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‘Digital switchover will revolutionise media space’

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Stakeholders in the broadcast space have appraised National Broadcasting Commission’s (NBC) recent Digital Switchover (DSO) policy and described it as a game changer that would revolutionise the industry.

Recall that Acting Director General, NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, had said that Phase 2 of the Nigeria Digital Switch Over would commence with roll out in the most populous and commercially viable locations of Lagos, Kano and Rivers states as well as Yobe and Gombe states.

According to him, the departure from the initial roll out plan of six locations from each geopolitical zone was necessitated by the need to evolve a self-sustaining strategy for the switch over.

“The new timetable will, therefore, be kick started with roll out in Lagos State on April 29, 2021, Kano State on June 3, 2021 and Rivers State on July 8, 2021; on the heels of these states will be switch on of Yobe State on July 15, 2021 and Gombe State on August 12, 2021,” he said.

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Already, ahead of the April 29 roll out of the Digital Switch On in Lagos State to the Digital Terrestrial television (DTT) platform, Prof. Idachaba was recently in the state on a facility inspection visit to the Integrated Television Services (ITS) and Pinnacle Communications Ltd transmission sites to ascertain their readiness for the roll out.

The Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Akin Akingbulu, agreed that it was cheery news for the country and for the development of broadcasting that the DSO process is back on track, that government has injected funds, which has been a major issue and stakeholders are looking up to move the process forward at the level of Ministry of Information and at the level of NBC.

He said, “we already know that when digitisation is done, there will be more channels to be able to free frequencies for use in the development of the economy. Secondly, as a consumer or a user of the content of broadcasting, digital pictures are better than the analogue. So, you get better technical output. It also helps put us on the contemporary or technical level with the global community in terms of broadcasting because many countries have already embraced digitisation. We should be able to see innovation in content development and I’m really excited. They have prepared the timetable, which has been shared with the public and we are following up with the implementation. Stakeholders should support the process and we encourage all government institution to ensure they put in their best to make this a reality. One major stakeholder is the state government; especially state government owned broadcasting stations, because they also have to digitise their equipment and facilities. I think the private sector has been moving faster in terms of readiness or preparedness than the public sector.”

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In his view, veteran broadcaster, Bisi Olatilo, commended the initiative but insisted that the DSO policy should have been implemented long time ago.

According to him, “we have dragged our feet too long on that. It’s a thing that will be a game changer in broadcasting. Many channels would be allowed to be on their own, unlike now and they are having problems. You can liken it to the advantages we gained through privatisation. I’m hoping that practitioners will smile because it is going to expand the coast of their work. There are more advantages than the disadvantages

Speaking further, Prof. Idachaba said “recall that to deliver the benefits of digital broadcasting to Nigerians, in line with the ITU policy on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting and the subsequent government’s White Paper on the transition, DSO implementation under phase 1, successfully launched in six regions in Nigeria
between April 2016 and February 2018 thus: Jos (April 30, 2016), Abuja FCT (December 22, 2016), Ilorin (December 20, 2017), Kaduna (December 22, 2017), Enugu ( February 12, 2018) and Osogbo ( February 23, 2018).”

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Delivered under the brand name, FreeTV, he added that the DSO in this period has translated to an increasing digital television penetration and better quality television service in Nigeria.

Other benefits so far, he stated, include job creation in the creative and set top box manufacturing and retail sectors; creation of information outlets for government to reach households in Nigeria and a PushVOD service, which provides a secure outlet for Nollywood movie distribution to Nigerians.

“As you also know, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on February 10, 2021 approved the payment of some outstanding indebtedness to stakeholders. This was indeed a new lease for the DSO and signifies some sort of government endorsement and commitment towards completing the process. The commission believes Investors can now look forward to a potentially active, productive and rewarding landscape,” he said.

Following this rollout, the signal distributors are expected to within the same period complete the installation of additional transmitters and gap fillers to attain 70 per cent to 80 per cent coverage in the existing six locations in Phase 1. That is in FCT, Plateau, Kaduna, Kwara, Enugu and Osun states.

The first Analogue Switch off (ASO) is, therefore, slated to hold on May 28, 2021 in Abuja.

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