Digital tariff threatens TV operations
The monthly tariff local television stations have been asked to fork out, to broadcast on the recently launched digital broadcasting platform, could “close” the country’s leading TV station.
Even if it is reduced from $35,759 to $23,000 a month, Chief Executive Officer of TV1, Galumalemana Faiesea Matafeo, said they couldn’t afford it.
“What can happen is we close the free to air service that our people are enjoying,” she told the Samoa Observer. “While a person living in New Zealand is having to pay more than NZ$50 (T$85) to watch a game from the World Cup tournament, our people are watching for free.
“Picturing an old couple enjoying the games in their fale, is a great feeling knowing that we are making life easier for our people.”
But Galumalemana said the cost to go digital could see an end to all the benefits of free to air TV being enjoyed by Samoans.
“The worst that can happen is to close the service altogether,” she said. “The fact is no TV station in Samoa can afford to pay a monthly fee of even $23,000. Not even TV1.”
Galumalemana’s fears are shared by the Operation and Digital Manager of Catholic TV Network in Samoa, Tuu’u Tofaeono.
“We cannot afford the monthly fee. This will impact our operation and we cannot survive paying this $23,000 every month,” Tuu’u said.
Tu’uu added that their TV station is a religious channel, not commercially driven, like the others. Their service that caters for up to 65 percent of the population could be threatened, with more than 10 staff members becoming jobless.
Other TV stations, including TV3; E.F.K.S. TV and Kingdom TV, declined to comment.
Last month, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, asked the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupai, to consider the complaint from the TV stations about the tariff.
He told the Minister that the Digital TV was established to assist the people and yet it appears it would “kill the television stations which have served (Samoa) for a long time."
During the weekend, the Office of the Regulator said the complaint by the TV stations about the tariff was “disrespectful.”
They also said the Digital TV should have been driven by the broadcasters “but because no one was willing to step up and the fact that the broadcasters were incapable of working together, the Office of the Regulator undertook the role of coordinating the initiation of the Project.”
“We are not being disrespectful as the Regulator assumes, we are only asking for a rate that would allow TV stations to survive and at the same time continue to provide good service to the public,” she said.
She said the cost of the project, which has been placed at $6 million, could be recovered within three years on the current rate. Which means if the TV stations continue to pay the monthly tariff for 20 years, Galumalemana said they could make “close to $40 million.”
“Good for S.D.C.L. but all at the mercy of a very small T.V. industry in Samoa that rely on a small advertising market and church donations. It is still far beyond our capacity,” she said.
S.D.C.L. is the Samoa Digital Communications Limited, which built the Digital TV platform.
According to Galumalemana TV1 had considered investing in the digital TV.
“For TV1, we did reach out to our broadcast partners in China to co-fund the digital platform,” she said. “We did our homework and concluded that because the license term as advertised by the Regulator is only 10 years we would have to charge the other TV stations $30,000 to $35,000 a month in order to recover the capital cost of $6 million in five years.
“We quickly ended consultations with partners in China because there was no way we could charge TV3 or any other TV station in Samoa a ridiculous fee of $30,000 or $35,000 a month.
“The cost of operating our eleven existing transmitting sites throughout Samoa is $12,409 per month, that includes lease fees paid to families or villages where transmitters are located. Those families will stand to lose an extra income.
“Now we are asked to pay double, but we will also have to absorb a big loss from our transmitting sites that will not be used again after the digital switch.”
Galumaleamana said they had appealed to the Regulator at one of their consultation meetings for the Government to fund the project.
“I stand to correct the Regulator in her assumption that TV stations could not work together,” she said.
“The fact is, none of the TV stations has a million tala stacked at the bank. The revenue that we earn goes back in buying international events, like IRB sevens, Super Rugby, Rugby World Cup, boxing, Olympics, Commonwealth Games, entertaining programmes etc., and production of local programmes helping with other sectors of Samoa’s development and so we can provide quality TV broadcasting service for our people.”
Last week on Friday, Galumalemana along with representatives from TV3, Kingdom TV, Catholic TV, E.F.K.S. TV and Goodnews TV visited Prime Minister Tuilaepa, seeking a further reduction in the tariff.
“We have been to seek help from the Prime Minister. We received a warm reception and had assured us they will find a win-win solution.”