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Good news for NTA, bad news for deregulated broadcasting

By Amenawon Osademen
THERE  was good news  for the broadcast industry last Week. Greater news for the Nigerian Television Authority as the Federal Government eventually announced plans to putting the self-acclaimed largest network on the Africa continent on a proper footing to meeting the digital switch over deadline which the country has planned for 2012.

Minister of Communications
Minister of Communications

Rising from the Federal Executive Council meeting, the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof Dora Akunyili, announced that the Council has approved the sum of N8, 202,077,908.86 for Messrs WTS-Sony to upgrade the facilities of the broadcast Network.

But of this sum, NTA is expected to self-finance the project with N1,230,311,686.25 through internally generated revenue and the rest will be vendor financing while the entire amount will be paid back in 24 months with a three month moratorium.

However, this upgrade seems to be for the wrong reasons. For instance, the Minister told the media that the contract was for the upgrade and renovation of broadcast equipment for FIFA World Youth Championship (NIGERIA 2009).

In providing further explanations, the Minister said, “gentlemen of the press, you all know that FIFA Under-17 Football competition is scheduled to take place in Nigeria in October 2009.

It is customary that government-owned media be the host broadcast station (just like South African Broadcasting Corporation is the official broadcast station of the FIFA 2010 World Cup, and BBC is the official station for the 2012 Olympic Games, etc), to protect national pride as well as for security reasons. NTA, being the government-owned broadcast station is expected to be the Host broadcast station of the competition. NTA had in the past hosted similar events such as FESTAC 77; 1980 Cup of Nations; 1999 FIFA Under-20 World Cup Football Competition; Ghana/Nigeria 2000 Africa Nations Cup, and the 8th All Africa Games.”

This statement has been interpreted by industry experts to mean that private operators have no reasons to dream big and that those currently doing so should fall into a hypnotic slumber instead of moving in the pace of broadcasting developments in the world.

The implication is that the statement could pitch operators, government broadcast operators and government itself against each other and eventually completely paralyse the entire deregulated broadcast industry.

Meanwhile, the contract details, according to Akunyili, include: upgrading and refurbishment of six  Outside Broadcast (OB) vans from Standard Definition (SD) to High Definition (HD); upgrading and refurbishment of International Broadcast Centre (IBC) from Standard Definition (SD) to High Definition (HD); supply of six Flyaway kits; upgrading and refurbishment of 9-metre Satellite Hub at the National Stadium, Abuja.

Perhaps, President Yar’Adua may have bought into the perceived emotions of those with excited interest in pushing the project, that he gave the go-ahead for the deal.

However, for the full understanding of the unfolding scenario, one needs to recall a couple of months, when a former Minister of Sports informed FIFA that Nigeria was no longer interested in the event because of the great burden of the huge budget by the Local Organising Committee.

That singular statement got Nigerians outraged but quickly, the  private broadcast sector rose up to agree they could take the broadcast bill away so that the government could handle the rest and save face before the international community.  That was the tonic the government needed to call FIFA back and gave series of guarantees.

That is also why industry watchers believe that the present setting may have confined the efforts of the private broadcasters to the dust.

Another issue that is causing the industry some migraine is that equipment suppliers, WTS -Sony have promised to deliver in three months. Meanwhile as July winds up tomorrow, and the event holds October, it means that the equipments would either be landing when the event has already started or has gone half way.

Perhaps, much of what it takes and how long it takes to configure a 26-camera shoot OB van, was not taken into consideration.

Yet, it was surprising that only WTS-Sony got the deal. But the Minister justified her actions.  “It is important to note that the standard and quality of broadcast equipment required for professional coverage of such international championship are neither sourced from the open market nor on the shelf. They are design and application specific and require time to produce. This informed NTA’s decision to adopt an open but selective process which enabled them deal directly with notable manufacturers or their authorized representatives,” .

Akunyili also listed  various events that NTA had hosted but however, did not say how much of those equipment were still available. Meanwhile, Vanguard gathered that much of these equipment may no longer be accounted for.

Some of the notable industry stakeholders who spoke to Vanguard on the issue, say that packaging huge contracts was actually only the beginning of being host broadcaster, as other communication needs were equally as significant and should bother those who are working towards Nigeria 09 instead of working towards the broadcast digital switch over of 2012.


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