Let the good times roll

Let the good times roll | The Sunday Mail 10/04/2016

State-of-the-art equipment acquired mainly from Germany and France and equivalent to — or in some cases even better than — that used in countries like Botswana and South Africa is currently being installed at Pockets Hill.

Last week ZBC acting CEO Patrick Mavhura took The Sunday Mail Leisure on a familiarisation tour of the new facilities and those still under construction.

But the multi-million dollar investment could count for nothing if ZBC fails to get solid content that will grab viewers’ interest.

Already complete is installation of studio equipment at two of six new promised studios at ZBC’s headquarters at Pockets Hill in Harare as a step towards inclusive digital migration.

The digitisation equipment arrived late last year following installation of the head-end, which is a master facility for receiving television signals for processing and distribution.

The top-notch facility will also enable viewers to pay their licence/subscription fees through various platforms that include mobile phones, scratch cards and banks.

Also, channels from every other licenced private national broadcasters including all six national radio stations will be added to the ZBC bouquet that goes through the head-end.

When switched on, the digital signal will only be accessed by those with set-top-boxes similar to satellite decoders upon payment of a yet to be announced subscription.

Free viewing of ZTV will become a thing of the past as the national broadcaster will now be in a position to switch off defaulters.

Mavhura said the national broadcaster was now ready to commission two of the promised six high definition channels that will come after complete digitisation.

Four studios will be installed at Pockets Hill, while two will be mounted at Montrose Studios, Bulawayo at an expected cost of not less than US$120 million.

The installation of machinery is being managed by Government arms that include the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and Transmedia Corporation.

According to Mavhura, the state-of-the-art studios are meant to ensure that ZBC’s in-house content production capacity is boosted to augment that coming from independent producers and other sources.

“Two out of the six studios that we intend to set-up have been completed. Each of the studios has a main control room, automatic scheduling system, recording studio and a play out centre. These are the gentle steps that we are making towards full digital migration,” said Mavhura.

Implementation of digital migration was divided into two phases.

The first phase, which captures the essence of the International Telecommunications Union deadline that lapsed in June 2015, was digitisation of 20 transmitters to end analogue broadcasting along and near Zimbabwe’s borders as this interfered with digital transmission in neighbouring countries.

ZBC’s current thrust falls within the second phase.

“BAZ is managing the project but basically what we are saying is the five camera and four camera studios at Pockets Hill are done and now await commissioning. The equipment has been put in place but not yet switched on. We are waiting for the other studios to be completed so that we make a complete switch over.

“We are currently using a makeshift studio that is why we are having some glitches here and there but I would like to assure the nation that the hiccups are sooner rather than later going to disappear for good,” explained Mavhura.

Critics have, however, questioned the rationale behind the national broadcaster creating more channels when it is failing to do justice with its sole station, ZTV.

Its other station, Channel 2, was recently closed ostensibly to bolster ZTV’s operations.

Mavhura argues good times beckon.

He suggests various stakeholders are working tirelessly to guarantee quality programming as soon as digitisation is complete.

According to the ZBC boss, they now have more than 700 hours of content and the figure rises with each passing day in preparation for the switch over.

“This exercise has brought a lot of changes. When I came there where only three cameras in use for five years but I have bought 28 . . . Certainly this will go a long way in creating content to feed the six pending high definition channels. Thus at present two teams are on the ground for content.

“One is working on creating dramas, talk shows, music videos etcetera, while the other group is an in-house team that is working on documentaries and news shows, among other current affairs issues,” he said.

Mavhura added that Government, through BAZ, was assisting in content generation.

To address negative perceptions over the national broadcaster and the digital migration process, ZBC has embarked on countrywide awareness campaigns.

BAZ chief executive Obert Muganyura said financial constraints were the main barrier.

Funding will be needed for digital terrestrial equipment on an additional 14 sites around the country. Twenty-four sites have already been serviced.

And a new satellite dish, only smaller than the one at Mazowe Satellite Station, for signal distribution has already been set up at Pockets Hill.

“Our wish is to complete this project in the shortest possible time but the schedules will be determined rather guided by the flow of cash for the shipment of equipment. The machinery comes bundled and includes other apparatus to do with digitalisation but not directly linked to the studio,” remarked Muganyura.

Digital migration will facilitate better audio-visual reception and allows broadcasters to increase the number of channels they have.

Periodic switch-offs currently being experienced at ZTV should become a thing of the past as the new system will have two solid power backups capable of uninterruptable power supply.

In case of a power failure, there will be a standby generator and batteries that can run the system for hours. Digitisation started in 2009 and according to initial plans, full digital migration is expected to be achieved by year-end.

“We currently have a number of graduate trainees that we are training to handle different parts of the machines. More people will be employed when we switch on thus apart from providing entertainment to the public, the digital migration will also provide employment,” said Transmedia Corporation acting chief operating officer Rufaro Zaranyika.