on a set of cheap polarised glasses allow each eye to see only half of the image.

The more advanced and expensive method uses active-shutter technology: this doesn’t require a special filter on the LCD, but instead uses battery-powered glasses with liquid crystal shutters on each lens.

As the two images are rapidly alternated tens of times per second, a transceiver synchronises the shutters in the lenses to open and close in time with the left and right images on-screen, so each eye sees only its intended image for half the frames in each second.”

The next generation is here, don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Posted by: cathscott | July 29, 2009

“…monologue to digital”

You don’t have to fret if the concept of ‘digital migration’ is foreign and confusing to you. Minister of Communications Siphiwe Nyanda is also not entirely sure of the details of the process, or even the correct terminology.

Hey everyone, I used your money to pay for my BMW 750i and now I'm going to ask the Treasury for more money to fund digital migration!

Hey everyone, I used your money to pay for my BMW 750i and now I'm going to ask the Treasury for more money to fund digital migration!

Here is a brief crash course on digital migration for the benefit of the minister and those of us who haven’t brushed up on our technology news for some years:

Previously television broadcasting took place in analogue format which requires a large amount of bandwidth for transmission. Digital technology uses significantly less bandwidth and improves the quality of sound and visuals. Consumers will need to buy a set-top box to convert digital signal back to analogue so that this new, more efficient broadcast format is accessible on old televisions.

The use of digital signal will free up a considerable amount of space for extra channels (and therefore more competition – awesome) as well as improved features such as electronic programming guides. Thus, along with other countries in the world, we are currently poised to embark on a journey of ‘digital migration’.

Since November 2008 South Africa has been broadcasting to both analogue and digital platforms. This is set to continue until 2011, marking a three year period known as ‘dual illumination’. South Africa’s analogue signal will be switched off completely sometime between 2011 and 2012, reaching the global deadline of 2015 in good time.

The process is a pricey one. Broadcasting in both analogue and digital during the dual illumination period is set to cost government over a billion rand. Funding is also required for the public education campaigns needed to inform consumers about the process.

Furthermore government is setting up a substantial set-top box subsidy programme so that South Africa’s poorest television-viewing households will only have to pay around R210 for the device, as opposed to the full cost of around R700.

However, there is a discrepancy between the amount committed by government and the amount actually required. Lloyd Gedye writing for the Mail & Guardian estimates government’s shortfall for the entire digital migration process at over R2-billion.

In Johannesburg last week the minister launched the Digital Dzonga (Dzonga meaning ‘South’) Advisory Council, the body which is to oversee this complicated endeavour within South Africa’s broadcasting sector. Nyanda admitted that he would need to lobby the treasury for extra funding.

Although he also referred to the transfer from “monologue to digital” so we shouldn’t always assume that he means what he says.

Ready, Set (-top box), go

Despite the potential funding setback the manufacturing and distribution of the requred set-top boxes seems to be on-track. On 22 July 2009 telecommunications group Allied Technologies (Altech) announced that through it subsidiary, Altech UEC, it has formed a partnership with Ellies Holdings, manufacturer and distributor of television reception-related products.

Together the two will manufacture, distribute and install the set-top boxes, and also provide after-sale services. Sales are expected to start in April 2010.

In addition Altech UEC and Ellies plan to create training centres to aid unemployed and disadvantaged individuals, through the ‘Altech UEC Ellies Installer and Repair Academy’. These schools will be set up at various Ellies branches around South Africa and will provide unemployed people with the skills necessary for installation of aerial and satellite systems, first-level STB fault diagnostics and reparation, as well as business and life skills.

This is a very encouraging plan and perhaps a move towards broadening South Africa’s somewhat elite ICT sector. But let’s not get excited just yet – digital migration is set to be a complex and arduous process. The work is cut out for government and industry players, but whether the financial, education and other setbacks can be overcome remains to be seen.

Sources and related links

Show me the money
‘Get ready to go digital’
Learning the digital TV ropes
Digital Dzonga launched
Altech/Ellies to tackle SA digital migration

Posted by: cathscott | July 28, 2009

Official Notice

We apologise for the long break in transmission. The Next Generation TV Show will recommence shortly, stay tuned!Next installment coming soon!

Posted by: cathscott | May 27, 2009

Next generation advertising

In the digital age the commercial value of content is increasingly important.

Those of us who download each episode of Grey’s Anatomy almost immediately after its release (did you SEE the finale of Season five?!) have no reason to watch the show on normal TV. This means that we will never see the adverts that various companies have paid for, which means that these companies are losing revenue and are therefore less likely to invest in television ads in the future. Those of us who still watch normal TV can use our PVR decoders to fast-forward through the ads anyway.

Of course, in a developing country like South Africa where so few citizens have PVR or internet access this is not a crisis, yet. But the industry needs to think about the next generation now to avoid being caught unawares later.

So, TV executives have to re-conceptualise traditional advertising models according to the audience’s changing consumption behaviour. Future South African audiences are going to be able to customise and interact with the programmes they watch – they should be able to do the same with advertising.

blinkx is an innovative technology that has already figured out how to achieve this.

Calm and collected: Suranga Chandratillake, British man of Sri Lankan descent and creator of blinkx.

Calm and collected: Suranga Chandratillake, British man of Sri Lankan descent and creator of blinkx.

blinkx (with a small ‘b’) is the world’s largest and most advanced video search engine, boasting an index of over 35 million hours of searchable video content. I’m no mathematician but I think that’s nearly 4000 years worth of video! More than enough to keep you occupied.

The secret is in the search technology: with normal search engines, users type in a word and the programme scans its archives for content which contains that word. blinkx has incorporated elements of patented conceptual search, speech recognition and video analysis software within its search function, making it especially efficient at finding and analysing video content.

The best part is that in addition to identifying specific content blinkx is also able to find and match relevant advertising. Advertisers also have different options as to how ads are placed in online video.

Be honest, if an ad for a range of hair prouducts popped up here you would click through.

Be honest, if an ad for a range of hair prouducts popped up here you would click through.

It’s an idea which might just work because it optimises the online medium to a greater extent than previous models. Consumers will encounter advertising that is directly linked to their video content and therefore relevant to them, and they will be able to interact with advertising on their own terms.

We are increasingly seeing product placement within popular TV shows as an alternative means of advertising but this is a somewhat subtler method. blinkx takes this to the next level by enabling online video viewers to take action and click on products for more information.

Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) in 30 Rock would be lost without her MacBook Pro.

Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) in 30 Rock would be lost without her MacBook Pro.

American Idol judges love Coke.

American Idol judges love Coke.

Of course the other option is to be like Nandos and make your ads so awesome that people watch them online for fun.The Julius Malema puppet ad has been viewed on The Times website 17 881 times, making it the website’s second most popular video ever! Click here if you haven’t seen it yet.

It will be interesting to see if and how the South African advertising industry will begin thinking more seriously about the online medium.

Posted by: cathscott | May 20, 2009

Comedy is no joke

The reality is that people love comedy. On Read Write Web’s list of the top ten most downloaded YouTube videos of all time number one is ‘Evolution of Dance’, a humorous clip of a random comedian busting his moves. It’s a typical example of a video that has gone viral.

So how is comedy relevant to the future of television?

I’m so pleased you asked. You see, now that people are increasingly downloading content instead of accessing it on TV, traditional advertising models are no longer the most ideal option (more on this in next week’s post!). This means that media companies have to find alternative ways to make money and investing in comedy might be one of a few possible solutions.

To compete in an online environment you need eyeballs: you need lots of people of find and consume your stuff. When something like ‘Evolution of Dance’ gets viewed a total of 55.8 million times, you need to sit up and take notice.

I am not suggesting that news organisations abandon all serious journalistic endeavours to become archives of nonsense. For goodness sake please don’t go doing what MNET did with Clipz and create a product entirely reliant on internet crap. But why not include a separate page where users can go to watch the ‘Funniest Clip of the Week’ or something along those lines? It will be popular, and advertisers will be happy. More importantly why not look into intelligent political satire and other kinds of funny content?

The problem is that good comedic material and resources are scarce in this country. On the whole, South African television comedy sucks. If you don’t believe me just ask National Arts Fest regular and one of the country’s favourite stand-up comics, David Newton. He was nominated for Stand Up Comic of the Year in 2007, so you can be sure he’s the real deal.

David Newton, the real deal.

David Newton, the real deal.

In an exclusive interview with The Next Generation TV Show, Newton said that he does not much care for the comedy on SA TV.

“I used to like Madam & Eve but alas it is now over. I’m not a fan of ‘SA humour’ to be honest. I feel that it is very slap-stick, non-cerebral and is generally tailored to the lowest common denominator, which is not a good recipe for comedy. There is a reason a fan of Eddie Izzard isn’t necessarily a fan of Chris Rock…they have completely different styles and M.O’s and don’t try to meet a common denominator. They keep their comedy honest, true and pure.”

I asked Newton how South Africa’s live comic acts shape up next to those on television. Being a live stand up comedian he may have been slightly biased but he makes some excellent points:

“They are not even mildly comparable! Our SA live acts are brilliant! There is a simple reason for it: no bureaucracy! When anything is produced for SA TV (SABC) there are corporate guidelines, quota systems, BEE policies, political correctness, budget constraints or restraints or goals. These choke the creativity out of comedy. When a comic stands on stage and delivers his material he is delivering the jokes in their purest form…and that is why TV will never live up to it. Darren Maule is a great stand-up comic…but FONT…sucks.”

I agree. South African audiences would flock to watch homegrown comedy online if it was presented in an open and pure way with no evidence of red tape. The potential in the live acts is there, but it must be properly harnessed for video. Granted that within our population there is a diversity of culture and different things may be funny to different people, but that’s the beauty of the internet – there’s something for everyone.

Even so I think it is possible to formulate something with broad national appeal, we just have to figure out exactly how to do it without reverting to what Newton calls the “lowest common denominator”. Our media industry should at least start taking comedy more seriously. The Swiss seem to have the right idea.

David Newton is performing at this year’s National Arts Fest in Grahamstown. Check out his website.

Speaking of excellent comedy, have you seen this video? If you haven’t do it right now, it’s worth your bandwidth I promise.

Posted by: cathscott | May 14, 2009

A note…

This is just to say a big fat thank you to Kim Walsh and Marshall Patsanza for helping me with graphics and design-related things for the show. They are Rhodes University’s finest and you should hire them!

[Also, I’m interested to know: has anyone been watching Isidingo lately? What is Len doing with that frightening Italian woman? The Next Generation TV Show will be having a look a soapies and daytime television sometime soon. Ideas, feedback, comments welcome 🙂 ]

Posted by: cathscott | May 12, 2009

Ghosts of TV broadcasters past

As promised here is Samsung’s response to my enquiry last week, regarding if and when their new internet-enabled TVs will be available on our shores:

Thank you for your correspondence

Please be advised that the LED-7100 televisions are not yet available in South Africa, every retail store strives for the best results promoting products on the market. Our products have the potential to produce the best results in terms of internet capability.

Should you have any inquiries please do not hesitate to contact our
Customer Care Line on 0860726786

Kind Regards,

Samsung Service Team

If I’d wanted to phone the Customer Care Line I would’ve done so in the first place. Vague response and fail for Samsung Service Team. Next:

Telkom Media has come back to haunt us.

Telkom Media has come back to haunt us.

Just to spite me, Telkom Media appears to have returned from the dead. After my hard work photoshopping an appropriate tombstone, Telkom announced last Wednesday (May, 6) that its 75% stake in Telkom Media had eventually been sold to Shenzhen Media South Africa, which is owned by Shenzhen Media, a company based in China. Do you hear alarm bells? If so you’re not alone.

This just in:

ICASA yesterday announced that it is seeking more information on the sale of Telkom Media before it will consider the transaction. This is because South African media law (specifically section 64 of the Electronic Communications Act of 2005) stipulates that a foreigner may not directly or indirectly control a local broadcast licencee or own more than 20% thereof (I emphasised the word yesterday, just so you know that the Next Generation TV Show brings you the most timely of information).

Apparently Telkom has assured ICASA that its buyer is only 20% foreign owned. ICASA retorted with a “Well prove it then”, which is exactly what I would have said. Telkom must now submit to ICASA all documentation and shareholder information regarding the sale.

Quite an uncomfortable situation, but nevertheless a small glimmer of hope for the next generation of South African television.

Telkom Media had originally planned to elevate South African TV to the next level by introducing the following:

1. Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). This refers to television content that, instead of being delivered through the normal broadcast and cable formats, is received by the viewer through the technologies used for computer networks.

2. Video on Demand (VoD). This is potentially the video equivalent of podcasts whereby content is either streamed through a television enabling the standard viewing experience OR it is downloaded onto a computer, iPod, or other media device, to be consumed at the viewer’s convenience.

3. Interactive services. This enables users to interact with their received content and also provides additional enhanced content services such as games.

4. User and community generated content: video clips, pictures, audio etc. which can be uploaded to an environment and shared within a community a la Facebook and other social media platforms.

…basically a New Media dream come true.

But that was the plan. Now, under control by Shenzhen, Telkom Media is set to change its name and goodness knows what else…that’s if the deal is even approved by ICASA in the first place.

It’s turning into a bit of a soap opera.

Next week I’ll be taking a look at television comedy. Much more refreshing, don’t you think?

Related links:
Business Report

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