Nigeria progresses towards completing the switch from analogue to free digital TV

 

Nigeria’s television and broadcasting industry is about to undergo dramatic changes, as the government oversees the process of migrating broadcasting from analogue to digital. While several countries in Africa have switched off their analogue signal, Nigeria is set to become the first country on the continent to transition from analogue to free digital TV. This presents authorities with significant challenges, but also has the potential to substantially benefit the industry.

MIGRATION: The move towards digital broadcasting has been a long one. In the past the country has set a number of targets for digital migration that have been missed, with the government failing to meet its most recent goal of switching off the analogue signal by June 2017. However, there has been significant progress in the latest effort to implement digital broadcasting. “We have put in place all the necessary infrastructure for the digital switchover,” Armstrong Idachaba, director of the Director-General’s Office at the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), told OBG.

UPGRADE IN SERVICE: Indeed, the NBC has already overseen the implementation of digital TV in the Federal Capital Territory, and has expressed satisfaction with the results. The government is using a similar model to the UK’s freeview system, whereby viewers will be able to buy a digital box at a subsidised rate of N1500 ($5.30) and access content through the payment of a N1000 ($3.53) annual licence fee. The viewer will then be able to access 30 channels of free content through the digital box. Some 200,000 digital boxes had been distributed in Abuja by the end of 2016, with the NBC stating that a further 450,000 would be dispatched at distribution centres. “Digital boxes in the cities are being snapped up straight away,” Idachaba told OBG.

The commission began to roll out the scheme in six more states in July 2017: Enugu, in the south-east; Kaduna, in the north-west; Gombe, in the north-east; Kwara, in the central-north; Delta, in the south; and Osun, in the south-west. As such, digital services will soon have broad geographic coverage. The switch-off of the analogue signal will occur gradually as digitisation begins to cover more areas of the country. The complete shut-off will take place when 96-98% of the population have migrated to digital.

KNOCK-ON EFFECTS: The digital switch-over process has the potential to bring a raft of benefits to the country. For instance, the box manufacturing – which is being completed domestically – will serve as a notable generator of employment. By December 2016 digital box production had already created 26,000 jobs, according to local media reports.

Furthermore, the analogue switch-off will free up spectrum for more telecommunications services. “Using the TV white space will be an important policy for the government. We know the telecoms companies are eager to have these spaces,” Idachaba told OBG. Indeed, 16 digital channels can use the same space as a single analogue channel, and the government is expecting to free up spectrum with a value of approximately $1bn for the use of telecommunications companies.

The revenue from this process will partly be used to install transmission infrastructure and subsidise the digital boxes. The remaining revenue is expected to be used for budgetary shortfalls. However, given the economic difficulties facing the country, the current formula could be altered. “How much the government can subsidise in a constrained economy is something that we’re thinking about,” Idachaba added.

CONTENT DEVELOPMENT: Nevertheless, the switch to digital is likely to provide a great opportunity for domestic content providers. The NBC has announced that the N1000 ($3.53) licensing fee will be used to help create a Digital Access Fund, which will help finance and fund content developers across the country. As a result, the switchover should provide a significant boost to the country’s television and entertainment industry, creating additional venues and funds for content, while also offering more choice to consumers.

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