TV shopping a dream for SA

WATCHING TV is a shopper’s paradise in the US. You see, you click, you pay and the virtual goods arrive at your doorstep. That is digital terrestrial television (DTT) at its best.

SA’s DTT technology — while not similar to the US — has the potential to offer this function. SA is similar to Europe in terms of its DTT roll-out.

That wonderful ease of purchase and attendant endorphin rush from a cool purchase gets lost in this country. Even with DTT’s imminent launch in SA in 2015, with its anticipated digital switchover, there is a yawning gap that disables this ease of a TV purchase.

This gap relates to user interactivity and it is not possible on analogue systems, hence DTT’s value and attractiveness, but DTT in SA is likely to fall short on this conveyance.
We have no policy or regulations, and the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has to grant broadcasters additional bandwidth to enable virtual TV sales. Icasa has no such regulations and SA’s policy on backchannels is as yet non-existent. This critical back stream is exactly what enables user interactivity to click on an item for sale and pay. This means airwaves enable purchases and transform e-commerce.

In the absence of a backchannel, an alternate means would be to use a telephone line as a backchannel. This is a practice in Europe where countries that have DTT use the telephone line as the backchannel. What may be smarter though is the Irish innovative approach: Irish DTT has pioneered an internet/interactive service. They will operate this service on a limited access basis comprising special sites which are adapted to TV. They are arguably first to market with this and they will be utilising WINDS (Wireless Interactive Network for Digital Services).

The backchannel need not be via telephone — as with most European countries — but will be piloted via terrestrial waves. It does require the Irish to manage engagement with their settop boxes and these will now have to contain a micro-transmitter which sends information back to the Irish DTT broadcaster. The Irish will soon be known as the harbinger of DTT airwave purchase. We must and should learn from them.
It is time to mobilise a call for policy and consequent regulations on backchannels. This refers to the capability that allows for the sending of signals via terrestrial airwaves and not the internet or telephone. Backchannel technological capability will bring ease of purchase and consequently greater consumer access and a wide range of choice in virtual TV purchases.

For companies, it will reduce overall costs of marketing spend and enable greater content distribution via a new distribution channel.

We have an imminent digital switchover but as yet no ability for interactive virtual airwave purchases on DTT.

But then again, that is only one hurdle — this country still needs to move into the Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) trajectory space and this is a potential medium-term wait. As a matter of background IPTV in SA is what the Americans and Europeans call “cable”.

First Published in Business Law and Business Tax Review – 12 May 2014.