DIGITAL Switch Over: How Prepared Is Nigeria?

During an interview in late 2014 with the then Director-General of the National Broadcasting

Commission (NBC), Mr Emeka Mba, he was so sure and abundantly certain of the successful launch

of digital broadcasting in Nigeria, even ahead of the June 2015 deadline stipulated by the

International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

He was not alone on this optimism, but alas, 2017 has still not seen the dream of migration from

analogue to digital broadcasting come true in Nigeria.

Governments after, both in the Commission and in the federal level, the dream has shifted to a new

date, June 20, 2017. But the challenges that forced the Commission to eat up its own words seem

not to have been addressed, thereby making the new deadline seem like a mirage.

Just four months to the deadline for countries that are yet to migrate onto the digital platform in

broadcasting to wrap up and do so, Nigeria is having yet another scrub with funding, threatening to

stall the migration process.

Of course, digital broadcasting has started in Nigeria, especially with satellite/cable operators such

as Startimes, ACTv, DSTV among others. But the country is still largely on free-to- air analogue

television, making it the country with the highest terrestrial television viewership in sub-Saharan

Africa, according to ITU. In our Cover Story, CHIDIEBERE NWANKWO looks at the journey so far and

hurdles that must be crossed to meet the set target of June 20, 2017.

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INTRODUCTION

Broadcast Digitization simply means the ways we are using digital technology today to make

broadcasting more efficient. To the consumer it means better quality television, better sound, better

pictures and more channels, but to the people in the electronics markets, for them to understand

that the old TV sets will require Set Top Boxes or a converter to convert analogue to digital signals;

for them it simply means good business, because beyond selling TV sets they will also be selling set

up boxes as well. But for government, it means better use of the broadcast spectrum and other

spectrum leading to what is always described as the digital dividend. It is by and large going to affect

everyone positively, that is why every nation under the auspices of ITU tried very hard to get to the

point leading to the switch off of analogue broadcasting.

According to a report by Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB), a not-for- profit organisation that develops

technical standards for digital TV, the main goal to be achieved by countries is analogue switch-off

(ASO). It noted that many countries proudly announce the launch of their digital TV services, but

they frequently have very vague plans about analogue switch-off (ASO)

It further explains that digital TV networks are much cheaper to run than analogue networks,

therefore if ASO is not achieved quickly, broadcasters have to pay for years of continued

simulcasting, running parallel analogue and digital networks.

According to DVB, consumers are attracted by the prospect of more services, even if they only watch

a few of the available channels, so they will not adopt digital TV if it simply replicates the analogue

TV services.

Presenting a paper on the challenges ahead at a forum, Chairman, DVB, Philip Laven noted that it is

imperative to get people to adopt digital TV through the purchase of new equipment, which could

be the Set-Top Box or new integrated digital TV sets.

Further noting that the analogue service cannot be switched off until 99 percent of the consumers

have changed to digital, he said the next challenge will be to persuade everybody to stop using

analogue TV. “It is easy to convert 50% of homes to digital, but the last 50% are much more difficult.

This process can take years.”

Analogue switch-off has been achieved in Europe, USA & Canada, Japan and South Korea. In 2005,

the European Commission proposed the beginning of 2012 as the deadline for analogue TV switch-

off (ASO) throughout the European Union. 22 of the 27 EU Member States achieved ASO by the end

of 2012.

It took the United Kingdom a period of 14 years to move from the start of its DTT process to ASO,

between 1998 and 2012. Some other European countries achieved it with less timeline. Belgium (8

years – 2002-2010); Denmark (3 years – 2006-2009); Norway (2 years – 2007-2009) and France (6

years – 2005-2011).

In Africa, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania have already completed their

switch-over process.

Digital TV offers many benefits for broadcasters, network operators, spectrum regulators and

consumers. Introducing digital TV is easy, but switching off analogue TV can be much more difficult.

Experience around the world shows that analogue switch-off needs to be carefully planned.

Consumers need to understand what ASO will mean to them , and what they need to do. A

comprehensive publicity campaign must involve broadcasters, network operators, governments,

manufacturers and retailers

“Digital has started in Nigeria especially given what Startimes has done, what DSTV has done and a

few of our other cable operators in the last few years running on digital but I think the point is how

do we get to the point where we switch off all analogue transmitters in the country and move

everyone to digital?” Again, the former D- G of the NBC asked the right question rhetorically.

In Nigeria, New pay TV operators have started transmission using the Digital Terrestrial Transmission

(DTT) technology and satellite television broadcast.

But despite these efforts by Startimes, GOtv and the others, digital penetration is still less than 30

per cent of the existing TV household. This invariably means that if the country switches off analogue

on June 20, 2017, about 70% of Nigerians may not have access to quality television signal the next

morning.

Mba further evaluates the needs: “Funding for set up boxes, building platforms, the network

infrastructure is extremely expensive and for a country like Nigeria you will probably need in excess

of 400 transmitters across the country to ensure that the digital terrestrial television signals are

everywhere to reach at least 90 per cent of the population. Each tower cost some good millions and

then set up boxes for close to 30 million TV households in Nigerians at a price point that will make

people switch to digital.”

According to the NBC and Digiteam, the body responsible for managing digital switchover in Nigeria,

the migration from analogue to digital television signal in Nigeria will cost the country about N60

billion (about US$370 million using the then exchange rate of about N163/$).

The pilot project was launched in Jos in April 2016 and Abuja DSO came live in late December of the

am year. At the Abuja launch, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by Vice

President Yemi Osinbajo, said his government is irreversibly committed to meeting the June 2017

deadline for digital switchover (DSO) from analogue.

Also, the Director General of NBC, Modibbo Kawu, said the commission is working assiduously to

achieve digital switchover nationwide by June 2017.

He observed that the Abuja DSO has achieved tremendous success three weeks after its launch has

over 100, 000 setup boxes in various homes.

WAVERING GOALPOST

Thrice now, the goalpost for migration had been shifted – The International Telecommunications

Union (ITU), in 2006, initiated a treaty at the end of its Regional Radio-communication Conference

(RRC-06) in Geneva, which heralded development of digital terrestrial broadcast services for sound

and television. The treaty which was signed by Nigeria and other countries of the world agreed to

global migration of broadcast signals from analogue to digital by June 17, 2015. However, Nigeria, in

order to beat the set deadline pegged a national target date of June 17, 2012 as its analogue switch

off date. But 2 months to the deadline, the Ministry of Information withdrew it and re-announced

January 1, 2015 as deadline. But according to Emeka Mba, the deadline is not the paramount issue,

but getting it right. Therefore a few months to the January deadline, Nigeria decided to go with the

global migration deadline of June 17, 2015

Although the Geneva 2006 Agreement set June 17, 2015 as the deadline for migration, after which

countries that have digitalised their broadcast technology will not be required to protect bordering

countries still using analogue technology for television transmission against interference, Nigeria’s

setting of June 17, 2012 as the analogue switch off date was to ensure that the country stayed ahead

of the ITU deadline.

In a bid to make the 2012 migration date realistic, the federal government had in 2008 inaugurated a

Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.

Despite this plan, Nigeria missed its set date, and subsequently chose January 1, 2015 as a new

target, just five months ahead of the global switch off date.

The country also could not meet up with the target date, as it also missed out on the ITU deadline of

June 2015.

However, Nigeria, with some other countries, appealed to the ITU to extend the deadline citing

economic instability as a reason. This was considered by the ITU and the current date of June 20,

2017 was finally set as the new deadline.

The disappointments were attributed to lack of funding from the federal government; a situation

that seems to be holding the transition down still.

IMPLICATIONS

The implication of not latching onto the digital directive is that assuming all neighbouring countries

have gone digital and Nigeria didn’t go digital, what this would mean in practical terms is that the

country might be facing signal interference because while bordering countries will be transmitting

under the new digital signal frequency, Nigeria will still be transmitting the less powerful analogue

mode of transmission.

The implication is that international TV content cannot be enjoyed by any country that is yet to

migrate due to its digitalised nature, especially in situations where consumers in the country are not

using integrated digital tuner, IDTV (or Set-Top Box) as receptor. Again, signal interference from

digitalised signals coming from neighbouring nations are imminent. This means that in countries that

still use analogue transmission technology, their viewer content might just remain local.

CHALLENGES

One of the big challenges facing the NBC, is that of mass sensitization. Till date, the issue of TV

digitisation is still a new thing to the Nigeria public. Most of them, despite media news reports, have

not heard about the NBC pursuit of digitisation. These are the people that are meant to benefit from

the process. The true meaning of digitisation and the difference in TV experience is lost to them.

Adequate sensitisation campaign needs to be embarked upon by the federal government to let

Nigerians know the need for broadcast digitisation, the process and the workings of the Set Top Box.

International experience has shown that two of the key factors critical to the success of digital

migration are (i) consumer awareness and (ii) availability of affordable set top boxes

Investigations show that many household television users in the country are unaware of the

imminent change and are therefore not prepared for the new system. Consumer awareness is a

major critical success factor in the digital migration process. It is critical to educate people about the

impending migration process, how it will impact them, and the steps they will need to take to ensure

that they acquire a set top box (through government subsidies, if eligible, or through their own

means) and are able to access DTT.

Whereas some stakeholders maintain that the challenge is in waiting for Federal Government’s

disbursement of required fund through the NBC to fast-track the digitisation process, especially in

mobilising the STB manufacturers, the NBC has denied this, stating that the manufacturers have

been directed to prove the availability of the boxes before money could be paid.

According to a report quoting the Director General of the NBC, Mr Modibo Kawu: "It is true that we

have not paid the manufacturers. We have to be sure there was adequate delivery of the boxes to

Nigerians before payment can be made. They are many, so we could not begin to pay the

manufacturers without ascertaining the level of compliance in the distribution of the boxes. We have

to make sure that they have brought in the boxes and get them distributed. For us, payment is not a

problem at all. The money has been given to us by government. There are procedures to follow

before payment can be made”. He insisted that the country will not fail to meet the new deadline of

June 20, 2017.

Set-Top Box Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (STBMAN) President, Godfrey Ohuabunwa, had in

a statement called on the NBC to release funding to facilitate the manufacture and distribution of

the STB in the Nigeria will still make the deadline for migration. According to him, manufacturing of

STB Electronics requires several components and parts that are made by different vendors and

OEMs. Some of these parts, especially the Chipset, which is the core of the STB, need a timeline of

about 16 weeks to order and be delivered from different vendors. After which the assemblage,

testing and distribution will take place.

He further noted: "Considering how important set top boxes are to the whole process and the

commitment the manufacturers have shown all through, the government ought to have paid us

before now, to ensure a smooth transition. Even the signal carriers by now should have set up their

networks across the country.”

Former Director General of the NBC, Emeka Mba had envisaged these challenges.

As he noted: “Funding for set up boxes, building platforms, the network infrastructure is extremely

expensive and for a country like Nigeria you will probably need in excess of 400 transmitters across

the country to ensure that the digital terrestrial television (DTT) signals are everywhere to reach at

least 90% of the population. Each tower cost some good millions and then set up boxes for close to

30 million TV households in Nigerians at a price point that will make people switch to digital.”

He had posited that the focus should rather be in ensuring that these infrastructure are in place,

rather than set a race for meeting the deadline. He opined that there was a need to release funding,

which will accelerate the process, rather than focus on the timeline.

In canvassing for funding and early start of the process while the federal government was dilly-

dallying in releasing funds, the NBC had struck a controversial deal with telecommunication

operator, MTN, granting it a licence to operate on the 700MHz spectrum. The controversial sale of

the spectrum was seen as a breach in licencing process by some stakeholders, but was a stopgap for

the funding need of the NBC.

“We were given the approval to license an operator to use it to provide digital broadcasting services

on that portion of that spectrum, and then we can raise money to drive the process. We got the

approval, went through the process and we issued the license to one of the Telcos; MTN precisely

was awarded the license to provide converged broadcasting services. That gave us N34billion and we

are still short of about N20 billion but it is a good start, that will help us kick start the process, launch

the platform and begin the build out of infrastructure whilst we look for creative ways of raising

more money,” Mba explained.

He continued: “We said 2012, there was no budget; we said 2015, and there was no budget. It is

only now, because of what we did to raise money, that we can tell you with some element of

confidence that yes we believe that 2017 is possible given the resources that are available to the

Commission now.

In addition to Signal Distribution, Set Top Boxes (STB) was identified as critical components of the

transition to digital broadcasting. It was estimated that 30 million STBs will be needed for the

Nigerian market. As such, the Federal Government, in its bid to promote local industry and create

Jobs, through the NBC, issued licenses to 13 indigenous companies to locally manufacture Set Top

Boxes. Ten million of the STBs were proposed by Government white paper to be subsidized for

identified poor households all over the country.

For the cost of the STB, the NBC is looking at a price point which is not above N1,500, this is in line

with government’s approval of a rebate system that will ensure that households were not burdened

by the cost of the STB. However, at the time of estimation, the cost of producing a Set Top Box was

put at about $30 to $35, while exchange rate was about N250/$. The government also approved free

STBs to certain groups of people that will be defined clearly and can be auditable.

However, Mba summarised the procedural challenges thus: “Digitization is expensive. For instance I

talked about publicity, publicity is not cheap. You are going to have to do this for the 747 LGAs in the

country, you have to drive the process, and you are going to have the set up boxes for the 30million

TV household in Nigeria. If you do the math given the average cost of the set up boxes at about $35

or there about, it is about $350milliion, which is way above what we have at the moment. We are

going to have to also buy back the transmitters from the existing analogue broadcasters, you are

going to dismantle those transmitters and dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. You

are going to have to conduct different trials and tests; coverage planning tests, digital mapping.

There is a lot of work involved in this. The legal aspect, legislative aspect, drafting the new laws,

stakeholders management; there are all kinds of issues involved but the major aspect is the

consumer end, that is making sure that the consumers have access to the set up boxes, building the

infrastructure and supporting the guys who are going to build the infrastructure, creating some kind

of system. Now there is a bit of latency in the way the broadcasting market operates, going digital

means there is going to be more channels, which means the signal distributors are tasked with the

responsibility of rolling out their infrastructure and they have to roll out infrastructure across the

country to meet at least 90% of the population, there is not enough television channels to pay for

the investment that the signal distributors are making or will be required to make so the regulator

needs to sort of come to meet each party half way otherwise signal distributors will be charging an

amount of money which will be astronomical, which content of the channels will not be able to

afford. Therefore, if they feel the channels will not be able to afford it, the signal distributors may

not make the necessary investments.”

BROADCASTING WITH CONTENT

Whereas the federal government is in a race to meet deadlines, there is a challenge for the

indigenous television stations to rise to the call to migrate. However industry watchers note that

there seem to be little or no activity in that direction by operators of TV stations in Nigeria. While a

few of the stations that have international reach are trying to be globally competitive and ready to

latch onto the opportunity presented by the migration in Nigeria, the issue do not appear on the

agenda of Board meeting in most of the stations.

According to ace broadcaster and former General Manager of Wave FM, Port Harcourt, who is also

Founder of Woman of Substance (WOS) Television, Ify (Onyegbule) George Anderson: “When you

look at the owners of television stations in Nigeria, you can count at the tip of your fingers the

owners who are ready, who are true professionals, who really know what it takes. For instance,

channels Television is one that you can look up to, the man who chairs that station, now has

something to do with BON. So someone like that can say this is what I am going to do on my own

part. You (Station Management) can’t just wake up on your own one day and say you want to do

this.”

She noted that the consciousness is yet to be felt by most media organisations who are meant to

broadcast digital content to the public. “As it is today, they are just sitting down and doing their jobs,

they don’t even talk about it. Everybody is waiting for the deadline, and until something happens,

even if it means that they are going to be cut off, Nigerians don’t get up to responsibility. We cannot

continue to wait for the deadline before we do what is right.”

She however pointed out that while it is possible to achieve the new deadline of June 20, 2017, lack

of preparedness on the part of media organisations will only hurt their business.

“It is possible if the right indices are in place; if you have the right people; if you have the cash. But I

wonder why a country like Nigeria, which is blessed with abundant human and natural resources will

say that it is finance that is holding it back. Stations are ready. It is simple, it is either you are ready

to move from analogue to digital, or you are out of business. It is as simple as that.”

On content, Mrs Anderson opined: “Now you are going to see Nigerians show their real colours, do

you have content, are you able to create content, or you are just going to play music, or have

presenters who will just sit and talk? So, until they do what is right, go ahead with it, wake up

stations that are not ready, then we can wake up.”

Mrs Anderson noted that while the government should be busy getting the infrastructure, which

includes powers, ready and setting up state-owned stations as model stations, private-owned

television stations should start developing content and putting things in place for the eventual

migration. In her words: “If you don’t have content, I wonder what you are doing with the channel.

There will be challenges, if you cannot weather the storm, it is a natural thing that you go under. It is

a sad reality and we need to wake up to it.”

She continues: “Who will want to listen to you if there are interferences in your broadcast? The

benefit of digitisation is more. I know that the challenge battling this in Nigeria and other African

countries is money. But you can’t be a private organisation and you are waiting for government to

come and give you money to move from analogue to digital.”

She implored on TV broadcast stations to utilise the freedom given in adoption. “Because for now

there is nothing that says that if you have not digitalised, while you are on air something can just

happen and they will go off-air.

Chief Executive Officer of the Direct-to- Home (DTH) service, Godfrey Orkeh disclosed that ACTV, in

the bid to infuse local content into its programming introduced eight own channels geared at

meeting local content demand. These channels include the Rana, Ibile, Oji and Area, which will air

Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo and Pidgin English programming respectively.

The government had announced its intention to introduce content access fees, where viewers will

have to pay a fee to access digital terrestrial television. It anticipates that this will be accompanied

by a more effective fee collection process, and will provide the funds for Nigerian broadcasters to

produce local content. The NBC states that high-quality local content will be central to the success of

digital television in Nigeria.

CONCLUSION

In large countries, where demand for terrestrial television is strong, digital switchover is a long and

complex process. In such cases, it is important to involve stakeholders throughout the process, and

to implement an information campaign promoting the availability of free-to- air digital terrestrial

television. Ensuring that set-top boxes are available and affordable and are also key factors in

making sure that viewers are able to access the new services. The difficulty of the task may prevent

some of these countries from meeting the June 20, 2017 deadline for analogue switch-off.

Digital broadcasting will improve the consumers' TV experience in terms of better sound and picture

quality. This has to be done so that the NBC can also free up space in the frequency spectrum that

can be put into better use, such as provision of other ICT services.

The true picture seems to be saying, a lot still remains to be done to meet this set deadline, all hands

must therefore be on deck to make this work.

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