Senior Vice-President, Commercial at SES, Ibrahima Guimba-Saidou, spoke with Emma Okonji on Nigeria’s journey to digital broadcasting, and the need to boost digital content ahead of the switchover date. Excerpts:
As a satellite communications services and digital content provider with several years of experience, how will you rate the readiness of Nigeria for the planned digital switchover in June 2017?
The digital switchover (DSO) is a process that will take some time to achieve, it requires a lot of efforts and coordination. As a global satellite operator, we have witnessed how even matured TV markets in Europe take several years to complete their digital switchover. As such the switchover in Nigeria will take time to complete but we are optimistic it will happen as Nigeria takes the switchover seriously. In fact, they have been actively involved in coordination and meetings with international organisations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to seek best practices and learn from other countries’ mistakes and ensure they experience a smoother transition to digital broadcasting.
Twice, Nigeria failed to migrate from analogue to digital, occasioned by poor preparations. Do you see Nigeria learning from her past mistakes?
In Africa, the process of DSO has been a coordinated approach between several African countries with ITU and other relevant partners, which contributed to the delay. The initial deadline of June 2015 was not met by a number of countries and not only Nigeria. However the delay hasn’t deterred the country and we can see that Nigeria is moving forward to implement the switchover in a timely manner.
In what ways can SES help Nigeria to successfully migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting?
SES will fully support Cable Channels Nigeria Ltd. (CCNL) and ensure that government’s mandate is met. At SES, our main objective is to ensure that everything is put in place for a successful switchover with little or no hiccups.
For example, we have invested so much in Nigeria, through Computer Warehouse Group (CWG), which is SES’s local teleport partner. SES brings technical support to CWG and CCNL. SES Satellites at 28.2E are co-located, robust and reliable satellites which are part of SES’s largest commercial fleet investment programme ever and our video platform delivers the fastest access and largest reach of over 5m FTA HH in Nigeria and Ghana with a Uplink to SES satellites including SES-4, SES-5, NSS-12 from SES teleports worldwide. Additionally, through the SES Elevate programme where we train installers to enable the speedy roll out of DSO, we ensure that installers are motivated and engaged in network system to support the DSO growth.
From experiences in other parts of the world, we offer the most reliable services in space and ground segment, in a combination and thus an end-to-end solution. We are closer to our customers and drive local partnerships. We support the business of our customers to build up technical reach through several installer training, which is known under the ‘Elevate’ programme, marketing activities, and measurement of technical reach among others.
Additionally we offer innovative business model to support our customers monetise their content. Finally, and most importantly, we see our customers as partners and want to build up a long term partnership, as we have now done for the last decades in other regions.
Last month, Nigeria launched another pilot phase of her digital switchover in Jos, Plateau State. What is your assessment of that launch?
The launch was a success. The approach was good because it allowed the stakeholders to confirm that the solution chosen by Nigeria is working. This will also enable further improvements in other states.
What are the economic implications, should Nigeria fail again to migrate to digital broadcasting?
SES believes that Nigeria is on the right track. Also the success of the pilot phase in Jos, makes us even more optimistic that the migration will be a success this time around, so there is no point looking at the economic implications of not migrating.
What are the economic benefits of digital migration?
Many governments and public institutions on the continent have already begun to develop broadband policies to address the digital inequality, but again we are hindered by costs, and lack of infrastructure. Satellites have vast coverage and a reach that is unhindered by mountain, desert, jungle or savannah. Digital communications and broadband internet are increasingly important to Africa’s social and economic development. SES, through its satellites, is able to provide vital connectivity needs to urban as well as non-urban communities on the continent.
SES recently had a partnership deal with CCNL. What value will the partnership bring to Nigeria and to both organisations?
Having local partners is key for any successful venture. In this specific case, we are making use of our expertise and experience to help our customers in mature TV European markets and to make such markets available to the Nigerian market through CCNL.
As a digital content provider, what plans do you have to boost digital broadcasting content in Nigeria, ahead of the country’s digital switchover in June 2017?
SES is rather an enabler and we put our expertise at the disposal of content providers to have the most robust technical facilities to take their content to a greater audience.
Your new partner, CCNL, is a certified content aggregator and platform owner for the free-to-air DTT and DTH platforms in Nigeria. How can Nigerians take advantage of the free-to-air services?
The platform that has being set up for the Nigeria switchover is going to all key components of the ecosystem available: pay-tv, free-to-view and free-to-air. People who have the CCNL approved equipment (box) will have the opportunity to benefit from all content delivered through CCNL.
Local manufacturing of set-top-boxes for the digital switchover has been an issue in Nigeria in terms of funding. What is your advice on this?
Now that the process has effectively started, we are confident that this issue will be fully addressed.
How equipped is SES to drive digital broadcasting in Nigeria?
SES can provide full turn-key services locally as well as turn-around services in Europe using same satellite contribution feed. End-users can enjoy the most attractive local channels available at hand and also free of charge. For example, we offer most reliable services, which makes us an end-to-end solution provider. We are closer to our customers and we see them as partners and we want to build up a long term relationship with them.
We understand the need for a trained, motivated and engaged installer network to support DTH growth. Elevate accreditation of an installer is sought after across Africa. So far, we have trained over 5000 installers on the continent in more than 12 countries and we keep growing. Through Elevate we provide: technical training on how to do best-in-class installations; marketing training by giving installers the tools to market the customer’s product and themselves, and also training them on how to use those tools. We also do business training and we train people on how best to increase their call rates and how to grow their business.