Nigeria’s broadcast regulator envisions N260 billion Digital Migration Dividends
Nigeria is on path to gaining an estimated N160 billion from new opportunities and possibilities to be unlocked in the economy with the ongoing Digital Switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting.
Emeka Mba, the Director-General of Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the nation’s broadcasting industry regulator tells Technology Times in an exclusive interview that government expects at least N100 billion from issuance of licences with the vacation of analogue frequency spectrum by industry operators.
Another N160 billion is expected to come from spiral impact that will be yielded from advertising revenue to the broadcast sector and Nollywood, the nation’s rising entertainment industry.
Mba envisions that beyond the revenue potentials, the Digital Switch Over (DSO) will open up new opportunities for the broadcast, entertainment, broadband and other sector of the nation’s economy.
Mba, the D-G of NBC says how the Nigerian broadcast regulator is implementing digital migration switchover mandated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN specialised agency that oversees frequency spectrum across the world, which will change the communications ecosystem.
Excerpts of the exclusive interview with Technology Times:
Technology Times: Nigeria, like most countries of the world that use frequency spectrum assigned by ITU, has been asked by the agency to switchover to digital broadcasting. You announced the take-off of a pilot scheme in Jos in June this year. Beyond the pilot, what is your assessment of progress made by the Nigeria on switchover to digital broadcasting?
Emeka Mba: The NBC (National Broadcasting Commission) has despite lack of funding taken several critical steps in our attempt to ensure that Nigeria successfully transits analogue broadcasting to digital. Some of these steps include the pilot DTT scheme in Jos, Plateau State, and the authorization of the national set top box system, with about 14 companies now licensed to manufacture set top boxes locally.
However, the sad reality is that Nigeria’s digital transition plans have been largely stalled by lack of funding required for the infrastructure development, acquisition of set top boxes and publicity, as well as other critical elements of the digital switch over.
Technology Times: Beyond the ITU call for switchover, there have been challenges of funding the migration across the broad spectrum of stakeholders ranging from investors, regulators, operators and service providers. From the perspective of the broadcast regulator, how are you addressing this key hurdle needed to unlock the possibilities and opportunities in Digital Migration?
Mba: A successful digital migration presents several strategic benefits for the country, especially in terms of improvement of quality and diversity of broadcast content and interactive services, as well as creation of jobs, and other economic benefits.
However, as mentioned above, the key hurdle has been funding. The Commission has consistently believed that what is required is a creative thought leadership to raise funding through the upfront monetization of some of the expected digital dividend. Working with Digiteam and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Organization, as well as our legal and spectrum consultants, the NBC was able to fashion out a relative value of the expected digital dividend which the broadcast industry is expected to vacate following successful Digital Switch Over (DSO).
Based on this assessment, the value was ascertained to yield about N100b at the minimum. We therefore believe that it was worthwhile to pursue a financing model for the DSO based on the expected yield.
[blockquote right=”pull-right” cite=”Emeka Mba, Director-General, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC)”]“However, the sad reality is that Nigeria’s digital transition plans have been largely stalled by lack of funding required for the infrastructure development, acquisition of set top boxes and publicity, as well as other critical elements of the digital switch over.”[/blockquote]
Technology Times: ITU has also cited that one of the opportunities that will accrue from Digital Migration is that new analogue frequency spectrum will be available from broadcast companies to be reassigned to telecoms companies to offer broadband services. Can you provide an insight into what NBC has done with regards to the “Digital Dividend” spectrum?
Mba: As stated above, without a successful transition to digital, Nigeria’s broadband plans will remain encumbered. Therefore, logically speaking it is important to take all measures to ensure that broadcasting is able to transit to make available the spectrum to the NFMC (National Frequency Management Council) for reassignment.
Technology Times: While your sister regulatory agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), which regulates the telecoms industry has been popularly known to auction frequency spectrum, what process does NBC, which regulate the broadcast sector adopt in its frequency assignment process?
Mba: Unlike the NCC, the NBC does not use the instrument of auction for licensing of broadcasters. Based on our law and international best practice, broadcast licences are granted following an application and the assessment of the application with regards to the service and impact on the market, and benefits to the audiences, etc. This is fundamentally because the economics and social relevance of broadcasting differs considerably from traditional telecommunications markets.
Technology Times: For the interest of details, can you provide specific details as to the process adopted to assign a portion of the 700MHz spectrum said to have been assigned to one of the telecoms companies, MTN Nigeria Limited. Were offers also made to other players in the sector?
Mba: The licensing process follows an application by interested applicants, and the NBC processes the application and forwards to the Honorable Minister for approval to Mr. President when such broadcast applications require frequency spectrum to operate.
Other players were invited to apply as well, and based on their application offering including value for money, the NBC approved that of MTN as being the most responsive based on our licensing criteria, especially with their offer to provide a converged broadcasting service which would further deepen and widen competition in the broadcasting market, offering consumers more choice and the possibility of interactive services.
Technology Times: What steps are being undertaken by NBC to ensure that the possibilities of broadband for overall national development is unlocked for Nigeria through policy and regulatory measures that complement efforts of investors to explore stakes in the broadband-hungry market?
Mba: The future of broadcasting and the media industry is constantly evolving, and digital is playing a key role. The Commission is committed to a speedy and successful DSO, which would free more spectrum for national broadband. We have also taken steps to license several over the top services such as IPTV, and the delivery of video services over broadband. This is the future, and the Commission is already firmly engaged to ensure that Nigerians benefit from this.
[blockquote right=”pull-right” cite=”Emeka Mba, Director-General, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC)”]”The future of broadcasting and the media industry is constantly evolving, and digital is playing a key role. The Commission is committed to a speedy and successful DSO, which would free more spectrum for national broadband. We have also taken steps to license several over the top services such as IPTV, and the delivery of video services over broadband. This is the future, and the Commission is already firmly engaged to ensure that Nigerians benefit from this.”[/blockquote]
Technology Times: Are there specific timelines that NBC has outlined to report key milestones in the Digital Migration journey?
Mba: The Commission is going back to Jos, Plateau State to formally launch the national digital free to air platform called FreeTV, which will provide over 30 free-to-air channels to Nigerians on the national set top box system.
This will be the largest digital free to view platform in the world. This will be launched first week of November 2015, and then the digital train to Kaduna and Uyo. The full milestone will be published after the November 1st launch date in Jos.
Technology Times: From the perspective of the regulator, what are the possibilities that you see on the road ahead in Nigeria’s march towards fully Digital Broadcasting?
Mba: The road ahead is going to require a lot of funding but certainly deep commitment from government and leadership from the NBC. The broadcasting market is going to open up a lot of investment and opportunities for young people to progress innovation in our industry.
Technology Times: How do you think the efforts of industry regulators like yourself can deliver the envisaged broadband possibilities that will promote the overall “change” and economic growth being pursued by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari?
Mba: The fact is that digital is enabling faster convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications, and this requires committed government policy to ensure clarity. Both the NBC and the NCC will continue to work together to ensure we deliver the best possible bouquet of services to Nigerians.
It is a well-known fact that wider broadband and more enlightened and informed population will deepen democracy and ensure wide spread economic development.
To give you an idea; the NBC believes that successful DSO will usher in over N100billion additional advertising revenue annually to the broadcasting sector, help distribute Nollywood and other entertainment content more efficiently, checking piracy and creating additional N60billlion annual revenue to Nollwood, with over 50,000 jobs overall to be created within the broadcasting and associated sector over the next three years.
Technology Times: Amid the possibilities envisaged with Digital Switchover and Digital Dividend, where do you envision Nigeria will be by 2020?
Mba: I am confident that digital TV will enable Nigeria further bridge the digital divide, and ensure wider broadband deployment across the country.