Today — Jan 15, 2015 — a date Nigeria set as her own deadline for digital switchover, her citizens don’t even know what it’s all about
By Adekunle Adekoya, General Editor
TODAY is January 15, the date initially set as deadline by the Federal Government for switchover from the analogue format of broadcasting to the digital platform. Though the deadline is no more realistic, not many Nigerians know fully well what the whole thing is about.
Baba Bassey, an okada rider in Lagos who hails from Akwa Ibom, when asked how prepared he is for the digital switchover, exclaimed: “What is that?”
After explanations that from June 17 this year, he will no longer be able to see his usual TV stations unless he buys a set top box (decoder), he exclaimed:
“You mean we poor people can’t watch TV anymore? That will be very bad! Where are the decoders? What type of decoders are you talking about? How much will it cost? Is it government that will sell to us, or we go and buy from places like Alaba (electronics market)?”
Wasiu, a vulcanizer, is not much in a better position than Baba Bassey, though he also had questions.
“Why do I need a decoder? In this country everything is always against the poor man. As it is, we just buy our TV sets, buy antennae, connect and tune. Then the stations, like AIT, Silverbird, Channels, LTV and the rest just come in. Are you saying that will no longer be possible?”
After reassurance that these will still be possible, but with decoders, pictures and sound will be clearer, and static will be a thing of the past, Wasiu relaxed, and disclosed that only last month, he started subscribing to a pay-TV service.
Baba Bassey, the motorcycle rider, and Wasiu the vulcaniser are examples of ordinary Nigerians who don’t know what is going on regarding digital migration.
Even educated Nigerians are pretty much in the dark about it. Vince Akinale, a media operator said he had heard about it, and also read reports of it in some newspapers, but beyond that, not much of it makes sense to him. So also said Tunde McCarthy, a school teacher, and Adebayo Rotimi, an official of a federal parastatal.
Ms Juliet Omeruonye, a resident of Egbe and property dealer who counts media professionals and educators among her friends is also not aware of impending changes from analogue to digital broadcasting.
When told of what the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will enforce, come June 17 this year, she simply said, “na waa oh!” Then she added:
“They are going to make money from this thing. It is all about money, you will see.”
Asked to explain further, Ms Omeruonye said: “Don’t you understand? Now that everyone who owns a TV set has to buy decoders, somebody will have to import them, and distribute for sale. Can you guess how many decoders the whole of Nigeria will need? Do you know the price they will set for it? I can bet you, some people are going to become multi-millionaires over this thing alone!”
Indeed, Baba Bassey had expressed similar fears about the decoders, or set top boxes.
“Will the decoders be available? You know our people. Even if government imports it, some people will find a way to hoard it so that the price will go up and they will make easy money from it. Poor man is in trouble in this country.”
However, Innocent, a resident of Ijegun in Alimosho area of Lagos said he heard about digital switchover in Ghana.
“I am a transporter. I drive people and goods across the border to Ghana, and it was there I heard about this thing. Over there, they are selling decoders to people, and they are not the type of decoders that you need to recharge like the pay-TV ones. It was from there that I knew about this thing you are talking about. They have told their people about it there, but here, no information.”
Innocent’s position was corroborated by Sunday Akara, another driver who moves people to other West coast cities like Lome, Cotonou, Accra, from Mile 2 in Lagos.
“I heard about it in Accra. All over there, the people are aware of this thing, but I don’t know what is going on here. Maybe we are not part of it.”
But we are part of it. In fact, government had set up a team to oversee the nation’s transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. Last December, chairman of the committee, also called “Digi Team”, Engineer Edward Amana, said on an NTA programme monitored in Lagos that challenges notwithstanding, the nation must implement the digital switchover.
“We have to, because there are so many implications of not being able to switchover. We will become an island on our own. We cannot get protection from our neighbouring countries who have already gone digital. Apart from that, after the transition, the analogue equipment becomes obsolete. To maintain the equipment it becomes extremely expensive. We are setting a target for ourselves to transit by 15th of January.
However, we are going to transit in phases. What we are going to do is take the major cities first and move to the rural areas. We will probably start with Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano, Kaduna during the phase one. In phase two, we will move to other cities till we go round. As we move from cities to others, we can learn from the mistakes and correct ourselves. That way, we will be able to fast_track our transition.”
Why digital format?
Unrelenting advances in technology, evident in so many areas of everyday life, is responsible for this. In the analogue format of broadcasting currently in use, whenever people switched on their TV and radio sets and searched for channels to view or listen to, often they come up with lots of static, accompanied by much noise. Frequencies allocated to stations need to have “buffers”to guard them against signal interference from other stations. Thus, Digital Terrestrial Transmission, DTT, technology came up as a way of making broadcast signals transmission and reception more efficient and precise in terms of clarity of audio and video.
It also ensures precision broadcasting. The only thing needed by the average man on the street for this is what is called a set-top box (STB). Call it decoder, if you like. Thus, from June 17, 2015, analogue signals will be switched off and nations worldwide are expected to be digital. In addition, with DTT, more stations can occupy the same frequencies than in the analogue format. Thus, a lot of frequency “space”can be freed for other uses, especially for broadband and related services.
Amana on set-top boxes
However, DigiTeam chairman, Engineer Amana, on the NTA programme referred to above, spoke further on set top boxes:
“Let me take the example of America that we are a bit familiar with; what happened then was that the government provided the basic coupons for poor families who cannot afford digital television sets or set-top boxes. The basic set-top box was about $40 when they transited in 2009. Each family was a given a coupon to buy two, amounting to $80.
“For Nigeria, what we have recommended is that from the available statistics we have 20 million (analogue) television sets in circulation and we feel that this is good market for any manufacturer to put up such business in Nigeria.
“It is a guaranteed market of 20 million; the economy of scale will bring down the prices if done locally. We recommended for incentives like giving them some tax holiday, customs duty-free for the equipment that will be used to manufacture locally. We are targeting a price tag of N2,500, which we feel should be affordable by Nigerians who have television already. So, we are not asking government to release money for subsidy or buy and give rather to create enabling environment to make it affordable. A family that can afford to buy a television set that costs over N10,000 should be able to afford a set-top box to enjoy the digital era”.
As can be seen from the foregone, many Nigerians are still unaware that they will need set-top boxes (STBs) in order to receive TV signals in the future. They also do not know why, and in addition, they do not know how much it will cost. Except segments of the population that can afford pay TV, the rest of the country is in the dark.
What is worse, the awareness problem had generated issues of its own, especially in the area of consumer protection. Despite the fact that government had opted for T-2, the broadcast regulator was indifferent as an operator, Star Times aggressively marketed T-1 boxes to unsuspecting members of the public at rock-bottom prices. For now, only pay-TV operators like Multichoice, Star Times, and others are on DTT platforms. Not many Nigerians, relative to the entire population are aware that Nigeria had opted for DTT-2 years ago.
Former director-general of the National Broadcast Commission, Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa had disclosed at the second Digital Dialogue held in Lagos that since 2008, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had approved that Nigeria should key into the digital migration process with T_2, the latest technology in digital broadcasting.
Ahead of the deadline, global pay TV leader, Multichoice undertook the initiative to sensitize the entire continent of Africa. To date it has sponsored a series of conferences, tagged Digital Dialogue, aimed at sensitizing publics in African countries of due obligations. After the first one in Johannesburg, South Africa in October 2012, Digital Dialogue talkshops have since held in Lagos, Nigeria, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and in Mauritius.
From what Amana said regarding publicity and set-top boxes, everything is still works in progress, just six months to lights out.
As the deadline approaches, pay TV operators are diversifying their offerings and marketing their products aggressively. Nigerians are buying, and the operators are happy. But at the end of the day, will Nigerians remain happy?