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The giant leap in TV evolution

By | October 17th 2009

By Kenfrey Kiberenge

Do you remember when Kenya had only one TV station that operated for five hours a day?

This was when the State-owned KBC would start operating at 6pm and close at 11pm. Those were the days when TV programmes were valued. The sets were mainly black and white but owning one was an expensive affair.

A black and white Greatwall TV could cost as much as Sh15,000 while a coloured set cost Sh35,000. In the rural areas, the children whose parents owned a TV set were celebrities in schools. That was the years before 1990.

Fast-forward to 2009 and Kenya is not only a perfect example of TV revolution, but is also testing digital terrestrial TV to replace the analogue sets.

Flat screen

A visit to any of the sprawling slums in Nairobi can attest to this: nearly every shanty has a TV aerial protruding from the roof. In the middle class estates, residents own 42-inch flat screens, LCDs and split screens that allow the viewer the comfort of watching at least two channels at once.

Mr Maurice Kirimi, a sales executive, recalls how he used to camp at a friend’s house in the evening waiting for WWF wrestling programme.

"The programme was so popular and you would regret if you missed it because the entire school would be discussing it the following day. Today, there are at least five TV stations airing the programme," he recalls.

Kirimi also relishes the fact that he can afford to buy a 21-inch flat screen, which was a dream 10 years ago.

Ms Monica Akumu’s family had a black and white set, which is now a souvenir.

"I remember there was a time the programmes would start at 6pm, then it came down to noon and eventually at nine in the morning," she says.

In the evening and weekends, her family’s sitting room became a ‘cinema hall’ for the entire village. "It was crazy. Enyewe Kenya tumetoka mbali," she remarks.

Mr John Wabala, a retired primary school teacher, acquired a loan in 1994 to buy a set due to pressure from his children.

"It reached a point where I could not sleep because everyone in the family, including my wife, was obsessed with a TV," he says.

Ms Claire Muthoni was stunned when Information PS Bitange Ndemo announced that his ministry would use KBC to test digital terrestrial TV transmission from this month.

Precious commodity

"Although I know little about the digital TV, I know it’s a milestone for a country in which TV was a precious thing just more than a decade ago," she says.

In March 2007, the Communications Commission of Kenya stopped issuing licences for analogue broadcasting in preference to the modern digital television broadcasting.

This was in readiness for June 17, 2015, the global cutover date for the transition from analogue to digital television broadcasting. This was agreed at the Regional Radio Communications Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2006.

However, a taskforce set up by former Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe proposed that Kenya should make the grand switch in June 2012.

Then, it will be mandatory for all TV stations in the country to switch from the current analogue format to digital broadcasting format.

But even as Kenyans wait to enjoy signals of superb quality on their sets, they need to be prepared to dig deeper into their pockets.

TV owners will be required to either buy the digital sets or buy an external set-top box to fit onto the non-digital televisions.

Ndemo says the ministry has requested Treasury to provide incentives for the purchase of the set-top boxes.

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