SWITCHING TO THE FAST LANE

Nigeria 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: DIGITAL SWITCHOVER

In Geneva, back in 2006, Nigeria signed an agreement that 10 years later has finally become relevant to the digital landscape.

As a signatory of the International Broadcast Union Agreement, Nigeria had made the commitment to ensure the transition from analog to digital broadcasting. April 2015 marked the inauguration of the pilot phase of Nigeria's Digital Switch Over (DSO).

For many years, the digitalization of Nigerian broadcasting had fallen pray to poorly managed expectations and planning. Previous administrations had already missed the transition deadline twice, citing issues acquiring the necessary hardware and software for the execution of the transition and failing to meet the required digital security requirements. What followed were letters of credit for the import of set-top boxes being cancelled by banks in the middle of the confusion, and Nigeria seemed to be on its way to miss, for a third time, the imposed June 2017 deadline to leave the analog world behind and switch to digital broadcasting.

In a concerted effort to comply with its obligations, as well as with technological standards, the Buhari government decided to tackle this responsibility once and for all. An inter-ministerial effort then put in motion a task force lead by the Ministry of Information and Culture in order to boost Nigeria's transition into digital broadcasting and regain the confidence of investors and the public in the DSO.

The DSO represents a complete restructuring of the broadcasting industry in Nigeria. The nation's media landscape is set to be transformed, while the way television is developed and produced will adapt to a new delivery system for the general public. According to Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, the digital rollout represents, “a new dawn that will revolutionize television broadcasting in the entire West African sub-region.”

At the same time, this revolution will also have a positive impact on the employment of Nigerian telecoms experts, creating 10,000 jobs for technicians and 5,000 for engineers in charge of the development, setup, and maintenance of the set-top boxes. During the pilot stage, which is taking place in the city of Jos, the Federal government will be distributing 200,000 units during the first phase of the project and will later require 30 million boxes for the entire country once the DSO picks up speed.

After importing the first batch of boxes, the government has mandated all licensed set-top box manufacturers to establish manufacturing companies and lines within Nigeria in order to produce the units domestically. A total of 13 of these firms have already established factories in Calabar and Port Harcourt and are ready to begin production, injecting at least 2,000 more jobs into the industry. The potential positive spillover effect that the DSO has on employment will also benefit retailers and installers across the country, having a massive impact on the local economy, putting Nigeria in a position to think about exporting the technology and hardware to other West African countries once the infrastructure and logistics are in place.

The digitalization of Nigerian broadcasting, even with its difficulties, offers a colossal free-to-air TV market with over 30 million potential viewers. The digital broadcasting experience also opens a full new range of business possibilities to be explored, apart from the delivery of TV programming, as interactive services such Electronic Program Guides (EPG), television shopping, as well as movies and music on-demand will be available to customers across the country. With this in mind, the development of compelling digital-TV content will be paramount in the industry's efforts to fight piracy more effectively, as well as attracting more viewers and advertisers alike.