Engr. Rotimi Salami, general manager, Integrated Television Services (ITS), the company implementing the Digital Switchover (DSO) platform for the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), speaks with CHIMA AKWAJA on key issues in the federal government’s digital television switch over drive.
Nigeria has come a long way in implementing the digital switchover, while StarTimes and its partners, especially, Integrated Television Services (ITS), have been in the forefront of the migration, can you explain what the whole partnership is about and what it means for Nigerians?
The partnership is about building the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform for Intergrated Television System, ITS in line with what is envisaged in the digital switchover (DSO) project. Integrated Television System is expected to build a platform and make same available to broadcasters to transmit their content to the general viewership. Given the enormous financial cost in building the platform, which ought to come from the federal government, the partnership had afforded ITS the capability of developing the capacity in a public private partnership (PPP) arrangement as encourage by government, hence, taking off the burden of funding the project from government.
Intergrated Television System said it will have on its platform over 30 channels on its free Tv bouquet. Can you explain more about those channels?
We have the capacity to deliver much more channels. However, these 30 programmes are those presently approved by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for the exercise. It is believed that in the nearest future, this number will rise. Each Broadcast Signal Distributor (BSD) is projected will operate four multiplex.
The minister of Information was quoted as saying that the federal government may not be able to provide set up boxes for every home because of cost implications, to what extent is this going to limit the ability of Nigerians to switchover, and what are you people doing about it?
Set top boxes enable backward integration of the millions of analogue Tv sets we currently own to the transmitted digital signals. None availability of this item will definitely slow down the citizens ability to enjoy our services. However, there are ways around this, one of which is the direct purchase of Integrated Receivers Decoder (IRD), This negates the spirit of free TV. The most ideal which the ITS sought from inception is that of simulcryption. This implies the simultaneous encryption of the free TV Nagra CAS and that of our technical partner Star Times Conax CAS. Recall Star Times already have about four million decoders subscribed on its platform with simulcryption. These sets of decoders can decipher the free TV services on the Star Times decoder and they would be made to fulfill their social obligations that is pay DAF and other charges as may be necessary on the free TV set top boxes.
One of the advantages of digital broadcasting is that it opens up the terrain for players, and one will observe that in Ilorin presently there are only two players available for the six places earmarked for local broadcasters. Can you expatiate on these opportunities for more players?
The licensing regimes as designed by the NBC in the digital era for the 30 channels is that there would be 20 national broadcast, six local broadcast and the other four regional broadcast. In Ilorin, there exist only NTA Ilorin and Kwara Tv as local contributor on the platform. It really opens up opportunity to other four players to come on board. The challenge there is that may be for lack of information no one had expressed interest to be a local contributor on the platform to the NBC. However, since our verification tour, I have been contacted by one or two who are interested in being on the platform and we have directed them to the appropriate authority, the NBC.
Digital migration is said to open up more job opportunities for Nigerians, what are the benefits of DTT for Nigerians in terms of job creation and ancillary services?
Job opportunities abound in the creative and technical spheres. As the network expands, engineers and computer experts would be engaged to man the systems. Content creation would increase necessitating openings for actors, producers, creative writers to fill the now available platform. Apps are to be developed for use on the set top boxes (STBs) and also marketing of the STBs will generate revenues. .Similarly as the networks optimizes, other value added services that I trust Nigerians would explore as revenue generating concerns would spring up.
StarTimes has been in Nigeria since 2010, how would you access the pay Tv business environment, especially in the area of regulations?
Paid subscription affords the platform the financial muscle to acquire rights to properties that the viewership would want to subscribe to. Football matches for example, sports fiestas, soaps, etc. Knowing Nigerians, our quest for things trending is almost insatiable, there is so much business for the pay TV operators to thrive. Contents would be the draw and creating awareness would also be key for example, StarTimes acquired rights to Bundesliga, Ligue1, Eredivisie, etc but awareness of the presence of these properties is rather poor. Subscribers on their satellite services who are football fans are entertained round the clock on about six sport channels. The MLS, CSL, the UFC Championship, the list is limitless and the cost is a bargain. Awareness is key for Pay TV as the market is huge. They have the facilities and platform to create this awareness unlike in the free TV. They are in charge of their destiny.
Infrastructure expansion has been a major financial drain on pay Tv firms, but these infrastructures are the backbone for efficient operations and quality signals, what difficulties have been encountered so far, especially, in expanding to the northern parts of the country?
You have to qualify which class of pay Tv, operators has to invest in infrastructural development on the ground here in Nigeria. There are the DTT pay-Tv platform operators particularly which had to ingest local programmes onto its platform across the nook and crannies of the country. This only could talk of the enormous cost of infrastructural development. They give the community a sense of belonging in addition to this prohibitive cost given the recent exchange regime. The only challenge in expansion across the country is only peculiar with the North-east-Borno and Yobe states. These are the only states in which StarTimes is not present and the absence is down to the security challenges associated with these areas. Things are getting better now, and the NTA-Star network is making arrangements to have its presence established there.
What is StarTimes expansion drive for nationwide coverage?
Nationwide coverage for StarTimes had already been achieved via their Starsat operations. While I can’t speak for StarTimes, what I believe you have in mind is their DTT operations. The free TV project will dovetail into total nationwide DTT network operations for both the NTA-Star network and The ITS given our strategic alliance
One of the questions agitating the minds of Nigerian subscribers is whether there will come a time when they will pay as you watch? Is it possible in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world?
Truly, I don’t know if pay-as-you-watch is operational in any part of the world. But then you already have video on demand (VOD) services, this is a form of pay as you watch. But if what you are saying is like what obtains in the pay-as-you-go telephony services, I don’t think you will be realising that anytime soon. The operational cost borne by network operators is huge. Whether you watch or not these services are running. It is just fair they recoup this cost.
Giving back to the society has been a corporate philosophy for many organisations, which areas of corporate social responsibility have you identified so far for your CSR efforts?
Our CSR would be particularly geared towards educating the people. We have recently supported some performing theatre arts units of our tertiary institution; we will definitely invest in intellectual development.