Concerns Remain as Nigerians Await Digital Migration

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With less than one year to the planned digital migration, Nigerians continue to fret over the country’s ability to finally cross the hurdle, given that the inadequate technology-intensive system could mar the migration process, writes Emma Okonji

Having failed twice in 2012 and 2015 to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting, Nigeria is making another effort to the meet the new June 20, 2017 deadline.
Apart from finance, which had been attributed as the major reason for the past failures of Nigeria to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting, experts had since identified other key factors. They factors include lack of technology-intensive system, irregular power supply, and complex systematic social project. But StarTimes, one of the leading digital-TV operator in Africa, covering 80per cent of the continent’s population with a massive distribution network of 200 brand halls, 3,000 convenience stores and 5,000 distributors, has made bold to say it has developed solutions that will assist Nigeria succeed in her next phase of migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.

Addressing the challenges
No doubt, there are many homes in Nigeria that have television sets but not many of them are compliant to digital migration. The lack of technology-intensive system, uncertain power supply, lack of money and complex systematic social project have locked several homes out of the global village called digital broadcast.
But the President, StarTimes Group, Mr. Pang Xinxing, wants to change all of that with a simplified, robust and affordable pay TV aimed at emerging market across Africa.
Xinxing recently spoke on how he had designed a model, which he tagged ‘Advance Hand-in-Hand to Jointly Create the Future,’ to realise digitalisation of broadcasting and TV in Africa.

While presenting his speech at the just concluded world conference tagged ‘Agenda for the 6th African Digital Development Seminar, hosted by StarTimes in Beijing, China, he disclosed that his company is set to partner and encourage African member states of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to meet the year 2020 deadline given by the world body to realise broadcasting and TV digitalisation in Africa.

To him, the adoption of private public partnership (PPP) model is the solution to crossing all hurdles before the initiative. On the part of StarTimes, he disclosed that it is set to roll out several packages to facilitate the compliance of African nations, especially Nigeria.
“Our corporate responsibility programme is aimed at subsidising our Set-Top-Boxes (STB) and providing each family who has TV set with an offer of $10. We will also provide basic programme package of more than 30 channels at $3 monthly fee with free STBs for government-designated households; providing digital TV programmes of national TV station for free to achieve universal digital television service.”

StarTimes, he added, would establish a Joint venture with local partners designated by the government and fulfil the mission of enabling every African family to have access to, afford and watch good digital TV and enjoy the beauty of digital TV.
The StarTimes boss was quick to add that African governments also have roles to play in the PPP initiative. Establishing a brand new digital TV industry by attracting investment, technology, management, talents and training resources, to him, is governments’ responsibilities.

“Realising nationwide digitalisation, flourishing broadcasting, creating job opportunities, improving the national quality and creating a more friendly business environment is the function of strong partnership among governments and business owners across the world,” he said.

The roles of TV stations

For the national TV stations across the African continent, Xinxing charged them to realise digitalisation of shooting, recording, editing and enhance programme-making capability and quality if they are determined to cross the hurdle. That is not all. Using the existing structure across board, he believe national broadcasters can have shares in the JV Company as they can efficiently use their assets and have dividend from the JV.

“The two days seminar had provided an important platform for delegates from various countries to share their experiences and suggestions on the promotion of digital migration in Africa. I believe the outcomes of the event will definitely contribute to the advancement of digital broadcasting for our continent. The next step is to think how to implement those suggestions brought up at the seminar.

The Chinese view
The Councilor of the Information Department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Mr. Zhao Shiren, stated that China-Africa relationship has reached a new dimension as helping in the transition from analogue to digital will further boost their cooperation.
He disclosed that Africa lacks the infrastructure, human resources capacity, information society building, security, TV migration that are all useful for any nation’s development, but with the support of Star Times, which is now seen as carrying China’s public diplomacy, that will be a thing of the past.

According to Shiren, at the end of the opening session, some African nations did not only saw the need to catch the vision but also made their decisions formal in black and white. The management of Star Times Group signed three agreements with representatives of Ghana, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia for the launch of StarTimes satellite Television in their countries.”

StarTimes vision for Nigeria

Commenting on the development, Public Relations Manager, StarTimes, NTA Star-TV Network, Mr. Israel Bolaji, stressed the point that digital TV is for all, and as such, it should be affordable to all Nigerians. He further added that, “the increase in the quality of both the decoder and the channels are incomparable. It was done in a bid to continue to satisfy Nigerians.”

“We are working hard and smart to prepare Nigerians towards digital migration by offering our customers affordable bundle that makes a convenient switch over from analogue to digital television and promote inspirational television experience that creates values,” he said.
Bolaji explained that in 2011, StarTimes hosted the 1st African Digital TV Development Forum, and that the presence of important guests, inspiring themes, forward looking ideas and win-win models for cooperation, made the forum a much-discussed phenomenon in Africa’s television industry.

Excerpts from Beijing conference

With over 300 delegates including ministers of broadcasting and TV administrations, heads of national TV stations from 39 African countries, the recently concluded world conference in Beijing, China, was no doubt a success. The conference was organised and funded by StarTimes to provide opportunities for African delegates to consult on financing issues in digital migration.

Also, leaders of financial institutions like Export-Import Bank of China, China-Africa Development Fund and China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation, were also invited to the conference to encourage them to see diverse investment opportunities in the broadcast industry across Africa.

Nigeria’s digital journey since 2006

The journey towards the digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcasting, otherwise known as digital migration, started in Nigeria in June 17, 2006, after Nigeria had signed international and regional agreement with International Telecoms Union to conclude digital migration by June 17, 2012.
In a bid to achieve the 2012 migration date, the federal government in 2007, approved the process, in 2008, it inaugurated a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. The committee submitted its report with several recommendations. Government, however, kept the recommendations to itself for three years and did not release the white paper for digital migration, a situation that caused Nigeria to miss out on the June 17, 2012 initial date for migration.

Having missed the initial date in 2012, government was forced to shift migration date to June 17, 2015.
In order to achieve the June 17, 2015 date, the federal government, in December 2012, inaugurated a 14-man team tagged Digiteam Nigeria, but the migration process failed again for lack of funding.

Nigeria is currently working to complete the migration process by June 20, 2017, but the hurdles still kept coming.

However, only five out of 54 African countries have so far crossed the hurdle successfully, as most of the countries are faced with challenges around capital intensity and technology and some due to political unwillingness. Star Times is, however, working closely with African governments to jointly promote digitalisation and information.

So far, Star Times has established subsidiaries in 30 African countries. They are Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, Guinea, Congo-Kinshasa, among others, where it had already started operations.