Digital TV a boon for the animation industry

[Image]Digital TV in South Africa means there will be more channels for animators.

[Image]South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital television is likely to promote a new flowering of inspired and imaginative animation.
(Images: Triggerfish Animation Studios)

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Romaana Naidoo

Local animators will soon reap the benefits of South African television broadcasting going fully digital from 2015, as free-to-air television, such as the SABC and independent e.tv channels, is in the final stages of phasing out analogue signals.

Go DIGITAL South Africa is the catch phrase for Digital Dzonga, an advisory body set up by the Department of Communications to ease the transition to digital television.

The organisation says digital migration offers more free channels, on-screen electronic programme guides and programme synopses, parental guidance and programme control, and disability services for those with hearing or sight difficulties.

More channels, more content

Stuart Forrest, chief executive officer at Triggerfish Animation Studios says, “Digital TV in South Africa means there are more channels for us to place our shows on, effectively increasing our audiences.

“This will give the average viewer a lot more choice and thus will give them a greater chance of seeing the work that we do…. In the end though, it will be good for the viewers and producers.”

According to the Financial Mail, free-to-air television is currently in the final stages of phasing out analogue signals and replacing it with digital ones. This is scheduled to take place from 2015 with the help of government through its proposed digital terrestrial TV service.

This will ensure clearer pictures and space for more channels, since one analogue channel takes up the space of eight digital channels.

The change will allow local animations services room to grow says Paul Meyer, managing director at animation studio Luma. He says some R1-billion is currently spent annually on animation in the country.

“If we can get multiple film projects running at the same time, as well as big visual-effect productions being finished in SA, it will drive growth.

“Animation is always going to grow. The more screens we have, the more animation is needed; whether it is used on an airport screen or as high-end entertainment content.”

Hummingbird Group managing director, Bridget Scarr, told the Financial Mail that she hopes local broadcasters look at animation as a commercial business. “Studios will create new models to suit the market requirements and the amount spent on animation will grow as the demand for better-quality local content increases.”

The Hummingbird Group includes animation and design studio Pollen Creative Media.

In 2005 the International Telecommunications Union announced that African countries must move their television broadcasting to a digital platform. Since then, the Department of Communications has been working to ensure a smooth transition.

In September, Communications Minister Yunus Carrim called on the broadcast industry to work with the government to speed up implementing South Africa’s migration to digital TV broadcasting.

“Government is on course and we just want to put pressure on the relevant partners, “Carrim told a business briefing organised by the New Age newspaper and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

In August 2008, government decided to subsidise the set-top boxes needed to convert analogue to digital signals for about five million of the poorest households with a television set.

Carrim said the world was undergoing a digital revolution. “This revolution is transforming the nature of our communication.”

According to Go DIGITAL, countries leading the migration process include the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sweden, the United States, France and Mauritius.

Television, first in black and white, then in colour, has been in South Africa since 1976. After 1994 the new democratically elected government introduced legislation ensuring that radio and television services reflected and represented all its citizens, regardless of race or economic status.

Today, more than 11 million households in the country own televisions, watching programmes in their home languages.

Digital TV benefits

Prior to the 1990s, broadcasters transmitted sound and video as separate signals. Digital broadcasting transfers sound and video together, leaving more airwaves free for more channels, hence more television content. It also means less signal interruption, which would usually have viewers receiving scrambled broadcasts or receiving only video or only sound. Picture and sound quality is improved, and up to eight times more information can be processed.

The technology uses ground-based (terrestrial) digital transmitters, rather than satellites, to distribute the signals to televisions.

Terrestrial television uses a network of transmission towers to relay signals across the country. Each transmission tower has a specific area of coverage; the network covers the country. Satellite television broadcasting uses a satellite, in orbit above the earth. The broadcasting signals are sent to the satellite and viewers receive the signal via a satellite dish.

The move to digital terrestrial television brings further benefits:

  • For each TV service (channels and programmes), broadcasters can now transmit 15 standard definition TV services;
  • Digital is highly efficient. In the same geographical area, all TV transmitters can operate on the same frequency without interference; and
  • After the analogue switch-off more airwaves will be released to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, or ICASA, the ICT sector regulator, for other applications of national interest.