After several years of unsuccessful move by successive administrations to switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has at last edged the country into the league of digital world.
Nigeria transited from analogue to digital television viewing on April 30, 2016 in the city of Jos, the Plateau State Capital when it launched the pilot phase of the Federal Government’s digital transmission project that kick started the digitization process in Nigeria.
Digitization is the process of converting analog signals or information from any format into digital forms that can be understood by computer systems or electronic devices. The term is used when converting information like text, images or voices and sounds into binary codes. Digitized information is easier to store, access and transmit and digitization is used by a number of Consumer electronic devices.
The switchover to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) was a necessity for Nigeria as a signatory to the International Broadcast Union Agreement tagged: “Geneva 2006” which mandated all countries to switchover to avoid signal interference from other countries. Indeed, the switchover is sure to enable viewers enjoy up to 15 free-to-air channels as against the four channels they were enjoying prior to the launch. The free – to – air scheme will see about 200, 000 television households in Jos receiving free Set -Top- Boxes (STBs) for the Digital Switchover (DSO).
It will be recalled that Nigeria’s journey to the switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting started in 2006 when the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Council adopted its Resolution 1185 to transit from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting.
It is imperative to note that Jos, the Plateau State Capital has always been a hot spot of history in Nigeria. For instance, in 1959, the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (WNBC) launched the first TV station in Africa. In 1975, the first colour TV was switched on, and this year 2016, Nigeria has transited from analogue to digital broadcasting.
According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, “Nigeria’s free TV DTT will be the largest in the world as against that of UK with 10 million, Australia with 13 million and New Zealand with 3 million. He noted that history was being made on that day, both in Nigeria as a country and in the city of Jos.
“What we have dreamt of, imagined, attempted and what even seemed impossible at a stage is now happening right before our very eyes. More importantly, we are democratizing the right to know, the right to knowledge and the right to be informed. This is simply because with what we are doing today, the average Jos person does not need to pay subscription to watch the best news and entertainment from around the world. This high quality sound and high resolution pictures are equal, if not superior to any in the world,” he said.
The Minister intensified that in terms of economy; all licensed Set-Top-Boxes manufacturers have been mandated to establish manufacturing companies in Nigeria to produce the boxes locally, after importing the first set of boxes. He added that this will indeed create massive employment and ensure the transfer of technology to Nigerian people, noting that there will be an astronomical increase in the need for content which will fire the creative ability of Nigerian youths.
He further assured Nigerians that very soon every household in the country will switch to DSO, after over 200,000 boxes have been distributed freely to the inhabitants of Jos.
“Distribution is ongoing and government will watch and supervise the pilot scheme. In the couple of months from now, we shall move to the FCT and then to Lagos, until we cover the 36 states of the federation,” the Minister stated.
He assured Nigerians that the Federal Government will not relent in its effort to ensure that Nigeria meets the June 20, 2017 deadline for Digital Switchover (DSO).
Digital TV Broadcasting Advantages
Digital TV broadcasting offers many advantages over analogue systems for end-users, operators and regulators. Apart from increasing the number of programmes, digital systems have the capacity to provide new innovative services such as interactive TV, electronic programme guides and mobile TV as well as transmit images and sound in high- definition (HDTV) and Ultra-high definition (UHDTV). Digital TV requires less energy to ensure the same coverage as for analogue, thereby decreasing the overall cost of transmission.
With the digital switch successfully on, there appears to be a fresh breath of hope for the June 20, 2017 deadline for Nigeria to complete the digital switchover and achieve analogue switch off. It would be recalled that Nigeria’s inability to meet up the June 17, 2015 deadline for transiting to digital terrestrial broadcasting stipulated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was as a result of poor funding.
Meanwhile, the June 20, 2017 deadline for the switchover from analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) has heralded the development of ‘all-digital’ terrestrial broadcasting services for sound and television in 119 countries belonging to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Region 1 (Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia) and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
African Countries to Benefit from the Switchover
Through this singular move, Nigeria has pointed the way forward for other African countries that have been struggling in the effort to find financing for their own digital switchover programmes. It is imperative to know that Nigeria and 51 other African countries could not meet the ITU deadline and the implication is that analogue signals from Nigerian broadcasting stations will not receive protection in the event of interference with or from digital signals from neighbouring countries. When fully completed, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has said that digitization will revolutionize the economy of Nigeria; and not just changing the face of broadcasting, it will be a spinner that in its wake will create more wealth, jobs and create more avenues for talented youths to achieve their potentials.
“Prior to our going digital, we have only four national channels which are: AIT, Channels TV, ITV and of course NTA. These are channels that you can tune into and without paying any fee, watch what is going on; but with digitization, we are going to have 30 channels that would be national and free,” he stated.
“Apart from giving you quality pictures and more platforms, it is going to create more jobs. With digitization, you are going to have distributors in every local government of the country. It also allows for better interaction between government and the governed because aside from advertisements on the channels paid for, with digitization you can get government messages on its policies and programmes on any channel you tune into.”
The Minister further explained that this process is also going to encourage many young talented youths in the area of content production. Adding, with digitization, there will be strict division of labour between signal distributors and content producers. He espoused that another good spin of the process is the fact that the government has encouraged all those who are licensed to bring in the Set -Top-Boxes (STBs) and to manufacture them locally in Nigeria.
The Chairman of the DigiTeam, Edward Amana while speaking at the launch said that a total of 30 million Set-Top-Boxes are required for the whole country. According to him, 4 out of the 13 companies have already established their factories in Calabar and Port Harcourt and will soon commence production. He further maintained that each of the companies would employ not less than 2,000 Nigerians and the set-top-boxes manufactured in Nigeria would be exported to other West African countries.
“So far, 450 youths in Plateau State have been engaged on temporary basis as enumerators to distribute the set-top-boxes,” he announced.
On his part, the Plateau State Governor, Barr. Simon Lalong represented by his deputy, Prof Sonni Tyoden expressed fulfillment that the exercise took off in Jos, the State capital, indicating that his State has remained a pacesetter having been the first State to launch colour television broadcasting in the country.
Similarly, the Director-General of Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Ms. Alheri Saidu in her contribution sought for the collaboration of key players like the media in creating necessary awareness on the wind of change in the global TV viewing culture.
The President of the Electronic Media Content Owners Association of Nigeria (EMCOAN), Mrs. Debbie Odutayo remarking on the issue of digital switchover revealed that Nigeria’s failure to achieve the June 2015 digital switchover deadline was because of the absence of better and deeper collaboration with major stakeholders in the broadcasting industry. She also hinted that the failure of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in the past to carry the content owners along in the digital switchover process contributed to the failure of the move. She was however confident that the new synergy between EMCOAN- which is responsible for over 85 percent of media content in Nigeria and NBC would largely contribute to successful actualization of the new date.
With this achievement, one can rightly say that Nigeria has now joined other African countries such as Ghana which appears to have gone ahead and is readily serving as the benchmark where a simulcast service is run by TV stations such that a set-top-box can easily receive more than 20 DTT channels. Also, Tanzania has made significant progress in the African television industry since its migration to digital broadcasting in December 2012 and fully establishing it in April 2015.
Sampson Ikemitang writes from Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.