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‘Digitization‘ll be another revolution after GSM’

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•Bits, pieces that’ll ensure success

By Prince Osuagwu

AT last, Nigeria’s journey to digital broadcasting is finally getting clear cut. From all indications, by June 17, the country’s first switch off from analogue transmission will happen in Jos Plateau state.
This development is significant for two most important reasons; it will restore the integrity of Nigeria as a serious country, after shifting the goal post a couple of times.

The postponements may have reduced the country’s rating among world’s strong broadcast nations.
Again, the choice of Jos will portray the country as land of opportunities. Over the years, Jos has been known as a crisis prone area and the image of the city to the outside world is that of a place where no profitable business could be transacted.

Now, actualising digitization from Jos will tell the world that even in the most crisis prone areas of Nigeria, good developments, businesses and other healthy relationships still go on.
Digitization is the current trend in broadcasting, both in Nigeria and the world over. The International Telecommunication Union, ITU, set 2015 for the entire broadcasting stations in the world to go digital.
Following this directive, Nigeria set June 17, 2012 for broadcast stations in the country to be digitized. However, there were myriads of challenges and the date had to be shifted to December same year.

Unfortunately, the date, again, was not to hold. But as the leadership of the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, changed hands early last year, the new Director General, Emeka Mba, quickly organized an NBC summit in October 2013, where important roadmap was set for achieving the country’s deadline for digital switch over, DSO, by December 31 2014.
To complement the summit and ensure the roadmaps were achieved, a Digiteam was also put together to work on the modalities for a quick and efficient switch over for the country.

Having put necessary plans in place, the commission, last week, announced that, ahead of the December 31, deadline, it was commencing the switch over with a switch off of analogue broadcast transmission, June 17, in Jos.
Mba said that the choice of Jos was because of its compact nature and fair housing of numerous government-owned and privately owned broadcasting stations.

However, he was upbeat that even outside Jos, Nigeria’s switch over to digital broadcasting was going to be another major transformation in the country after the GSM revolution.
For him, “there is no doubt about the abundance of opportunities that the DSO presents for the industry and the Nigerian economy at large. It opens up huge opportunities for a wide range of new services such as more channels, better pictures and sound, High Definition HD, interactive services, deepening local production, plus the added use of the digital dividend spectrum for broadband service deployment across the country”.

He however noted that the new broadcast system will usher in varying levels of convergence, which will disrupt existing business models as far as content production, distribution and monetization is concerned and called for a greater synergy between broadcasting and telecommunications operators.
Yet Mba outlined some bits and pieces that should not be ignored for the switch over to make desired impact and hinted on how far the commission has set plans in motion to ensure they are taken care of.

If digitization will work here, immediately after the switch over, there will be no importation of analogue TVs. So to ensure that this is actualized, we have held several meetings with the Customs, TV makers and importers to ensure that this policy is well adhered to.
We are also working with the environmental Protection Agency to ensure a proper way of disposing eWaste. We are thinking of buying off both the analogue Tvs and analogue transmitters that may not be in use and properly dispose them ourselves to protect the environment.

Political coverage
The Commission is concerned about the handling of political stories by broadcasting stations.  It is important to appreciate the provisions of section 5.2 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, dealing with Political Broadcasts.  I want to particularly draw attention to Section 5.2.8:“In adherence to the principles of pluralism, equal airtime shall be provided to all political parties or views, with particular regard to the amount of time and belt, during political campaign periods.  May I also remind all broadcast stations of the provision of section 7.6.6:“The period of campaign through any broadcast media in any election by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day”.We have a 24/7 monitoring programme in place, and the Commission will not hesitate to deal adequately with anyone found wanting.

Copyright conflict
The Commission was concerned, indeed, dismayed at the hot dispute raging between broadcasters and rights owners over the payment of royalties for music and musical materials used by the broadcasters.  In order to prevent the conflict from further destabilising the industry, the Commission has taken steps to settle the dispute.

We held meeting with all parties in December 2013, called a truce between Broadcast Organisation of Nigeria, BON and Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria, IBAN are to lift their ban on some musicians, and all court cases regarding the dispute should be suspended to allow for peaceful settlement;
The Commission is in the Process of forming the Committee, which will be headed by a respected Industry player acceptable to all, to resolve the issues before the end of this quarter.
We are appealling to COSON and BON and IBAN to please cooperate with the Commission in order to put this behind us and move on.

Workshops for Broadcast Operators
The Commission is concerned about the constant sharpening of skills of the industry players in line with the professional objectives of broadcasting, which is to demand a high-level specialisation and professionalism among broadcasters.

The Commission is convinced that training and re-training of broadcasters is very important, and we call on broadcasting stations and proprietors of such stations to invest more on the training of their personnel.
On our part, we have continued to hold different types of trainings for broadcasters.  For instance, we held at least 12 workshops in 2013.  There are more in the pipeline for up-skilling the practitioners.

Encouraging digital free to air
The NBC believes strongly that it is in the general public interest for free to air digital terrestrial television to continue to grow as a vital delivery platform as it represents the highest value proposition to viewers and therefore, the Commission would take steps to ensure that we have an increase in the number of free-to-air television channels as soon as practicable to enhance the entertainment and information utility Nigerians can derive from further investment in digital terrestrial television reception systems and equipment.

Mass Orientation
Whilst a lot of attention has been paid to the technology of digital television, it is absolutely important at this point that we also focus our attention on how developments in terrestrial broadcasting technology can enhance the lives of the general public and end users. This is especially paramount in a country like Nigeria, where our citizenry face peculiar challenges arising mostly out of lack of information, necessary for development and peaceful coexistence. We are working with the National Orientation Agency to achieve this.

Meanwhile, Mba revealed that the commission was also actively working on getting signal distributors, Satellite operators on board, to kick start the new system immediately. The commission, according to him, was also working with the National Assembly to ensure passage of enabling laws that would help smooth running of digital transmission, as well as collaborations with other government agencies and relevant bodies to ensure success.
However, he appealed that every Nigerian should consider his or herself a stakeholder in the transition and help in their own ways to ensure and sustain success.

According to him, “there is nowhere in the world where the regulator alone can successfully bring about digital switch, without the help of other stakeholders. It takes the input of all stakeholders including the media. In our case we are lucky that the media understands the concept and has been of tremendous help. We want every Nigerian to key into the system” he added.
He promised that his commission was also going to embark on massive publicity to ensure that every Nigerian keyed into the system with a lot of knowledge at their disposal.


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