Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, recently restated the commitment of the Federal Government to achieve the ‘Digital Switch Over’ in broadcasting by June 2017.
Mohammed said with the digital switchover, Nigeria would completely change the way television broadcasting is done. “We are going to revolutionise the entire industry,” he said. The reassurance by Mohammed who was on an official visit to the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Jos was in response to fears by stakeholders that Nigeria might again fail to meet the new deadline as was the case last year.
It will be recalled that Wednesday, June 17, 2015 was the deadline for Television and Radio stations all over the world to transit from Analogue to Digital technology as directed by the International Telecommunication Union, ITU. The global telecommunication body had at its Regional Radio communications Conference, RRC ‘06, held in 2006, set a deadline for a total switchover of all broadcast channels from analogue to digital. It gave June 17, 2015 for all UHF channels to go digital and 2020 for VHF channels to do same.
When the deadline ended, Nigeria, South Africa and 52 other nations remained analogue with obvious implications for the broadcast industry and the economy.
To accommodate these countries, ITU gave a one year grace, which is June next year. Should Nigeria fail to keep to this new date, the implication is that our analogue signals will receive no protection in the event of interference with or from digital signals from other countries.
It is instructive that the Jos NTA station the minister visited was the place the first switch-over from analogue terrestrial television system onto digital took place on 17 June, 2014. That marked the advent of digital broadcasting in Nigeria and perhaps the only one so far despite resolutions by Nigerian broadcasters to achieve complete digital switch over, DSO, by December 31, 2014.
Obviously, digital broadcasting has many advantages over the analogue. Programme presentation will be improved by the time analogue is over. Others are clarity and quality of signals and spectrum efficiency. Since technology has opened a world of possibilities for broadcasting, a huge spectrum will be available for radio and television broadcast in Nigeria. As a result, more frequencies or wavelengths will be available for television stations and will afford the industry opportunities for interactive broadcasting as the television sets would do much more than receive signals.
Also, under digital technology, television sets perform tasks of computers and telephone handsets. This implies that, TV sets would be able to provide access to the internet. They would also be able to store data received from audio and visual signals. In essence, the ephemeral nature of the broadcast media would have been reduced, if not eradicated. The broadcast media would have greater catalogue value.
On the side of broadcasters, digital broadcasting equipment will enable the simultaneous transmission of a minimum of four programmes and four channels from the same station that used to transmit only one programme or channel in the analogue transmission. Digital television will therefore offer variety of added services such as multimedia, banking, home shopping and faster rates of data transmission (casting).
There are several pointers to why Nigeria missed the 2015 deadline. One of them is the fact that both broadcasters and consumers did not have basic information and resources required to achieve the feat.
The failure of most of the existing television and radio sets to be digital-compliant means those sets would have to be replaced with digital compliant ones. For the consumers, there will be a second option of acquiring a digital analogue converter known as Set Top Box. This is because, all the analogue production and transmitting equipment will become obsolete at the end of the digitalisation process.
The new deadline of 2017 therefore offers Nigerian broadcasting industry another opportunity to go digital. The country must not be left behind when the whole world must have switched over to digital system. It would amount to Nigeria being turned to a dumping ground for obsolete analogue equipment. As one communication expert once said, “The truth of the matter is that television and radio stations do not have a choice. Nobody has a choice. If we do not migrate from analogue to digital, we will end up being in the dark. It is in everybody’s interest to migrate”. In the final analysis, if Nigeria does not want to be left behind, it must follow the rest of the world.
Be that as it may, Nigeria should not under any circumstance miss the new deadline. The minister’s words of assurance should not be mere academic exercise, or political jingoism. He should translate it to immediate action as time ticks by.