Many years later than planned, Nigeria has finally joined the digital broadcasting train in sample locations across the country. Since November 2017, the National Broadcasting Commission has switched on digital in four locations as part of a phased implementation. We commend the progress, even as we note that we are still very far from the goal of digital signals as the lived experience of the Nigerian television audience. We now need a timetable and roadmap for its attainment.
Nigeria has been on a journey to digital since 2006. The country failed to keep three deadlines for complying with the directive of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) asking countries to transit to digital broadcasting. Nigeria was one of the signatories to the agreement at the ITU Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, outlining the desirability and imperative of digital broadcasting.
ITU stipulated a start date of June 17, 2006 and end date of June 17, 2015.
Even so, Nigeria did not take any step until 2012 when the Federal Government issued a White Paper outlining guidelines for the process. It bluffed that Nigeria would go digital in 2012, the same year that it was just looking at the matter. Not surprisingly, it did not happen. Then Nigeria chose 2015, failed again, and thenfixed the 2017 date. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) commenced a trial in Jos in 2015 and embarked on phased implementation since 2017. Abuja, Ilorin, Kaduna and Enugu are now switched on as part of a one-state per geopolitical zone drive.
Digital broadcasting involves the use of digital signals in place of analogue ones for broadcasting over radio frequency bands. It appeals for its ability to offer more space for broadcast stations on the frequency spectrum. Digital delivers clear signals, enabling stations to offer clear sound and vivid images. It uses data compression to give the greater efficiency of the spectrum. Content providers can provide more services or a higher-quality signal than was previously available.
Digital broadcasting offers many benefits over the analogue system. It removes the constraints on maximisation of broadcasting hitherto suffered by broadcast organisations and professionals.
Digital television signals can carry extra information such as electronic programme guides, interactive programming (two-way data exchanges) and mobile reception of video, Internet and multimedia data.
NBC has been talking up the huge benefits of digitisation. According to the regulator, with digitisation, consumers would receive over 30 new free to air channels per annum for the price of a subsidised STB, as well as a host of value-added services such as news, information and video-on-demand. The economy would also benefit from the establishment of a whole new TV and content ecosystem and receive a boost of N200bn per annum from additional advertising, content and Nollywood income streams as well as the development of a high-tech STB manufacturing industry.
The additional economic impact includes projected N100bn income from spectrum sales accruing to the Government, an N30bn per annum boost from the digital dividend and thriving digital economy generating at least 55, 000 highly skilled jobs.
All of the foregoing underlines the imperative of focused and speedy implementation. While we commend the National Broadcasting Commission for the successful phased digital switch on, we note that there is still a very long and hard road ahead. Digitisation would only happen when Citizen Musa, Emeka, Taiwo or Tamuno can receive the signals in his home television set.
From the experience of digital satellite television, the Nigerian audience is alert to the promise of digital. Adoption would now depend mainly on the cost and convenience of conversion.
Analogue switch over would render existing television sets in people’s homes obsolete unless the sets are connected to an external digital tuner or converter box that can receive digital signals. Then there is the huge cost of conversion for both broadcast stations and individual home users.
We need to see a timeline for the manufacture and sale of the set-top boxes. The free to air TV stations should come online as soon as possible. What would be the fee for digital access?
Kudos to the National Broadcasting Commission for how far we have come on the journey to digitisation. As we are far behind on the schedule, however, we urge all stakeholders to rally round and hasten up. The benefits of digitisation are appealing and the Nigerian television audience deserves to join the rest of the world in enjoying it. Onward.