Brazil pushes African nations to use its digital standard

It offers incentives to drop North American technology

As African broadcasters prepare to migrate from analog to digital TV, the Brazilian government has been lobbying countries to drop the North American digital standard for its South American rival.

In recent months, Brazil has floated a host of incentives for countries to adopt its ISDB-T technology, instead of the DVB-T technology used in Europe and North America.

During Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s visit to the continent in July, the Brazilians offered the Kenyan and South African governments cash and skills training in exchange for a switch to the ISDB-T standard. They also promised help in manufacturing TVs and digital set-top boxes to use the new technology.

Most countries are expected to follow the decision made by South Africa, the continent’s broadcasting giant, which signed an agreement for DVB-T in 2006.

But the country’s recent flip-flop on its own digital designs has left many broadcasters scratching their heads.

In April, South Africa’s Dept. of Communications announced it was reviewing the DVB-T standard, sending shockwaves through an industry that had been testing it and preparing for its introduction for four years.

Critics say switching to ISDB-T this late in the game would not only cost South Africa millions, but would threaten its ability to switch over to digital by the international deadline in 2015.

A parliamentary committee warned the government last month that it should “very carefully consider” the consequences of a change of heart.

South African telco group Altech has threatened legal action against the government if it switches the digital standard now.

Altech CEO Craig Venter says the broadcasting industry has invested more than R700 million ($100 million) in DVB-T in the past four years.

The South African government has already pushed back its target date for digital migration to 2013, after initially setting its sights on being ready some time next year.

Last week, in its annual report, cash-strapped pubcaster SABC requested an additional $88 million from the government if it was to make the necessary technical upgrades in time to meet the deadline.

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