“The potential for job creation is immeasurable as over 300, 000 jobs will be created directly within the eco-system and from other ancilliary sources connected to the process”
DIGITIZATION OF BROADCAST MEDIA: THE PLACE OF NIGERIA
BEING TEXT OF SPEECH BY DIRECTOR GENERAL, NATIONAL BROADCASTING COMMISSION (NBC), IS’HAQ MODIBBO KAWU FNGE, PRESENTED TO THE NIGERIAN UNION OF JOURNALISTS (NUJ), KWARA STATE COUNCIL. ILORIN, DECEMBER 27TH, 2017.
I will like to thank the Kwara State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), for inviting me to your event, tagged KWARA NUJ PARLIAMENT, here in Ilorin. I have very strong professional and emotional links with broadcasting and journalism here in Kwara state. It was here that I cut my teeth, forty years ago, when I was recruited, by the defunct Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), on February 1st, 1977. I worked with, and learnt from generations of great professionals in our state. And even when the technical means of production of broadcasting and journalism, are not as comparable with what we work with today, there was an incredible level of professionalism, which permitted the professional to create at the highest levels. Radio Kwara, NIGERIAN HERALD, The Information Division of the Ministry of Information, and Nigerian Television (NTV later NTA), were the local media establishments. And in the Second Republic (1979-1983), even a local weekly newspaper joined the growing journalism ranks in our community. Of course, the national dailies and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), had always been very well represented in our state. There was a long list of media men that helped create the professional ambience within which we all grew: Segun Osoba; Michael Asaju; Yakubu AbdulAzeez; Ahmed Hameed; Dan Ikunaye; Richard Odeyemi; Alhaji R.K Yusuf; and their broadcast counterparts like Kola Olota; Jimmy Atte; just to mention a few of the remarkable professionals who helped to plant firm roots of professionalism in our state.
Government at point, even in the days of military rule, seemed to understand the importance of professional and community ethos. There was an organic connection to the best interests of the community, and the Social Contract with our people, meant something to the operatives of government. Projects were embarked upon, only because they were designed to serve the genuine interests of the people, and information in the media, was taken seriously. Of course, things are different today; and they are not always for the better! But that is not my remit this morning. Our colleagues and comrades in the Kwara State Council of the NUJ have invited me as the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), to speak on the topic of the Digitization of Broadcasting in Nigeria. I will also take cognisance of the fact that this event is coming barely seven days after the launch of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) in Kwara State on the 20th of December, 2017.
THE DIGITAL SWITCH OVER POLICY
Digitization is 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.
Digitization allows new communicative, journalistic and content consumption which will force us to reformulate the existing paradigm.
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).
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. However, in Nigeria, the transition to digital terrestrial television will be implemented in the 470-806 MHz band.
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, in which Nigeria belongs, should be effected by June 17, 2015.
DIGITAL SWITCH OVER IN NIGERIA
In recognition of the urgent need to set a transition date, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, approved 17 June 2012 as the switchover date or deadline in Nigeria. He followed up this action by setting up a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting in Nigeria. The Committee was set up to provide advice on the implementation of the digital transition. The Committee later submitted its report with laudable recommendations.
The recommendations of the PAC report formed part of the Government White Paper on the Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Broadcasting. Some of the important recommendations cover the following-
adoption of new broadcasting model which involves the splitting of broadcasting services into Broadcast Content Provision and Broadcasting Signal Distribution; This is radically different from the current trend where the broadcaster does programmes production and transmission.
restructuring of the licensing framework in the broadcasting sector; to reflect the structure above.
management of digital dividend spectrum (DDS); (that is 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).
technical standards to be maintained in the transition
It also recommended the use of local manufacturing companies to produce set-top-boxes (STB) for the transition among others;
According to a survey conducted by the NBC Nigeria requires about 22 million Set-top boxes to meet the requirements of reaching analogue TV set owners that will transit to Digital TV.
The White paper states that -an approximate seed funding of 60 billion Naira was required to navigate Nigeria’s DSO; this will include cost of infrastructure, subsidy for STBs, software, training and publicity
It is perhaps necessary to mention the consequences for Nigeria not transiting from analogue to broadcasting as the rest of the world is doing. Firstly, the ITU treaty governs the use of spectrum in each country to avoid neighbouring countries from interfering with each other’s signals. Failure to follow this treaty leaves a country’s TV, radio and mobile signals open to interference and obstruction. In addition, non-conforming countries will have limited capacity available for mobile telephony and broadband.
BENEFITS FOR NIGERIA
But the benefits of the Digital Switch Over are very compelling. The Federal government’s idea of Digital Terrestrial Television 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 provided support for the FreeTV Set –Top Boxes also called decoders down to an affordable retail price of N1500 ($7.50)
Nigerian viewers are getting a great free TV service with up to 30 channels laden with sports –News –documentaries and other programme types for only N1500.
Viewers would also be able to receive all pay TV content through the 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.
Governments (Federal, State and local) will have an information outlet to every home through the interactive news and information service.
Nollywood will have a safe and profitable distribution channel direct to 20m+ homes through the STB with no piracy risk. This will generate about $250m pa of extra income for Nollywood.
The broadcasting industry and digital economy will grow by (Naira 450,000,000,000) or $1 bn per annum through increases in advertising, Nollywood income and value added services. It will offer uncountable opportunities for jobs in the broadcast industry and other ancillary industries.
The prevention of grey STB imports will enable Nigerian STB manufacturers to build a thriving industry.
The Nigerian Government can potentially raise a digital dividend of N450,000,000,000 (c. $1 bn) 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 especially, and some international channels
The potential for job creation is immeasurable as over 300, 000 jobs will be created directly within the eco-system and from other ancilliary sources connected to the process. This is especially a major gain of the Nigerian DSO project
IMPLEMENATATION IN NIGERIA
In Nigeria, the earlier switch over date of 12th June 2012 was not achieved due to a combination of militating factors. First, the white paper itself was not released until May 2012, the year that was set date for the transition. This was due largely to unforeseen bureaucratic delays which made it impossible for the Federal Executive Council to consider and approve the white paper.
DigiTeam which was established to drive the implementation of the white paper could not hit the ground running, they couldn’t raise the needed funds which would have enabled them to operate effectively and efficiently. Secondly, conversion from analogue to digital requires infrastructure to broadcast the signals and for each home to have a digital set top box (STB) which converts their TV from analogue to digital. This again requires a lot of funding.
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 as you may have noted if you are following the Nigerian process. It took the UK almost 10 years to conclude the process and the USA over 8 years.
But I am proud to say that so far the National Broadcasting Commission has shown commitment to the target of a national roll-out for the whole country to transit from analogue to digital broadcasting. To achieve this it has done the following –
1.a total of thirteen (13) local Set-Top-Box manufacturers have been authorised by the Commission to manufacture and provide Set-Top-Boxes for the Digital Switch over in Nigeria.
It may interest you to know that some of the Set-Top-Boxes we are using here in Ilorin were actually assembled or produced in Nigeria.
2.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. 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.
3.Licensed 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 Government over the years for deployment of the DTT network in Nigeria. The Company later emerged and is today known as Independent Television Services (ITS) Limited. ITS is transmitting in Jos and here in Ilorin.
The second company which emerged through an expression of interest and evaluation of bids was Pinnacle Communications Limited. Pinnacle won the second licence and was licensed by the Commission, accordingly. Pinnacle Communications is transmitting in Abuja and in Kaduna.
I must remind you that on 30th of April 2016 history was made in Jos with the launch of the Pilot Scheme by the Honorable Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed. The pilot scheme demonstrated the gains of the Digital Switch Over. Viewers in Jos now enjoy over 21 Free Television Channels-some News, Sports, Business, Music and many other genres of programming. The Television Services also come with interactive capability and government information services.
With the successful take off of the Pilot scheme the National Broadcasting Commission now proceeded to roll-out in Abuja on the 22nd of December 2016.
As you are aware Kwara state and Kaduna states just got switched on.
We are committed to a phased roll-out approach in the coming year. Already we have concluded plans to roll-out in Osogbo in the South-West, Enugu in the South-East, Gombe in the North-East, starting in the month of January 2018.
We shall thereafter announce another set of states where will be launching. Let me assure you that the signal distributors are committed to deploying across the country as part of the renewed determination to ensure that we successfully carry out the DSO. Similarly, the box manufacturing plants are also being set up in various locations to meet the time table.
As a round off I must acknowledge that the DSO implementation has been faced by a few albeit surmountable challenges.
A Key issue among several sociological considerations is the factor of affordability of Set-Top Boxes. Before the advent of the FREE TV VIEW brand which is the Federal Government brand proposition, several DTT pay TV channels existed and Nigerians with the financial capacity subscribed to enjoy those services.
The first major task then is how to get affordable Set-Top-Boxes for a vast majority of Nigerians. Though the Federal Government had categorically stated in the white paper that-
-22.4 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.
The NBC and the Set-Top-Box 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. In fact the NBC addressed the Nigerian Governors’ Forum on this. At the launch of the DSO in Kaduna, last Friday, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state, 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. We will discuss the suggestion and other options, in a major conference, early next year.
Added to the above is the issue of Digital Access Fee (DAF) the DAF fee is considered an access fee that each viewer will have to pay before they can access the Free to View Television channels. 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.
The Commission also believes that this is 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. The Commission is therefore in liaison with the Association of Local governments, the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria and other relevant Associations for the collection and allocation of this fund.
Another recurrent challenge is the question of publicity. 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. 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 stake holders, including of course the many channels and broadcasters in the country. It is expected that with fresh fund and a synergized approach of stake holders the publicity challenge will be over- come.
Other issues are technical and software oriented. Some owners of Set-Top-Boxes especially after the launch at Abuja, experienced challenges activating the boxes. The software managers Inview and our call centre operator the OUTSOURCE company blamed it on cluster activations as many people were trying to activate their boxes at the same time. Some analyst blamed it on lack of basic knowledge of technological skills, even by viewers, in as simple a process as activating a Set-Top-Box. Fortunately, the problem was eventually redressed. I hope the viewers in Kwara are not having any of those challenges, if there are we will be glad to know
Added to these, is the issue of signal reception and the need for the use of external antennas by the viewers. This was lingering issue as not many users were knowledgeable or informed about the rudiments of using external antennas to enhance signal reception.
The role of the National Assembly is one that is very key and vital in the digital transition project. In Nigeria 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. First was the House and Senate committees on information, who have oversight functions over the activities of the Ministry of Information and the NBC, have used opportunity of their oversight, to interrogate the process. As it turned out, a number of them are not conversant with the process and all the details of the implementation process. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has met with members of the national Assembly several times; and I am very delighted at the level of cooperation we have continued to enjoy from the two Committees at the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Finally, at the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), we are proud that our Digital Switch Over project is designed and operated by Nigerians, and all our channels home grown. We are also delighted that many other African countries are looking up to us and have actually come to Nigeria to study the work we are doing to deliver Nigeria’s Digital Switch Over. In the past one year, we have gone through all shades of emotion, in respect of our DSO; but I think we have become more experienced about delivery of the process, and we can look at adversity in the face with greater optimism. Similarly, we have taken on board all the criticism as well as well-meaning suggestions about how we might deliver the process in a much faster manner, for the Nigerian people. I feel very optimistic, that we would be able to deliver the Digital Switch Over to Nigeria.
Thank You Very Much for Your Attention!