Flipping the switch
Nigeria’s digital switchover (DSO) was the key topic on the first day of broadcaster FreeTV’s three-day online digital series event. Priscillia Alao reports.
The event kicked off on Wednesday with Inview Technology CEO Olumade Adesemowo anchoring a panel focusing on DSO and the future of Nigerian content. Speaking on the panel were Professor Armstrong Idachaba, acting director general of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC); stand-up comedian and actor Ali Baba; Film Video Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria (FVPMAN) chairman Emeka Aduah; and 9Mobile marketing director Olayiwola Onafowokan.
Idachaba provided a report on the current status of the DSO, detailing some of the challenges of transitioning more than 30 million Nigerian households from analogue to digital and looking to the future.
“The DSO project is important to the future of the media industry in Nigeria,” he said, explaining that as well as improving picture and sound quality, the switch will result in more channels for creative-minded people to realise their potential.
So far, DSO has been rolled out in Jos, Abuja, Kaduna, Ilorin and Osogbo, as well as Enugu, where the switch has been carried out but not completed across the entire state.
Referring to his fellow panellist, Idachaba continued: “With the bank of content Ali Baba has been able to produce over the years, I wonder why he is not running comedy channels. This is the time to engage content producers, and regulators are ready to create that platform for them.
“Some of us don’t fully understand the potential inherent in the digital transition process and we also don’t realise that the entire value chain will be driven by the content we produce. As regulators, it is time to create the right regulatory framework that will allow creatives to have an entry point.”
Idachaba added that Inview’s partnership with the Bank of Industry meant there would be support for companies involved in licence acquisition and the production and distribution of content.
“At the NBC, there is a renewed commitment to delivering on the DSO project. The vehicles for delivering content are the signal distributors who are willing to commit their resources to the roll-out,” he said.
The next places to get the switch will be Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano, Idachaba said, noting that the NBC was also working on partnerships with other corporations.
“We are confident that once the lockdown is off, we will regenerate activities around the DSO,” he added, referring to the restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, Ali Baba discussed the impact the DSO could have on the entertainment industry when fully implemented.
While there has long been a lack of platforms for comedians in Nigeria, Ali Baba predicted that the DSO will lead to a proliferation of opportunities. “DSO is a welcome idea because there are lots of talents who just need the right platform,” he said.
“We are ready and, although platforms had been denied us because we had to pay for airtime, we now have free-to-air options.”
Aduah, whose association has been involved in Nollywood production and distribution since the days of VHS and through to VCD and DVD, outlined what the DSO would mean for the FVPMAN.
“The challenges holding down the distribution of VCD in the market is in the area of piracy, which has not been dealt with. But we are doing our best to curb it to allow VCD/DVD to sell. Everything has transitioned into digital and it is in our best interests to ensure the DSO comes to [fruition].
“When [DSO is completed] in Kano and Lagos, we are looking at the NBC to facilitate the launch so content owners can smile to the bank, because DVD is not selling as expected. This is a digital era – with the DSO, we will be able to make more sales through the use of dongles. We hope we will be able to witness the switchover so we can continue in business.”
Aduah said the NBC had work to do in order to address challenges in the distribution of content, noting: “TV stations play more foreign content than local content.”
Elsewhere during the discussion, 9Mobile’s Onafowokan talked about the importance of TV firms working with telecoms companies in the digital landscape. “Digital TV provides new features for viewers that analogue does not have, but all these depend on collaborations with telecom industries,” he said.
As part of aims to achieve the NCC’s target of 70% broadband penetration in Nigeria by 2025, around N265bn has been invested in infrastructure, with the government investing N65bn and the private sector contributing the rest, Onafowokan said.
“At 9Mobile, we give access, flexibility and mobility to clients so they can enjoy services the OTT players bring on board,” he continued. “We are empowering content owners by ensuring content is fresh and relevant; we have not ramped up our involvement in terms of collaborating with content owners and production houses, but we are providing infrastructure to ensure content is consumed.”
The session concluded with Idachaba highlighting more positives of the DSO. “We are beginning to explore the reality of tech convergence, and the key functionality of the set-top boxes will be affordable, simple, highly functional internet access for more engagements and an additional source for content dissemination,” he said.
Idachaba added that the DSO would create more opportunities for creative people thanks to the set-top boxes featuring technology that will monitor what is being watched, making it easier to identify programming priorities, fill in gaps involving the structure of content production and facilitate inter-creative exchange.
“We are hoping the Nigerian creative industry will cash in on the advantages of the ecosystem, because we believe the future of terrestrial and OTT is strong,” he said.