Here is why Free-to-Air channels are not actually free on your Pay TV Decoder

Yesterday Multichoice Uganda hosted a one-of-a-kind tweeter chat session for the often misunderstood pioneer Pay-TV service provider under the hashtag #Talk2DSTV. Marketing Manager Phoebe Nakabazzi went MIA half-way through the session but overall, it was an insightful event. Dignited picked up two interesting points from the barrage of recurrent tweets the hapless DSTV tweeps resorted to answering in a robotic stance:

  1. DSTV needs to talk more with their subscribers.
  2. Ugandans do not fully understand this whole digital migration business and the cost implications.

Recurrent queries throughout the hour and a half long session (which went on for hours actually) were, first, to do with DSTV and GOtv not having a toll free line. Subscribers did not buy DSTV’s reasons and they flat-out rejected their proffered WhatsApp number.

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The second was why the so-called Free-to-Air (FTA) channels are always scrambled along with other paid channels whenever subscription expired. The second is the basis for this post and we try to explain why it actually isn’t DSTV’s fault much as we would all love to castigate them for it.

While it’s easy to ignorantly throw shade at the capitalist service provider whose only fault is running a for-profit business, understanding the real reasons behind their actions will save everybody the headache of having to ask the question over again only to receive the same reply

The Reason why Free-to-Air channels are scrambled

Pay-TV service providers like DSTV, GOtv, Startimes and Azam as their name suggests are subscription based Pay-TV businesses. Naturally, in structure and practice, these service providers diverge from Free-to-Air channels which don’t require one to pay to watch them. A conflict of interest will arise if these Free-to-Air channels are screened on Pay-TV decoders.

On one hand, you have a business structured around pay subscriptions to watch prime content sourced from across the world. These channels don’t come cheap and thus require the service providers to recoup their expenses.

On the other hand, you have Free-to-Air channels which serve a different demographic altogether. In fact, one would say they directly compete with Pay-TV service providers. So what they do is that they negotiate with the Free-to-Air broadcaster (in this case NTV, NBS, Urban…etc) and pay a certain fee to have these channels on their bouquet. In so doing, Pay-TV subscribers are able to watch locally-relevant content and everybody wins. It is unfair, in all honesty to expect DSTV or StarTimes to act like a charity organisation by providing Free-to-Air channels to their detriment. They lose subscription earnings if people are content enough to watch local content alone on their platforms.

Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) is the national carrier thus the only exception to the rule. UBC is offered free to Pay-TV service providers and that is why it’s always available.

How to Watch Free-to-Air channels

Dignited has covered this topic on how to watch Free-to-Air channels before but it doesn’t hurt to emphasise the point. DSTV, GOtv, Azam and StarTimes show ‘Free-to-Air’ channels only due to popular demand. But as they are subscription based service providers, these Free-to-Air channels come at a cost to both subscriber and service provider.

If you want to watch Free-to-Air channels, you need to purchase a set top box at a one-time fee. After purchase, you can now watch local channels without having to remit another shilling to anybody like in the good old days.

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Why Digital?

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) will come to our rescue on this one. In June 2015, analog TV was permanently laid to rest. It became mandatory for broadcasters to shift their signal from analog to digital terrestrial TV. Below are the reasons analog broadcasting was switched off and why we still have a bit of adjusting to do:

  • Better picture quality: The digital broadcasting experience, offers a sharper, brighter picture quality.
  • More choice: More TV programmes and services More services: Services like radio, teletext, interactive services, games, and support for visually-impaired and internet.
  • Parental controls: Having more control on programmes received and viewed Environmental benefits: Infrastructure-sharing by using the signal distributor’s masts.
  • More local content: New content will be required leading to job creation.

Where to buy Free-to-Air channel Set Top Boxes

Again the Uganda Communications Commission laid down the law on this one. Apparently you can do so from UCC Type Approved Vendors with a displayed UCC Approval certificate. The following companies have so far been approved by UCC to provide Set Top Boxes.

  •  Brivid Uganda Limited
  •  Widestar Digital (U) Limited
  •  Icomsys Africa Limited
  •  Kagadi Technical Services
  • eWorld Technologies Limited
  •  Roise de Classe –
  •  Future Electronics (Hisense)
  • Trans-African Container Transport Limited

For more information about Digital Migration, check out UCC’s Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)


Featured Image: BotswanaYouth


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3 thoughts on “Here is why Free-to-Air channels are not actually free on your Pay TV Decoder

  1. What is UCC’s position on this? Ultimately it comes down to what people want and the laws regulators put in place (hopefully based on consumer need). Unfortunately UCC has forever held its peace on the matter and therefore allowed for an endless series of chaos and turmoil between consumers and service providers.

    • I don’t believe UCC has reason to get involved. Their fault was in not explaining this to consumers properly from the start. Now Ugandans think Pay-TVs and Free-to-Air channels are buddy-buddy when it’s business as usual. It wouldn’t be fair for Pay-TVs to profit from Free-to-Air channels without remitting some dimes to the latter. And allowing them to air free means people won’t need their services any longer.

  2. most your points for digital migration are invalid. Being an online publication, you should not fear ICC and can actually publish the truth without repurcution. (1)better picture quality – am not sure it changed much. (2)Services like radio, teletext, interactive services, games – name the broadcaster who does this.(3)Parental controls:I agree. (4)More local content. I dont know about this, all I know is WBS collapsed

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