Towards Effective Digital Broadcasting in Nigeria

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2015 launched the switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial television broadcasting.

However, an ITU Report indicated that Nigeria missed the 2015 deadline, in spite of the fact that the country started the process nine years ago.

According to the report, the deadline for the switchover from analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) heralded the development of ``all-digital’’ terrestrial broadcast services for sound and television for 119 countries.

``These 119 countries belong to the ITU Region-1 (Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia) and the Islamic Republic of Iran,’’ said the report.

It said that Nigeria and 51 other African countries could not meet the ITU deadline and the implication of this was that analogue signals from Nigerian broadcasting stations would receive no protection in the event of interference.

``Data from ITU shows that only four African countries -- Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique and Rwanda -- completed the switch over to digital terrestrial broadcasting.

``While 32 other African countries, including Nigeria, have begun the process, 12 countries have not started at all,” the report added.

Observers, nonetheless, note that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has put in place new timelines for achieving the 2017 ECOWAS Deadline for Digital Switch-Over (DSO).

The former Director-General of the NBC, Mr Emeka Mba, said that Nigeria could not meet the ITU deadline of June 2015 due to paucity of funds and other challenges facing the NBC.

He listed the challenges as aggregate content development; availability, production and distribution of Set-Top Boxes (STBs).

Mba, however, gave an assurance that the commission was working hard to meet the June 2017 deadline.

He disclosed that the NBC had already engaged 13 companies that would manufacture STBs locally.

He emphasised that the planned switchover to digital terrestrial broadcasting was a win-win situation for the government, the television industry and the consumers.

``NBC is creating a future that will bridge the digital divide, especially in homes that see television as their primary source of information.

``A successful DSO will do just that, and that is why we are passionate about the migration,” he added.

Also speaking on the same issue, Awwalu Salihu, Director of Public Affairs, NBC, said that the commission had concluded arrangements to start Quarterly Pilot Digital Switchover in Plateau State.

He said that in the lead up to the switchover, NBC had already placed some media advertisements to introduce the innovation to the public.

Salihu said that the advertisements would soon start running in the media to inform the citizens about the imminent transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting.

``At the moment, we are just about to start the pilot switchover in Plateau; we are putting the final building blocks in place.

``We are bringing in the set-top boxes; we are getting them ready and as soon as they are fully framed for distribution to the public, we will start the Plateau switch-over.

`` This will happen within the first quarter of the year,’’ he added.

As preparations toward the launch of the pilot DSO in Plateau State reach a crescendo, the NBC recently held a two-day training workshop for Information Officers in the state.

The commission selected Plateau State as the pilot state and Jos as the pilot city for the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) transition.

The workshop, which was organised in collaboration with TYMAG Communications, has ``DSO: The Role of Information Officers” as its theme.

The former DG of NBC, Mba, who was represented by Dr Armstrong Idachaba, the Director, D-G’s Office, said that digital terrestrial broadcasting was a technological innovation which promised innovative television experiences for Nigerians.

``At the end of the day, the people at the grassroots, who will be the end users, will have to be equipped with how to manage issues that would crop up,” he said.

Mba, nonetheless, reiterated that the digital phenomenon had a lot of opportunities.

Also speaking at the workshop, Mr Eddy Amana, the Chairman of DigiTeam Nigeria, explained that for an analogue television receiver to receive digital signals, a processor (Set-Top-Box) that would convert digital signals to analogue signals had to be installed.

He emphasised that the advantages of digital television signals far outweighed those of analogue television signals.

``The use of the more efficient, very scarce spectrum provides the opportunity for more entrants into the television industry; thus providing more jobs, providing multiple platforms for content delivery and so much more.

``For example, a TV station in Jos uses 8 megahertz (MHz) for its transmission. This frequency will accommodate the four TV stations in Jos presently and still have room for more stations.

``The digital dividends will create wealth for the country and also assist in the achievement of the country’s broadband programme.

``In all of these, the innovation will help to improve the social wellbeing of the populace,” he said.

Besides, Dr Veronica Adeyemo, Director, Technology, Federal Ministry of Information, said that the ``migration from analogue to digital broadcasting requires enormous capital all over the world.

``No country has been able to do it without sinking in so much,” she added.

Adeyemo, however, underscored the need for the Information Officers to understand issues that could arise in the course of their interaction with the public.

``For instance, questions as to where to buy the Set-Top-Box and how to operate the box are likely to crop up. As an Information Officer, one is expected to have answers to basic questions on the DSO.

``The digital message affects everybody; so as information officers, we should use all available media for disseminating messages on DSO,” she added.

Commenting on the imminent transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting in Nigeria, Salihu, NBC’s spokesman, argued that digitisation had come to stay in the country.

``Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind and everyone has a role to play in the project,’’ he said, adding, however, that for the transition to succeed, all the citizens we must come together and act in unison.

Salihu described Information Officers as a crucial link in the entire DSO process, saying that the officers must have the ability to lead the process.

``Information Officers must be able to mobilise other people; they must be able to direct other people; they should be able to show others how to do certain things and where to go for certain things,’’ he said.

As the country moves toward meeting the June 2017 deadline for the DSO, analysts insist that the Federal Government should make concerted efforts to facilitate NBC’s efforts to actualise the switchover.

From all indications, the government is all set to give the needed support, judging from the comments of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

His words: ``On our part, we will provide the necessary environment to unleash the latent energy of the key media and entertainment industry.

``As part of our responsibility of providing the requisite environment, this administration will ensure a strict adherence to the plan to reach 100-per-cent digital TV penetration in Nigeria.

``In other words, we pledge our commitment to building a vibrant TV and media economy for the benefit of all Nigerians.

``Nigeria intends to use the DSO as an opportunity to diversify the provision of channels and content.’’

The minister commended the efforts of the NBC to accomplish the DSO and urged all Nigerians to keep hope alive in the area of digital broadcasting which, he said, would be accomplished by 2017.

All the same, experts say that the switchover to digital terrestrial broadcasting will drastically change the competitive landscape of the entertainment and media industry in Nigeria.

``All in all, this is good for the country, the entertainment and media industry, and the citizenry at large,’’ they add.

Salisu Sani-Idris/NAN