TODAY is Wednesday, December 12, 2012. We are all looking forward to the peak of the festive season -- Christmas -- which comes up in another 13 days. Part of the efforts to celebrate Christmas in a grand style, by many families is the purchase of new television sets, and for those with a little more empowerment, subscription with a pay-TV service provider, all with one goal in mind -- entertainment, information, and education, all at the press of a button on the remote commander. Good!
Fast-forward to June 17, 2015. 19 days earlier, on May 29, another set of political office holders would have been sworn-in, after general elections that would have held in April. Imagine that just 19 days after a new federal administration would have been in office, majority of Nigerians could no longer see their leaders on TV.
If that was bad enough, the same majority could no longer receive signals on their TV sets from their favourite local stations -- AIT, Channels, Silverbird, and the 34 state TV stations. Even the broadcast behemoth, NTA, and its 58 channels are off air!
What is happening? What has happened? Very likely, Nigerians would reach for their handsets and start calling friends and acquaintances.
"Ol'boy, your TV dey work? My own no dey work o!"
"Na so I see am o! My own too no work, even my neighbour own sef. Wetin dey happen?"
Conversations like this would dominate the airwaves from June 17, 2015, if the Nigerian government and stakeholders in the broadcast industry do not gird their loins and spring into action immediately.
What will happen on June 17, 2015
On this day and date, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will effect a switch-off of all analogue broadcast signals worldwide. In 2006, Nigeria, and other countries of the world signed a treaty agreement at the conclusion of ITU's Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC-06) in Geneva, which treaty heralded development of all digital terrestrial broadcast services for sound and television. What this means is that worldwide, every nation is expected to complete a migration, or transition, as NBC D-G, Yomi Bolariwa said, from analogue to digital broadcasting.
The implications of this movement for Nigeria was the subject of a two-day Digital Dialogue Nigeria 2012 conference which held in Lagos last week, powered by global pay TV leader, Multichoice. The Nigeria version of the Digital Dialogue conference was a follow-up to an earlier one which held in Johannesburg, South Africa in October.
Majority of the participants at the South African conference did not think African nations can meet the June 2015 deadline, given the plethora of issues begging attention, about most of which very little or nothing has been done in many African countries.
For the average Nigerian
The problem is that Adamu or Ebere or Sola or Owei, not to talk of Odion and their compatriots know very little if nothing about this development. For the ordinary Nigerian, there are a few rivers to cross if he/she is to continue to access the broadcast media for information, education, and entertainment.
Thirty months or so from now, every television set, or every household at least, will need a set-top box (STB), or decoder to receive digitized broadcast signals. There is little to worry about if you already subscribe to a pay-TV service provider. But that's the good side of it. The really scary part is that Nigeria may become a colony of other countries' media products if the necessary legal and regulatory mechanisms are not in place to ensure a seamless transition.
For the broadcast industry
The transition to digital broadcasting is expected to free up frequency spectrums. When this is done, and as Mrs Amaka Igwe, top writer, producer and studio operator said, "in digital transmission, broadcasting companies will only have the role of content providers while government through contracted parties will undertake the job to distribute the content.
"The Nigerian Federal Government intends to licence a minimum of two and maximum of three broadcasting signal distributors, to facilitate transition and service delivery processes. January 2015 deadline had been set for a complete migration to digital broadcasting in Nigeria."
Further, Mrs Igwe noted that this means NTA's 58 channels, the 34 state channels, 22 private channels, and 34 cable operators in the country can all be on one carrier, and can be seen by all who have the set top boxes wherever they are.
The most profound revelation from Mrs Igwe who presented a paper at the Digital Dialogue conference, titled Dynamics of Content Development in a Digital Broadcast Environment is that only two choices exist for broadcast organizations with digitization: be a carrier or be carried, or remain a content provider.
As is usual on these shores, most of what needs be done, especially provision of the enabling environment for seamless digitization resides with government. First is the problem of awareness by the public, which the Director-general of the National Broadcast Commission, Yomi Bolarinwa admitted is low, and tasked the media to take action on this. As far back as 2008, the Federal Government had set up a Presidential Advisory Committee on Digital Broadcasting, which had done its work on how the nation should migrate.
It came to light at the conference that government had produced a white paper from the committee's work, but the paper is yet to be released. In his presentation, Professor Emevwo Biakolo, Dean of the School of Media & Communications Studies of the Pan African University tasked the media get into investigative mode to unearth the white paper. He further urged the media to explore national security implications in the event that we fail the ITU deadline.
Efere Uzako, a lawyer with interest in the creative arts tasked government to fast track action in the legal arena. As he said, there will be need for laws setting up content licensees and signal carriers, while the laws setting up companies like NTA need urgent review.
In addition, Uzako said we need to develop policies on e-waste, switch-on and switch-off periods, frequency issues, as well as rates for signal carriers. Though government had fixed January 2015 as the mar-up date for completion of digitization in Nigeria, months ahead of the ITU deadline, Uzako urged that by December 31, 2014, the following should have been achieved:
Laws , Regulations and Polices are in place
Content Licensees and Signal Distributors have been appointed
All the required and standard infrastructure has been manufactured, procured and installed by all licensees.
The modalities for the manufacture and/or procurement of Set Top boxes have been settled.
Hopefully, there is adequate programming in place to fill all the hours .
All hitches, technical or regulatory, teething problems , etc , have been addressed or are being addressed.
Jenkins Alumona, a digital communications expert and supremo of Strategic Outcomes Ltd said stakeholders, rather than wait for the government to release the white paper should take action to save the nation embarrassment by taking necessary action in their areas of operation towards digitization. His words:
"There is hope that Nigeria will migrate on the set date but only if we start work immediately. Nigerians deserve to know what the government is doing in the direction of migration. There is a danger that if the people do not know what is happening the repercussions of an unannounced blackout can be devastating."