Nigerians will witness a landmark inauguration of the pilot scheme for the switch over from analogue to digital television broadcasting (DSO) on April 30.
President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed are expected to inaugurate the pilot scheme in Jos, Plateau.
However, many Nigerians have asked what does the DSO mean and what are its benefits to Nigerians.
Many developing nations, including Nigeria are faced with the challenge of economic and social disparity including not getting access to television with optional channels, rich contents, quality pictures and sound.
Many Nigerians with television boxes in their homes can only access few channels with poor picture and audio qualities.
The digital television outfits such as DStv, GOtv and StarTimes have exploited this situation, providing subscribed channels with mostly foreign contents and its attendant implications.
More worrisome is that many of the stations attract high subscription fees that are affordable by few Nigerians.
The pay television stations have therefore become somewhat status symbol, creating a class between the rich who can afford them and the poor who have to make do with the few channels provided by analogue system.
During a recent visit to Jos, the minister explained that the DSO would address this disparity as many Nigerians would have access to at least 15 free-to-air channels with rich contents.
The minister, who led members of the Ministerial Task Force on DSO on a courtesy visit to Gov. Simon Lalong of Plateau, said it would “liberalise access to media information.’’
Specifically, Mohammed observed that with the pilot scheme, no fewer than 200,000 television households in Jos would have access to free television channels.
According to him, the DSO is expected to be completed to cover the entire country by June 2017.
He said that Federal Government had made provision for distribution of free Set-Top Boxes (STB), satellite receiver that would facilitate migration to digital to be used for the pilot scheme.
The minister said: “We are actually targeting about 200,000 television households in Jos alone, who will be able to get their STB.
“These boxes will be fixed to their televisions and when they switch on their television sets on that date, they will be able to view, free of charge, 15 channels as opposed to four or five that they see today.’’
The minister said that the DSO would create jobs in the areas of content and software development and provide the platform for film producers and musicians to release their productions directly to households.
Mohammed reiterated that the issue of going digital was not a matter of choice because the International Telecommunication Union had given another deadline of June 2017 for the country.
He said failure to meet with the deadline would mean a violation of international treaty while the nation’s broadcast system would also be at the mercy of interference.
He recalled that Nigeria had missed the opportunity of DSO twice, stressing that the June 2017 deadline was sacrosanct.
The governor, who was represented by his deputy, Prof. Sonnie Tyoden, described the DSO as a milestone in broadcasting.
He said the DSO has come to “demystify access to media and information by giving opportunity to those who do not have the wherewithal to afford pay television’’.
The Chairman of the Ministerial Task Force on DSO, also known as Digiteam Nigeria, Mr Edward Amana, explained that the delay in switch over was due to lack of commitment on the part of previous administrations.
“The scheme was not funded from 2012 when Digiteam was set up until towards the end of last year when funds were made available for us to start.
“There was not much of a commitment to the transition by the previous administrations; but now we have a minister that is directly taking charge of the operation himself.
“If we do not transit there will be no protection to our existing analogue stations because our neighbours who would have gone digital can cause interference.
“If the June 2017 passes and we fail to transit, our analogue transmission will also cause interference to the digital mode of our neighbouring countries and we could be held liable,’’ he said.
Amana said that the STBs were fundamental to the scheme, being the principal equipment that would enable households to receive digital transmission on their analogue receiver.
In addition to making the boxes available free of charge to the poor, he said government would subsidised it to others at N1, 500 per box.
In his speech, Mr Godfrey Ohuabunwa, the Chairman of the STBs Manufacturing Association of Nigeria, commended the administration of Buhari for its commitment to the project.
According to him, not less than 10 factories are setting up for the production of STBs which will create more than 10,000 direct jobs.
He said the Bank of Industry was also supporting his group by providing loans for the setting up of factories for STBs production.
He said the DSO would create employment opportunities in the production sector as more television stations would be licensed and encouraged to come on board by the NBC.
Ohuabunwa explained that STBs would provide access for premium contents such as specialised movies and sports which could also be used for collation of data and collection of revenues.
“The beauty of the digitisation is that the box allows for top-up. Besides the free channels provided by the box, you will see latest movies and football matches and other sports which could be watched by paying between N30 and N50.
“Payment for the top-up will be through airtime and other available means and the box also has provision for return path.
“In such a return path, an institution such as the West African Examination Council can create channel for education on its curricular where students can learn free of charge and have access to information.
“The box can be used for e-voting and collation of other data. Advertisers who put their products on the box will be able to reach out to much audience,’’ he said.
Ohuabunwa, nonetheless, said that DSO would not pose unhealthy competition to pay- television outfits but rather boost their business by increasing their subscriber-base, if they put their contents in the box.
All in all, observers commend the present administration for giving priority attention to DSO programme to have unhindered access to information, entertainment and education programmes. Ijikanmi is a writer from News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)