The Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mr. Is’Haq Modibbo Kawu, has laid out a detailed plan for Nigeria’s Digital Switchover (DSO), saying a Government White Paper issued under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had estimated that about N60 billion would be required to navigate the Switchover.
According to him, the amount is required as “seed funding” to cover the cost of infrastructure, subsidy for set top boxes (STBs), software, training and publicity.
Speaking on “Digitization of Broadcast Media: The Place of Nigeria” in Ilorin, o
n December 27, 2017, at the “Kwara NUJ Parliament” organized by the Kwara State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Director-General defined digitization as “the process of conversion of analogue information in any form: images, text, photographs, voice, etc. to digital form with suitable electronic devices, such as a scanner or specialized computer chips, so that the information can be processed, stored and transmitted through digital circuits, equipment, and networks.”
He explained that “digitization allows new communicative, journalistic and content consumption which will force us to reformulate the existing paradigm,” adding that the “digital transition in the broadcast media is in pursuance of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Recommendations during the Regional Radio Communication Conference of 2006 (RRC-06) and the subsequent Geneva 2006 Agreement (GE-06).”
According to him, the RRC-06 established the Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting Plan in the 174-230 MHz (VHF Band III) and 470-862 MHz UHF Band IV and V) bands.
But the Director-General said in Nigeria, the transition to digital terrestrial television will be implemented in the 470-806 MHz band.
He noted that the RRC-06 also resolved that the transition from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcasting services or digital switchover (DSO) for countries within ITU Region 1, to which Nigeria belongs, should be effected by June 17, 2015.
Mr. Kawu recalled that in recognition of the urgent need to set a transition date, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had approved June 17, 2012 as the switchover date or deadline in Nigeria and followed up the plan by setting up a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting in Nigeria.
He explained that the Committee was set up to provide advice on the implementation of the digital transition and that it later submitted its report with “laudable recommendations”, which formed part of the Government White Paper on the Transition from Analogue to DTT Broadcasting.
According to him, some of the important recommendations include:
The adoption of new broadcasting model which involves the splitting of broadcasting services into Broadcast Content Provision and Broadcasting Signal Distribution, a radically different approach from the current trend where the broadcaster does programmes, production and transmission;
The restructuring of the licensing framework in the broadcasting sector, to reflect the split structure;
The management of digital dividend spectrum (DDS), which means money that will come to government from the lease or sale of the broadcast spectrum which may be freed up and become available for telecommunication arising from the digital compression of spectrum; and
Technical standards to be maintained in the transition.
The Director-General noted that the PAC also recommended the use of local manufacturing companies to produce STBs for the transition.
He said according to a survey conducted by the NBC, Nigeria requires about 22 million STBs to meet the requirements of reaching analogue television set owners that will transit to Digital Television, adding that the Federal Government’s White Paper states that -an approximate seed funding of N60 billion was required to navigate Nigeria’s DSO, which will include cost of infrastructure, subsidy for STBs, software, training and publicity
The Director-General explained the consequences of Nigeria’s failure to transit from analogue to digital broadcasting as the rest of the world is doing.
Firstly, he said, the ITU Treaty governs the use of spectrum in each country to avoid neighbouring countries from interfering with each other’s signals so failure to follow the treaty leaves a country’s television, radio and mobile signals open to interference and obstruction.
In addition, he noted, non-conforming countries will have limited capacity available for mobile telephony and broadband.
But Mr. Kawu explained that the earlier switch over date of June 12, 2012 was not achieved due to a combination of different factors, including the fact that the White Paper itself was not released until May 2012, the year that was set date for the transition, largely due to bureaucratic delays which made it impossible for the Federal Executive Council to consider and approve the White Paper.
In addition, he said, Digiteam, which was established to drive the implementation of the White Paper, “could not hit the ground running” as they could not raise the needed funds which would have enabled them to operate effectively and efficiently.
Mr. Kawu also noted that conversion from analogue to digital broadcasting requires infrastructure to broadcast the signals and for each home to have a digital STB, which converts their television signals from analogue to digital and requires a lot of funding.
He said: “Though Nigeria has missed two set dates to achieve the roll-out as stated earlier, it must be stated that it is not due to lack of effort. The DSO is a very delicate and multi-sectorial endeavour that must be managed carefully; there are cost implications, sociological issues, economic issues and even political issues, as you may have noted if you are following the Nigerian process.”
Mr. Kawu remarked that it took the United Kingdom almost 10 years to conclude the process while the United States spent over eight years on it.
But he said the NBC had shown commitment to the target of a national roll-out for the whole country to transit from analogue to digital broadcasting and that to achieve this, it had taken the following steps:
A total of 13 local STB manufacturers have been authorised by the Commission to manufacture and provide STBs for the Digital Switch over in Nigeria and some of the STBs being used in Ilorin were actually assembled or produced in Nigeria.
In a bid to ensure that the signals of various channel owners were compressed into multiplexes and well packaged before transmission to consumers, and to protect the boxes from hacking and piracy, the Commission engaged the middleware operator Inview Nigeria limited while another indigenous company, Cable Channels Nigeria Limited (CCNL), is managing the marketing and aggregation of the channels on behalf of the content owners and the signal distributors.
The DSO White Paper makes a provision for the reservation of a licence for an independent signal distribution operator to be created out of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), using the existing infrastructure invested by the Government over the years for deployment of the DTT network in Nigeria. The Company later emerged and is now known as Independent Television Services (ITS) Limited and is transmitting in Jos and in Ilorin.
A second company which emerged through an expression of interest and evaluation of bids was Pinnacle Communications Limited, which won the second licence and was licensed by the Commission, accordingly, and is transmitting in Abuja and in Kaduna.
The Director-General recalled that on April 30, 2016, history was made in Jos with the launch of the Pilot Scheme by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, adding that the pilot scheme demonstrated the gains of the Digital Switch Over.
According to him, viewers in Jos now enjoy over 21 Free Television Channels, with News, Sports, Business, Music and many other genres of programming while the Television Services also come with interactive capability and government information services.
He said with the successful take off of the Pilot scheme, the NBC proceeded to roll-out in Abuja on December 22, 2016 while Kwara and Kaduna states were recently switched on.
The Director-General also outlined the benefits of the Digital Switch Over for Nigeria, saying they are “very compelling”.
According to him, the Federal government’s idea of DTT is one in which there is free digital TV service called FreeTV, based on Free-to-View rather than requiring pay TV subscriptions. Therefore, the government is providing support for the FreeTV STBs, also called decoders, to an affordable retail price of N1,500 (about $7.50).
He said Nigerian viewers will get “a great free TV service” with up to 30 channels laden with sports, news, documentaries and other programme types “for only N1,500” while viewers would also be able to receive all pay TV content through their one STB, when pay DTT channels like GO TV and Star Times are eventually stopped from being signal distributors and content providers, as envisaged by the White Paper.
The Director-General observed that Governments at Federal, State and local levels, will have an information outlet to every home through the interactive news and information service.
He said Nollywood will have a safe and profitable distribution channel direct to over 20 million homes through the STB with no piracy risk, which will generate about $250 million per annum of extra income for Nollywood.
In addition, he said, the broadcasting industry and digital economy will grow by N450 billion or about $1 billion per annum through increases in advertising, Nollywood income and value added services.
The Director-General argued that the DSO will also “offer uncountable opportunities for jobs in the broadcast industry and other ancillary industries.
He said the prevention of grey STB imports will enable Nigerian STB manufacturers to build a thriving industry and that the Nigerian Government can potentially raise digital dividends of N450 billion (about $1 billion) from the sale of spectrum thereby ensuring that the whole DSO programme is self-funding.
A free press and open democracy will be underpinned by local content channels in particular, as well as some international channels.
In his view, “The potential for job creation is immeasurable as over 300,000 jobs will be created directly within the eco-system and from other ancillary sources connected to the process. This is especially a major gain of the Nigerian DSO project.”
The Director-General said the NBC was committed to a phased roll-out approach in 2019 and had already concluded plans to roll-out in Osogbo in the South-West, Enugu in the South-East, and Gombe in the North-East, starting in January 2018.
Thereafter, he said, another set of states where launching will take place will be announced.
Mr. Kawu admitted that the DSO implementation has been faced by some surmountable challenges, saying a key issue among several sociological considerations is the affordability of STBs.
He noted that before the advent of the Free TV View brand, which is the Federal Government’s brand proposition, several DTT pay TV channels existed and Nigerians with the financial means had subscribed to enjoy those services.
According to him, the first major task is how to get affordable STBs for a vast majority of Nigerians, citing the Federal Government’s categorical statement in the White Paper that “Government observed that attaching a price tag of N2, 000 to a Basic Set Top Box, and asking for any kind of subsidy at this time may not be in the best interest of Government, as the policy would be self- sustaining. It therefore directed that the end user price of a Basic Set Top Box, should be determined by the Digiteam Nigeria from time to time, using economic indices.”
Mr. Kawu explained that the NBC and the STB manufacturers have already considered different financing options, including direct negotiations with the states and local governments, to buy directly from the manufacturers at rebated or negotiated subsidy rates and that the NBC had addressed the Nigerian Governors’ Forum on the issue.
According to him, at the launch of the DSO in Kaduna the previous week, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai “offered some very interesting insights about exploring new financing platforms to be able to accelerate the provision of the Set-Top-Boxes needed for the DSO”. He said the suggestion and other options would be discussed at a major conference early in 2018.
Mr. Kawu said another challenge is the issue of the Digital Access Fee (DAF), which is an access fee that each viewer will have to pay before they can access the Free to View Television channels.
According to him, “The NBC believes that this fee can form the basis for a fund which could be used for the advancement of the broadcast industry. For instance, it is expected that a programme production fund will be created out of it which can be used to create grants and other financial support for young creative persons wishing to create content in the digital era.”
He said the Commission sees the situation “a veritable opportunity for the broadcast industry to benefit from the constitutional Radio and Television license fee which the constitution stipulated to be collected by the local governments, a function which they have scarcely performed.”
Mr. Kawu announced that the NBC is in liaison with the Association of Local governments, the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria and other relevant associations for the collection and allocation of the fund.
He identified the question of publicity as a “recurrent challenge”, saying “Many critics and commentators on the DSO say that there is not enough communication on the process. I agree that the right phrase is ‘not enough’ as there has always been sporadic but un-sustained attempts at publicity.”
Mr. Kawu complained that “The NBC is yet to get the requisite funds for an orchestrated campaign but the commission has consistently made the point that the issue of publicity should be a shared responsibility for all stakeholders, including of course the many channels and broadcasters in the country.”
He expressed the hope that with fresh funds and a synergized approach of stakeholders, the publicity challenge will be over- come.
Mr. Kawu said the role of the National Assembly was vital in the digital transition project, noting that the sensitivity and importance of the broadcast media made the subject of the digital transition one that caught the attention and interest of the parliament.
He observed that the House and Senate committees on information, which have oversight functions over the activities of the Ministry of Information and the NBC, have used opportunity of their oversight, to interrogate the process, during which it turned out that “a number of them are not conversant with the process and all the details of the implementation process.”
Mr. Kawu expressed pride that the Digital Switch Over project is designed and operated by Nigerians, and that all channels are home grown.