HARARE – South African signal carrier Sentech might have scrambled some “pirate” television channels, but your favourite SABC soapies can now be found on Harare’s streets.
This comes as the Mzansi-based operator has moved to comply with a Johannesburg High Court order after a Botswana television station had complained that Sentech was failing to encrypt its Vivid digital satellite platform and in the process depriving it of advertising revenue, thus leaving many local followers of soapies like Generations, Isidingo, Muvhango and 7 de Laan frustrated.
And as things stand, some pirates are now cashing in on this blackout and switch-off by “dubbing” these popular soapies’ omnibus episodes on weekends and availing them ? at cut-price ? on Harare’s street corners.
With many Zimbabweans irked by poor ? and politically-biased news ? content on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)’s channels in the last decade, the listeners and viewers had found solace in the free-to-air channels beamed into the country via the pirate satellite decoders.
According to independent sources, over 80 percent of Zimbabwe’s urban population and about a 10th of its rural populace have acquired these Asian, and Middle Eastern-made decoders to access the popular SABC channels, among other stations.
As it is, the ZBC has had to engage the SABC and Sentech in order to cash in on the popular programmes as well under a deal, which will see the national broadcaster access the South African television channels’ content.
In the discussions ? reportedly confirmed by ZBC chief executive Happison Muchechetere ? the South African operators will assist the local market with a set-top-box project for locals to receive the foreign signal and this included specifications, certification management and co-ordination of local production.
The discussions are part of a wider plan for countries such as Angola, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland to ensure that they continue to access South African television programming.
This also comes as Muchechetere’s corporation has been under pressure to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting in line with modern international trends and agreements, as the latter is expected to boost ZBC’s revenue base since it would be easier for viewers to subscribe for content.
Under the proposed ZBC and SABC deal, the parties are also discussing the nature of content and advertisements to be flighted for the Zimbabwean market.
And by encrypting the free-to-air signal ? and migrating to digital platforms ? Sentech and ZBC hope to render all pirate decoders virtually useless, although the cash-hungry manufacturers of these satellite receivers are expected to find ways of countering this technological warfare.
Reports indicate that Sentech’s efforts, which have attracted the wrath of many Zimbabweans, were triggered by a court challenge from e-Botswana, a sister channel to South Africa’s e-tv, and which has been raging since 2009.
In the South African court verdict, the regional signal carrier was found guilty of failing to meet its obligations by protecting regional television stations and was, therefore, ordered to escalate the encryption of its signal and stop an encroachment into the region within three months.
Florence Matambo-Sigudu, the Transmedia chief executive, has also welcomed the development and ZBC’s discussions with its trans-Limpopo counterparts.