The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, during the week, kicked off the second phase of the Digitalisation of the Broadcast sector project in Nigeria with the Digital Switch Over (DSO) of Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve Centre. The DSO in Lagos translates into free viewing of crystal clear digital television services to residents without the traditional payment of subscriptions as it obtains in other digital television models currently in operation in the private sector in Nigeria.
At an elaborate event held at Sheba Event Centre, Maryland, Lagos, Mohammed said that the Digital Switch Over (DSO) of terrestrial broadcasting is a milestone that is unique in the developmental underpinning of the digitization policy of government.
In describing the set top box (STB) as a melting pot as well as the point of convergence of the collective aspirations of Nigerians, the minister thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for his support, uncommon drive and energy in delivering on the process and driving it forward.
He also thanked members of the National Assembly for their constant engagements and provision of the necessary legislative support in making the project a successful one.
He said the successful launch of the project in Lagos is bound to create more employment opportunities especially to those in the productive, creative and advertising sectors among others.
The Information and Culture Minister revealed that the Free TV Set-top box, which was unveiled at the event, currently carries over 30 channels cutting across news, entertainment, movies, sports, drama and more which are available free of subscription. He added that the total number of television channels available on the device will be scaled up to 60 channels in the coming weeks.
Alhaji Lai, also told the audience that digitization is the future for the country because it enables the compression of channels to free up space for more channel additions, advertising and others benefits.
The Minister advised Nigerians to make haste in migrating to the digital age because analogue services will be discontinued nationwide in the next six months.
He summed up digital switch Over (DSO) in the lay man’s terminology as, “More channels with better audio and video fidelity, while adding that the Lagos launch marks the first time the project will make available 60 channels to households in Nigeria; a reality he says, fits into the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari to fully digitize the nation.
He also averred that the DSO provides the platform for the Ministry of Information and Culture to key into the Lagos Smart City Project.
“The project will stimulate local content proliferation and empower producers in the creative industry,” (STB) will among others help the Association of Local Governments in Nigeria) monitor payment of levies and catalyse its revenue drive.
“Our STBs will also allow for push content, audience measurement and help advertisers to target programmes and audience viewing preferences: there are more jobs in the making, he enthused.
In response to concerns about access to the devices and the distribution strategy put in place to reach the citizens, Alhaji Mohammed said over One Million STBs are already off the production conveyor belts with more to be released by factories located across the country.
He further revealed that the local content policy of the present administration is also inclusive of a digitally complaint broadcast sector.
“At least 70% of programmes going forward will be local. Therefore, the challenge before us is to make the project profitable to all stakeholders. Importantly, he said, the average Nigerian must reap the benefit of this project.
“Our Free TV plan is not a fluke: there is no monthly subscription – just the payment of a token amount of N1,500 (One Thousand Five Hundred Naira) and you are empowered for the continuous access and enjoyment of over 60 channels.
Governor of Lagos state, Babajide Sanwoolu descried the successful switch-on of his state to the digital age as a critical milestone for the creative and allied industries.
Governor Sanwo-olu, who spoke through his Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Information and Culture, Mr. Thorpe Isaac Olushina, said, “as a government, we are committed to the DSO project because amongst other things, it will shore up our efforts in the areas of job creation and youth empowerment especially for those in the productive and creative industries.
“It will also be of immense value to Lagos residents as it is will opportune the government to use content to engage its citizens,’ he said.
While he urged the Minister of Information and Culture to democratize the access to Free TV STBs for the benefit of the citizens of the state, he expressed delight at the birth of the DSO project in Lagos.
“Better days are here because the DSO project will afford Lagosians opportunity to watch 60 channels without paying subscription. We therefore restate our commitment to this lofty project,” he said.
Earlier in his opening address, the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Professor Armstrong Idachaba, reminded the audience that following several reviews, the Federal Government launched the pilot phase of the DSO project in Jos, Plateau State on the 30th of April, 2016.
He said the successful kick-off of the digitization process with the launch in Jos, led to follow up launches in Abuja, Ilorin in Kwara State, Kaduna, Enugu and Osun to complete the first phase of the project.
In providing insight into the benefits of the digitization project, Prof Idachaba said the official and technical switch on of Lagos has the potential to leapfrog those at the lower rungs, about five million Nigerians, to access digital services.
He said the NBC has licensed over 140 digital terrestrial television channels, cutting across national, regional and Local contents.
He said that when fully completed, the DSO project will translate into an increase in digital television penetration, improved quality television services, audience preference ratings at the touch of a button, crystal clear sound and visuals and other value-added services.
Prof Idachaba, a seasoned a lecturer, said other benefits include job creation in the creative industry, set-top box manufacturing and retailing sectors of the economy among others.
Chairman of the Digital Switch-On team, codenamed Digiteam, Engineer Edward Amano underlined the importance accorded the project by the current administration by revealing that the sum of N9.4bn was committed to the successful implementation of the project by the federal government.
He traced the origin of digital migration to the Geneva Conference which evolved the digital plan for specified audio and videos as championed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which mandated that all analogue stations in member states should be switched off before June 17, 2015.
He said that Nigeria could not meet up with its projected date of 2012 for sundry reasons which made it to set up a transition committee to actualise the Digital Switch Over in spite of the many challenges including the non-provision of budgetary allocation to the Committee for proper take off.
“But despite the challenges we are happy today that the project is going on as planned with more launches already planned for the rest of the year.
Representative of the Chairman of Broadcasters Organisaion of Nigeria (BON), Agatha Amata said that since over 60% of advertising revenue is domiciled in Lagos, this launch will afford members of BON the opportunity to recoup revenue. She appealed that the STBs should be made cheap and easily affordable and available to the end users.
Other speakers at the event include the vice Chairman Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation, Senator Francis Onyebuchi; the Chairman House Committee on Information, Hon. Segun Odebunmi; Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Alhaji Yakubu Ibn Mohammed; the Chairman of STB manufacturers, Godffrey Ohuanbuwa and Chairman of Middleware providers, Toyin Subair.
RovingNaija checks reveals that the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Free TV Set-top Box (STB) hardware is retailed at N10,000 (Ten Thousand Naira) while the annual access charge is N1,500 (One Thousand Five Hundred Naira). But unlike other DTT and Pay Television services, users do not pay monthly subscriptions to watch over 30 channels which the government is positive it can scale up to 60 channels within the coming weeks.