Do you know that the 2015 digital switch off date is a hoax? Yes, it’s a real one. Just see the facts in the next paragraph. Meanwhile Nigeria has hosted the 1st International Summit on Digital Broadcasting in the country. This summit took place on Wednesday and Thursday May the 6th and 7th respectively here in Abuja. It was an eye opener to many attendees as it was a gathering of professionals at home and abroad. They included film makers, broadcasters, engineers, advertisers and of course, many exhibitors.
It was at the summit that very many people realized that the July 1st 2015 deadline for Africa to switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting is a hoax. There is neither deadline nor dateline for this Digital Switch Over, DSO. The International Telecommunications Union, ITU, never imposed the date on Africa. Rather, African delegates to Geneva conference sat, chose and imposed the date on themselves. This revelation came from Mr Edward Idris Amana, a former Executive Director Engineering with the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, now a consultant with the ITU and currently the chairman of DigiTeam Nigeria, Nigeria’s Implementation Committee on the Transition from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting.
On her part, Nigeria thought it could beat the date by choosing, accepting and fixing January 1, 2015 as its specific and terminal date for its DSO. This is the month of May, there is no DSO in the country. Even if the entire world were to switch over come July 1st, 2015, Nigeria cannot make it. Many radio and television stations are still analogue. Transmitters are still analogue, studios are analogue, to many radio stations, some of their reporters still use cassettes to record or conduct interviews. One will not be surprised if real-to-real tapes are still in use in some stations. For many television stations, cameras studios and transmitters are analogue. One will not be amazed too, to find the array of analogue equipment some TV stations.
If therefore, there are many analogue broadcasting stations in Nigeria, it also follows that many of their workforce are analogue. Untrained staff with archaic equipment will, as expected, produced noisy, blurred not clear voices and images in the broadcasting for listeners and viewers of Nigerian broadcasting stations. Today, just listen and observe the interference from Nigerian radio and TV signals being churned out to the public no thanks to analogue broadcasting.
But why was there so many hue and cries over a date many Nigerians thought was sacrosanct? Here is a word of caution by the Director General of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN, Dr Ladan Salihu. To him, it was a coy and ploy by manufacturers of broadcasting equipment to hoodwink and stampede Africa into massively buying these equipment. He wants African nations to get these equipment at their own pace and terms. Dr Salihu feels that the DSO should be gradual and systemic to avoid what he calls “casualties along the line”. He observed that Africa does not manufacture broadcasting equipment and advised policy makers in Africa not to accept a situation where the continent is a dumping ground for all type of technologies. Uniformity in broadcast equipment will assist the continent in terms of ease in usage, spare parts availability and replacement .
The Director General of NTA and Chairman of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, organizers of the summit, Mr Sola Omole, wants government to be very proactive. This is his stand “this summit is not an isolated case in our quest to train and retrain our members, there is an ongoing discussion between the secretariat and our partner for another summit on CONTENT MANAGEMENT FOR DIGITAL BROADCASTING before the end of the year. You will recall that between 2013 and 2014 many workshops were held relating the DSO. We remain grateful for the sponsors of these workshops. We are concerned about the global coalition for the proper placement of the Public Service Broadcast Service in Nigeria which brings on board the problem of funding of government owned stations and alternative sources of funding for Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) stations in the country”.
The ace broadcaster is not done yet. Mr Omole added that “there is no way we can move forward without government action on a number of the challenges before us and such government action will also impact on the mass media policy on broadcasting in Nigeria. Whatever may be done to properly position the broadcast industry in the country will affect the future of the industry – whether the public or private broadcast stations. We sincerely hope that digitization will resolve some of these issues”.
Dr Tom Adaba 1st and former Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, was on ground at the summit. He was described as a man of many colours and rightly so too. See the reasons – he it was revealed, presented the first live programme in northern Nigeria in black and white TV set. Secondly it was under him as boss of NBC that coloured TV programming was given birth to in Nigeria. Again, Dr Adaba is also conspicuously present as the experiment of the first set-top-boxes for digital broadcasting is currently going on in Jos, the Plateau state capital. The applause was very clear for this icon.
Current DG of NBC, Mr Emeka Mba played the role of a seer at the summit as he was given the topic “the future of broadcasting in Nigeria”, to x-ray. To him, the feature is already here. NTA used to dominate the tube not now any more. Analogue must give way to digital broadcasting but devoid of mad rush. Those days, families clustered around huge morning fires against the early morning cold. Or they sat around huge fires in the evenings and shared stories. Today these have changed. The mode of communication has changed too. The social media bring the people together – face book, youtube, twitter, …the internet is joining people of different races, continents, beliefs, etc, together within the shortest time. To Mr Mba, “it therefore follows that no medium should be under the illusion of going it or doing it all alone”. He wants media stations to share stories, contents, ideas in order to move ahead in service to humanity. Professionals should visit one another look at their equipment. Things are changing to the extent that radio station produce Video On Demand because cameras are available in studios. Mba however want free –to- air Tv broadcast just like radio.
In this era of digitization, professionals were advised to run their stations as profit and loss ventures not stations of income and expenditure, if they must survive the competitive digital future of broadcasting. A peep into the future of broadcasting also reveals that old transmitters must naturally go. In fact broadcasting stations were advised to stop importing old transmitters. For the Future, broadcasting stations might not need to have their own individual transmitters. They will be provided by some agreed bodies. Broadcasting stations will just subscribe, get channels and frequencies for broadcast their programmes provided they pay for the service. Old transmitters that interfere with frequencies of digital stations will be closed down.
A disappointment may be for now, for many Nigerians who are clamouring for either pay-per-view or pay-per-watch in the area of pay TV. Many Nigerians feel that like GSM, once not in use, the air time in pay TV should be saved or safe or stored for them. It has become a wishful thinking. For such pre paid subscribers as they are merely building castles in the air. My John Ugbe the Managing Director of Multichoice (Nigeria) says doing so, will kill the market. His argument remains that viewers have to pay for the whole package and not pay five minutes or ten or even thirty. A viewer cannot pay for just five minutes airtime for a football match that will last for 90 minutes subject to injury time. Some Nigerians have gone to court asking for companies providing paid or pre-paid TV services seeking to be billed per watch. Their demand is understandable. With epileptic power supply, some Nigerians pay per month for various bouquets, and for 30 days, there could be light for 20 days so they lost ten days of their already paid airtime. Let’s see what comes out of the court case.
Meantime, traditional media have to change their old ways of broadcasting. Social media has short sharp messages sent straight to their followers and on the spot. Traditional media still have to link with studios through personnel, sometimes by phone, sometimes through the bulking Outside Broadcast Van, heavy video cameras, long cables among others. All these constitute new challenges to the traditional media as posed by the social media in a competing space for information dissemination.
It brought to the front burner, this 24 hour broadcast that is the craze now. Many broadcasting stations have gone 24 hour service. Many critics feel it is a waste of precious airtime as it is hard to find someone glued to TV or radio a whole day and night. Others feel programming will take care of that. Programming will take care of various ages, when each age group is awake and alert, what programme will be suitable for that period of either the day or night. Other people feel that for commercial sense, cost of running that stations will be killing. Radio and TV stations must change, be innovative. The future belongs to the youths who must be taken care off.
Even in outdoor advertising, it is the world of change and moving with the trend. Mr Don Pedro Obasaki of Nollywood advised outdoor advertisers to also go to the drawing board. He observed that many parents drive their cars with their children inside. There is always silence in the car but a form of communication is taking place – eyes, minds, fingers, body and soul are all glued to smart phones. People generally therefore are glued onto internet and doing all sorts of interaction. So of what use is a big billboard by the roadside that motorists drive pass and no one takes notice of because their attention is on their phones? Change the approach to outdoor advertising? Another point of argument for another day I suppose.
The issues of content versus marketing in broadcasting came up. Which one is better? Discussants had divergent opinions. To Madam Ijeoma Onah, Content Manger, Cote Quest, be it movie, news, programmes, advertisements, if there is no good marketing the whole project is a flop, a total failure. Ijeoma opines that no matter how good a programme is, if not marketed, accepted and sold it is failure. But Obaseki of Nollywood countered. “Content is everything. You can’t market nothing if there is no content what do you market”?
However, many people say success is a combination of the two. Good and compelling content with good and aggressive marketing will serve the people better.
Not to forget the money making set- top- boxes. Let’s do the arithmetic even as we consider profit and loss in broadcasting. With digitization, all TV sets will have set-top-boxes which help to convert analogue signals to digital ones. The same goes for radio which should be small, potable, affordable and readily available digital radio sets. If a set-top-box is N3,500, and there at least about 30 million TV sets in the country. How much will that be? And for radio, if there are 60 million digital radio sets each cost N2,000 what will that be for manufacturers and marketers? Mr Umana having done the calculation nodded his head “this is cool money”, he concluded.
These are the challenges and issues the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria should face even as Mr Segun Olaleye the Executive secretary of the association is already stitched the workshop on content sometimes this year. It will bring together, experts from the Nollywood, Kannywood, broadasters, engineers, advertisers, marketers, the very young at heart, the social media freaks, the inquisitive generation.
. Shemang, Deputy Director, Voice of Nigeria writes from Abuja

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