By Muhammed Mubarak Alabi
When you mention Digital Switch Over technology, the average Nigerian is most likely to conclude that it starts and ends with transition from analogue to digital broadcasting, unaware of the inherent business opportunities for economic growth and development.
The DSO project gained so much attention that when Nigeria migrated from analogue to digital broadcasting, the nation literally stood still to witness the birth of a new broadcasting template for the country.
The project which has been on the drawing board since 2007, finally saw the light of day in April 2016, with the commissioning of the Jos pilot site by the Federal Government. The Ilorin, Kaduna and Oshogbo sites are functional and also awaiting official commissioning.
Between 2007 and 2017 the project went through various stages of gestation with experts in broadcasting and engineering brain storming on the form, sustainability, viability and economic prospects for the country when it comes on stream.
Determined to meet the deadline and keep Nigerians within the internationally mandated analogue switch off date (June 17, 2015 for UHF and June 17, 2020 for VHF), the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua government set the machinery in motion. It put together a team of experts in broadcasting to draw up template that will engender best practices in the sector for Nigeria.
President Yar’Adua, following his approval of transition from analogue to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in Nigeria, effective from June 17, 2012 as required by the International Telecommunication Union ITU, setup the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in Nigeria.
The committee, among others, was charged to recommend to government a policy on digital terrestrial broadcasting, using global best practices.
By June 20, 2009, the committee had finished its work and submitted its final report to government. Following the approval of government, a white paper drafting committee compromising officials in the Federal Ministry of Information, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), etc. was set up.
The committee made a wide range of recommendations, particularly part 11 paragraph 2(d) and part 12(2), allowing use of key infrastructure in broadcasting organizations like Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), and Voice of Nigeria (VON) as backbone. By this, engineers and other experts in these broadcast institutions were expected to ensure, using their expertise, that these legacy infrastructure were made compliant with standards obtainable in the world of digital broadcasting
Another recommendation in the white paper is the one that had to do with the unbundling of NTA into private/commercial entities and another one on ownership structure for the sister company, Integrated Television Services (ITS) that was created there from. As a result of the unbundling, the ITS was thus birthed and allowed to function as a commercial entity. Specifically, ITS is charged with the distribution of signals of all broadcast stations under the digitization switch over arrangement and to roll out the process using the old infrastructure in the existing broadcast institutions in Nigeria. The success story of migration from analogue to digital is an outstanding performance by the ITS engineers, who together with their colleagues in government broadcast institutions set a new template in digital broadcasting in Nigeria.
Similarly, the white paper contained several other recommendations that encourage private investors to have a fair share of the opportunities that come with the digitization project with the expectation that Nigerians will take advantage of these policies to invest in the broadcast sector.
These include liberalisation of the sector by allowing local entrepreneurs to buy into the production of component part like the Set To Boxes, with between 3-5 years tax holiday. But it appears that only very few investors have keyed into this, thereby allowing for monopoly and domination by the few individuals who are now positioned to corner the huge economic benefits accruing therefrom. Of the thirteen initial licensed STB manufacturers, only seven had followed the initial concept of increasing local content and technology transfer envisaged in the process. Perhaps the initial lure to be in the business was the government’s subvention that was there for the taking. With no subvention, only genuine investors and manufacturers will take up the challenge.
The vast opportunities that accrue to investors in the Digital Switch Over (DSO) project are huge considering that, Broadcast Signal Distributors alone would build sites in their hundreds, and an average of 200,000 TV households would need to have eyeballs glued to transmissions from these sites. To further boost private sector participation, government also accepted recommendation to liberalise licensing procedure for entrepreneurs who wish to invest in other component parts like the STBs and monitoring devices and gadgets.
The multiplier effect of these policies for any local manufacturer that keys into the industry could translate into millions of dollars in earnings in addition to tax holidays as incentives for them.
With the DSO, government has actually expanded the space for business opportunities in the broadcast sector for Nigerians and for government too, through which it hopes to increase its source of revenue from earnings from investors and end users.
For instance, a company that secures the license to produce any component of the transmission gadget is not only tapping into a gold mine, considering the number of end users across more than 150 million potential subscribers, government has in addition put in place, measures in the DSO that will guarantee the safety of investments, so as to enhance sustainability.
Therefore Nigerians with business ideas have a lot to gain by tapping into these windows of opportunity for national economic growth and development.
These type of businesses are technical and may be new to potential investors, for it requires competence and knowledge in the vast broadcast/telecommunication sector more so in content provision. It is said that content is king, producers and executive producers are thus the king makers while artists are the queens. The ripple effect and employment and entrepreneurial opportunities that the new digital eco-system portends are enormous and must be fully explored and utilized, as it holds out promise for investors who are prepared to operate in the very healthy, but competitive business environment that has thus been created by government.
The government’s broadcast signal distributor is fulfilling its obligation to the viewership and content providers alike. Its platform development is progressing across the nooks and cranny of Nigeria. It is also upholding governments’ objective of bringing digital dividend to the people. It however must become more visible and bullish in its approach to business. The thrill has just began. We are in for a treat.
Alabi, a public affairs analyst, is a member of Progressive Solidarity Forum