Void

Television

On the box

Television is the first truly democratic culture - the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want.
Clive Barnes

Void

Television did not reach St Helena until 1995

Television

Below: What’s on?History and developmentsImpactLocal TVFuture?

What’s on?

The island’s TV service has been operating since March 1995. Programmes are sourced from South African DStv. The signal from the satellite is received at the antenna field on Putty Hill and transferred to various TV transmitters around the island{1} for re-broadcast to homes and offices.

There are 30 South African channels available{2} plus one local channel (rarely used). At the time of writing the cost is £59.95 including tax (a cheaper package with fewer channels is also available). There is no free-to-view television on St Helena.

History and developments

Demonstrating reception of television from satellite, 1991
(Radio St Helena)

Click here to hear this audio file, or hover on the icon (right)

Void


Formal launch of the island TV service, 1995
(Radio St Helena)

Click here to hear this audio file, or hover on the icon (right)

Void

As early as 1991 it was discovered that, with new TV-To-Home Satellites being launched all the time, some could be received on St Helena. The interview (right) was broadcast on Radio St Helena on 11th September 1991 and features George Stevens, then General Manager of Cable & Wireless, showing Tony Leo what could be received from a Russian satellite. However the signal quality was poor and erratic, so not suitable for any practicable use.

Analogue Service

Later in the decade it was found that the signal from a new satellite serving South Africa could also be received here, and was strong enough to set up a workable service. So Cable & Wireless set up local transmitters to re-broadcast the received programmes. The service formally opened on 30th March 1995 - you can hear some of the opening ceremony, broadcast on Radio St Helena (right). A fee of £5 per month was payable to receive the service.

initially transmissions were unencrypted, but when people realised they could receive the broadcasts without paying the required monthly subscription revenues fell. By 1997 the system had to be encrypted, as it has remained ever since.

The 1995 system used analogue transmission technology, with at first only one channel, CNN. This rose to three channels by the end of the 1990s. One local re-broadcast channel carried more than one supplied channel with the system switching over at a pre-set time (which was not necessarily at the end of a film or programme, causing some complaints{3}). This is illustrated by the TV Guide for 18th February 2011. A survey conducted in 1998 suggested that customers would prefer to receive their news from CNN rather than from the BBC, but actually it was changed to the BBC.

According to the 2003 Bradt Guide to St Helena{4}:

Television service came to St Helena in 1995, brought to the island via satellite. There are three channels available to viewers, offering a selection of programmes from BBC World, M-net, Discovery Channel, KTV and a sports channel, which brings major sporting events. Plans are in hand to extend the service, but there is no local programming, and no plans for this in the near future.

One noted problem with the service was that it was based on South African time, two hours ahead of St Helena time. This meant that children’s programmes were broadcast from 1pm to 3pm St Helena time - before the children here came home from school. It also meant that the ‘Watershed’ time{5}, 9pm in South Africa, was 7pm on St Helena - within the prime evening viewing time. It was suggested that Cable & Wireless could alleviate this problem by time-shifting the service, i.e. recording the incoming signal and not broadcasting it for two hours, but this was never attempted - it would have also delayed news and major sporting events, would have introduced additional equipment that might break down and would have increased the cost of providing the service.

Digital Service

SURE TV service
SURE TV Remote

The transmission system was upgraded to Digital (DVB-T2) from October 2012 making a much wider variety of channels available and removing the need for channel switching. Subscribers in Levelwood were the first to be connected, starting on 22nd October, with other districts following within 5 weeks - the last district to be upgraded was Half Tree Hollow on 24th November. The new service offered 15 channels: 6 Supersport channels, MNet, MNet Movies Premiere, MNet Movies Drama & Romance, MNet Action, BBC Entertainment, BBC World News, Discovery, Disney, and Cartoon Network. The new digital set-top boxes also introduced a parental control facility - useful because of the transmission timing issue noted above. Further channels were added in 2017, bringing the total to 31 for subscribers willing to pay an extra monthly fee.

3m dish
3m dish at Bertrand’s Cottage

The South African satellite TV signal is receivable from most of the eastern parts of the island (Longwood and Levelwood). Using a 3m dish pointing almost horizontally (a clear view of the horizon is necessary) some people in these areas purchase a subscription directly from the South African broadcaster DStv to use the service direct, giving them a much larger selection of channels at a lower monthly cost. The Sure legal monopoly over telephone and Internet services does not extend to television so there is no objection to this being done.

Locally-produced television (see below) was briefly available from October 2015 until April 2017.

In 2021 58% of St Helena households had a subscription for the Sure TV service{6}.

Impact

The arrival of television in a territory where it had not previously been available was the subject of some international interest. What effect would it have on family life and culture? How would young people react to it and would they all become violent drug users as a result of watching it? A formal study was carried out later in the decade which concluded that, in practice, the introduction of television had had no significant damaging effects whatsoever on families and particularly on children. You can Read the report. It should be pointed out, however, that video recorders arrived here in the mid-1980s, so people had had access to the best (and worst) of what was available on television for at least a decade before TV itself arrived here.

Writing in ‘Saints: Spatial identities of the citizens of Saint Helena’ (2002, P147) the researchers report:

St Helena has long been without the merits and problems that can come with television: TV was introduced only in 1995. St Helena now only has a ‘three channel output system’ to keep the costs down. An expansion in the near future is not likely, as many Saint already feel the rates are quite high.

Although TV has only recently been introduced to the island, it has quickly become part of people's lives, according to Chief Education Officer Pamela Young. But she feels it is not all positive: There is a downside though, on community involvement. People stay home more often now, because everything you want is in the house. You don’t need to go to the community centre, or to Donny’s every night. It has taken away people coming out to see one another, and it might have put a strain on some businesses.

Headmistress of Pilling Middle School Elaine Benjamin feels that much depends on the parents: Some mimic some things they see on TV, but there are pros and cons. There are also some very intelligent things on TV, as long as you monitor it it’s fine I guess. It all depends on the parents in the home.

A positive effect of the introduction of TV is that it is easier for young Saints to gain knowledge about subjects in their curriculum that are derived from UK society rather than St Helenian society. Through television students gain knowledge about things like banking, credit cards or railway systems. However, the information and programs about the outside world also make children more inquisitive and they could therefore be more willing to leave the island and go and see this world for themselves.

Reviewing the situation more than 25 years later it can best be said that, while television may have had some impact on St Helena, it has been far less dramatic than was predicted. Most aspects of Saint culture remain very much the same as they were before TV began. If anything is impacting the island’s culture in the 21st Century it is not TV; it is the Internet

There is, however, one thing that certainly has had no impact here: TV advertisements. DStv is a commercial service supported (in part) by advertising, with breaks for adverts roughly every 20 minutes, but these have no impact on the audience in St Helena because almost nothing that is advertised can actually be bought here. Even many of the programme trailers relate to channels on DStv that are not part of the subset offered by Sure, so cannot be watched here. Pretty much the only thing that can be learned from the adverts is that most things are a great deal cheaper in South Africa than they are here…

Like other screen-based technologies, TV is a tool which can be used prudently or senselessly.
Links between television and behaviour: Students’ perceptions of TV’s impact in St Helena, South Atlantic

Local TV

Locally-produced television was briefly available from 2015 to 2017, produced by South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (S.A.M.S.). An experiment was conducted starting in April 2015, in association with a local media company, which proved to be popular. As a result ‘Newsbite’ was launched in October 2015. The 15-20 minute programme summarised the week’s news, and was broadcast on the local TV channel on Fridays at 7pm, repeated for the following four nights. A clip is shown (below).

‘Newsbite’ closed after the media funding review of April 2017 removed the financing. Now there is no locally-produced television, though a channel is reserved for it and occasionally shows government information films.


‘Newsbite’, 18th November 2016 (headlines){b}

The Future?

Television may or may not have a future on St Helena. Technical improvements may bring more channels and a wider choice, but then the arrival of high speed Internet may bring to St Helena the delights of Streaming and video-on-demand. Why would people want to see a selection of TV channels chosen to suit a South African audience when they can take their pick of everything the world has to offer?

And will there ever be another locally-generated TV channel, broadcasting to Saints about Saints and St Helena and the world? Maybe; but we think not for some time; at least until the economy improves dramatically. The costs of running such a service would not be small and all of these expenses need to be met by advertising revenue generated from local companies - a government subsidy seems unlikely. With a population under 5,000 people, only around half of which are economically active{6} it seems unlikely that this equation can be balanced in the near future.

The only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step outside the frame.
Salman Rushdie

Credits:
{a} St Helena Statistics Office{b} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd (SAMS), used with permission{4}.

⋅ Click the highlighted marker (if any) to return to where you were before.

Footnotes:
{1} Including one on High Knoll Fort.{2} For a list see the SURE Website.{3} So you’re watching a football match and the score is extremely close in the final few minutes. Your team is advancing down the pitch with every possibility of scoring and winning the game when - poof! - it switches over to a different channel and a programme about basket weaving in Puerto Rico… Don’t laugh - this actually once happened.{4} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{5} A common broadcasting term for the time at which more adult programming can begin, the assumption being that younger children are in bed by then. According to the Wikipedia, in South Africa programmes with rating '16' are not allowed before 21:00h and programmes with rating '18' are not allowed before 23:00h.{6} Source: 2021 Census{a}.

⋅ Click the highlighted marker (if any) to return to where you were before.