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NBC, ITS Renew Hope of Digitization of Broadcast Industry

chike onwuegbuchi

The long awaited digital switch-over (DSO) in Nigeria has become a reality as stakeholders are putting finishing touches for its take-off in Kwara. In March, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), had listed six states, one from each geo-political zone of the country, for DSO.

The states are Kaduna in North-West, Kwara in North-Central, Gombe in North-East, Enugu in South-East, Osun in South-West and Delta in South-South.

Nigeria transited from analogue to digital television viewing on April 30, 2016 in Jos, Plateau State capital after the Federal Government launched the pilot phase of the digital transmission project.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, minister of Information and Culture,  also recently attributed the success of the DSO to the collective effort of stakeholders namely, Digiteam Nigeria, Broadcast Signal Distributors, Set-Top-Box manufacturers, channel owners, partners such as CCNL and In-view Technologies and Call Centre Operators.

Mr. Musbau Rotimi Salami, general manager of Integrated Television Services (ITS), one of the signal distribution companies for Nigeria’s DSO implementation and handlers of the Ilorin switch-over project, speaking with Sunday Vanguard at the NTA Ilorin Transmission Station, Ganmo, during the visit of the National Assembly ad-hoc committee on DSO, called for the review of the current business model arrangement put in place by the NBC to allow for more favourable operating and cost maximisation.

ITS, which came into being as a result of the report from Presidential Action Committee Report on Digital Migration in Nigeria, has done the needful by taking on the infrastructure of the FRCN, NTA, etc to ensure digital distribution to Nigerians. Salami explained that the organisation had been ready since May 22, 2017, when they began to expect the NBC contractor to install the equipment on their platform.

His words,’’ We of the ITS have been ready since May 22, 2017, but the way the platform is designed by NBC is such that they provide the equipment, the conditional access program, the EPG. They have a contractor who does this and we have informed them since, to come and integrate those systems on our platform. So, we are ready, but the NBC needs to be ready too’’.

The ITS GM explained further that the assignment of his firm is to build a transmission platform that, “will receive and transmit signals both from national, regional and local here in Ilorin”.

 He went on: “We have been able to receive signals on the DCS platform, those signals belong to the NBC”.

“Right now, there are about 22 of them, but they need to program signals specifically for Ilorin, they need to create programs specifially for Ilorin, they had to complete national signals and local insertions.

“For now, we are concentrating on those infrastructures of NTA that we used for signal broadcast.

But unfortunately, what we can only inherit from this transition is the mast and the transmitter hose. NTA’s transmitters are obsolete, they are analogue and they are not even supported by the equipment manufacturers anymore, so they are not useful in the new process.

“So, the only benefit we have here now is the mast, the transmission hose. Like Ilorin, their antenna is obsolete, their antenna is VHF, while we are operating on UHF; so virtually, the only thing we have gained here is the mast”.

He also said that for the process to be completed, the NBC needs to make the EPG system available, saying that it’s the signals that would be used to activate the decoder for the receivers at home.

Above all, Salami stressed the need for the NBC to make the set of boxes available and affordable for residents.

The ITS boss, who said the review of the existing business model is imperative to allow for equitable benefits for operators and stakeholders, noted that the business model has been a bone of contention for so long, especially for signal distributors.

“Already the Minister of Information and Culture has called for a review of it. We are eagerly awaiting the review as this will discourage the current situation where those who operate at the fringes and contribute minimally from reaping so much at the detriment of the major stakeholders”, he said.

Salami also assured the visiting NASS members that the Ilorin project met the requirements for the launch and commissioning but only waiting for the team from NBC to put its technical inputs.

Speaking on the significance of the National Assembly members visit, he asked it afforded the ITS the opportunity to explain its side of the story, adding that everything done at the Ilorin center had been to standard of global broadcasting equipment installation.

The ITS boss dismissed the claim that the equipment used at the Ilorin centre was obsolete.

He said such claim was misplaced and amounted to a lack of understanding of the technology behind the equipment used. He used the opportunity to appeal to Nigerians on the need to put the nation first in every aspect of business relationship.

“We must ensure that national interests come first above personal and parochial interests. Integrated Television Services is conscious of the history behind it and will work to protect the interest of the Nigerian television consumers and the entire broadcasting industry in Nigeria.”

On the quality of the DSO, he said: “When fully operational, the ITS will have on its platform over 30 channels on its Free TV bouquet, thus delivering unbeatable state of the art quality television experience and pocket friendly plan to the people of Kwara State”.

The members of the National Assembly, after the inspection of the equipment and interaction with stakeholders, told journalists that the digitalisation of broadcast industry was a done deal.

According to the leader of the six-man team, Hon Chris Emeka Azubogu, Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation,” we have seen the level of readiness and asked critical questions and they provided answers.

“We are sure from what they have said that they are ready, we have seen that the equipment are there, they are well and ready to hit the ground running.”