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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

DTTV migration and broadcasting in Nigeria

With recent development on the continent, Africa’s nation may not be sleeping on the need to key-into Digital Terrestrial Television (DTTV) evolution, including Nigeria reports REMMY NWEKE.

Preamble:

The importance of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTTv) or (DTT) was recently brought to the fore with the commissioning of the StarTimes pay television platform of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in Abuja, by the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

The president, who was represented by the Vice President, Alhaji Namadi Sambo, noted that the project is evident of transition from analogue to digital transmission in the country, stressing that the crucial role the pay television would play in repositioning the image of Nigeria at home and abroad, especially at this time the nation has embarked on a rebranding programme is enormous and solicited support for the initiative.

While commending NTA and its Chinese partners, for making the Pay TV channels affordable, which as said by him that the monthly charge by the private pay channels in the country could be used to pay for 10 families in the new pay TV, in other words, very affordable pricing.

The television which operates through over 38 channels with an archival system to store and retrieve information for up to 1,000 years, he said, was an indication that NTA had really gone digital and ahead of the 2015 deadline set for African countries to migrate from analogue to digital transmission by the United Nations (UN).

Although currently the services of the station could only be received in Abuja, Kano and Lagos, but officials of NTA confirmed plans to extend it to more cities nationwide.

What is DTTV?

Experts at the Open Source-based free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, have described DTTV as the technological evolution and advance from analogue terrestrial television, which broadcasts land based terrestrial signals.

Hence, DTTV is the process in which analogue television broadcasting is being converted to and replaced by digital television, which principally entails both TV stations and over-the-air viewers’ pact in terms of technology alignment. It also comprises content providers like TV networks, and cable TV conversion to digital cable.

The objective of DTTV, which is similar to digital versus analogue in other platforms such as cable, satellite, telecoms, they said, is characterized by reduced use of spectrum and more capacity than analogue, in addition to better-quality picture and lower operating costs for broadcast and transmission after the initial upgrade costs.

Equally, they said, a terrestrial implementation of digital television technology uses aerial broadcasts to a conventional antenna or aerial, instead of a satellite dish or cable connection. Therefore, DTTV could be comfortably said to be the transmission of audio and video by distinct digital signals, in contrast to the analogue signals used by analogue TV.

So, in many climes, DTTV has been replacing analogue television in several industrialized nations, especially since the end of the two-phased World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva and Tunis between 2003 and 2005.

Also, various DTTV technologies are used across the globe. For instance, the Advanced Television Standards Committee (ATSC) is used in North America and South Korea, an evolution from the analogue National Television Standards Committee standard (NTSC), while Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão Digital (Brazilian Digital Television System); is a technical standard of ISDB-T used in Japan, with a variation of it used in Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador and most recently Costa Rica and Paraguay.

Even as the Digital Video Broadcasting -Terreastrial (DVB-T) is the most common in covering Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Uruguay and some countries of Africa. The DMB-T/H version of DTTV standard is adopted in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hong Kong, though Hong Kong’s cable operators use DVB; just as the rest of the world could be said to be undecided on the technologies. Wikipedia’s experts explained that ISDB-T is very similar to DVB-T and could share front-end receiver and demodulator components.

Switching over to digital broadcasting:

Reports have it that the United States has switched from analogue to DTT, alongside most of the European countries, with the rest hoping to have completed the switchover mostly by 2012.

In many countries, a simulcast service is operated where a broadcast is made available to viewers in both analogue and digital at the same time. As digital becomes more popular, it is likely that the existing analogue services will be removed. In some cases this has already happened, where a broadcaster has offered incentives to viewers to encourage them to switch to digital. In other cases government policies have been introduced to encourage or force the switchover process, especially with regard to terrestrial broadcasts. Government intervention usually involves providing some funding for broadcasters and, in some cases monetary relief to viewers, to enable a switchover to happen by a given deadline.

NTA StarTimes selling point:

The main selling point of the NTA StarTimes DTT-based Pay TV service is that it requires no satellite dish. StarTimes uses digital terrestrial broadcast technology, DVB-T. No requirement for dish makes cost of StarTimes system cheap for subscribers as all they need is a StarTimes decoder, which goes for around N10,500.

The StarTimes decoder is plug and play, which means consumers could just connect it to their TV sets, and then start watching over 30 channels. Any TV antenna could be used for receiving the NTA StarTimes signals, but it’s advisable that an antenna mounted outside preferably an external antenna would offer better reception and enable subscribers to receive the full StarTimes offering.

The Corporate Affairs Manager, Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) Mr. Zahardeen Nasirdeen, was quoted as saying that NTA StarTimes signals are not affected by the weather, like satellite pay TV. Whether it is raining, cloudy, or sunny, StarTimes reception will be affected minimally.

He explained that NTA StarTimes comes with over 30 channels, which were carefully selected to target different user needs including news, documentaries, live sports, entertainment, Kids, Education to name a few. Stressing that a number of NTA channels in the packages comprised of NTA Lagos, NTA News 24, NTA Sports 24, NTA Entertainment, NTA Education among other, even as more NTA channels may be added in future.

Equally, he said, there are a number of local private channels on StarTimes like Galaxy and Channels for now. Pointing out that pricing of about N1,000 per month, is one thing that is selling well for NITA StarTimes. Adding that subscription to StarTimes from NTA Star TV Network costs N10,500, which includes the StarTimes decoder and one month subscription.

“There are two subscription packages the StarTimes Basic package which is currently put at N1,000 and the StarTimes Premium package which goes for N1,800. StarTimes Basic offers about 30 channels, the StarTimes Premium boasts of over 38 channels,” he highlighted.

Industry observers underscored the fact that NTA StarTimes could charm consumers in the entry level end of the pay TV market, who are mostly going to be price sensitive, thus finding StarTimes attractive. They noted that NTA StarTimes could be a good deal, based on the fact that the possibility of watching some English Premier League (EPL) matches, at least, one match per week live on NTA Sports 24, thereby making StarTimes an even better deal, especially to EPL fans within the entry level segment.

Though live in Lagos, the NTA StarTimes may suffer reception challenge which would actually vary, especially in the cities of Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt, where the operator said it now have services except for those who could afford still the available Yagi antenna, which the company have made available across its outlets.

Across the continent:

As part of the preparatory of Africa’s broadcasting industry, some of the countries have step-up actions to back this migration.

As at last quarter of 2008, the federal government has advance strategy to inaugurate a digital migration board to ensure that Nigeria achieves the United Nations (UN’s) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for technology.

According to the former Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande the MDGs for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, including broadcasting, are important since technology cuts across all sectors of the economy.

Particularly, he noted that the board was expected to assist the switch over from analogue to digital television, noting that Nigeria, alongside other African countries, hitherto agreed to peg the MDG deadline at 2012 instead of 2015, as defined by the UN.

White paper on digital migration coming:

Speaking at the African Broadcaster (Africast 2010) which ended recently in Abuja, President Jonathan represented by Vice President Sambo, proclaimed that the Federal Government had finished studying the report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on digital migration and would soon issue a White Paper to that effect, which would radically alter the way the business of broadcasting in the country.

Government, he said, recognised that digitisation should best be driven by policy, therefore they are preparing to send a bill to the National Assembly for a law that would provide the legal framework for the smooth transition, which would deal with the basic issues of signal distribution, licensing, spectrum planning, broadcast standards, set-top-boxes and the like.

The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili who had the Minister of State, Mr. Labran Maku stood in for her, expressed pleasure at the steady growth of Africast, especially the exhibition aspect, which provides local broadcasters the opportunity to come into direct contact with some of the latest equipment, and simplify their process of getting the right facilities that meet their needs.

A factory in Nigeria, profitable for West Africa:

She also urged equipment manufacturers to think about investing in the local manufacture of broadcast hardware, particularly set-top boxes, which would play vital role during and after the switchover to digital terrestrial broadcasting.

Akunyili noted that a factory in Nigeria would conveniently and profitably serve the whole of West Africa and beyond.

The Director General, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mr. Yomi Bolarinwa, expressed delight over the consideration by FG for the presidential report and urged for urgent actualization of its goal through the white paper. He promised that NBC would continue to justify the confidence reposed on the Commission.

South Africa:

Not wanting to be cut in the web, MultiChoice since 2008 began testing of the switch over to DTT of its subscribers in selected cities, beginning with Cape Town in accordance with the South African government determination to ensure smooth migration by 2011.

MultiChoice using its Digital Satellite Television (DStv) subscribers living in the Cape Town area, intimated them of likely interference experience on their television signals from 10 November 2008, when the switch on of a DTT transmitter by M-Net was effected.

According to officials, DStv subscribers experienced some signal hiccups such as blue screens, snowy picture, buzzing sound and flashing 4 (EO4), while requesting subscribers to contact the MultiChoice centres, if they require assistance.

As said by MultiChoice officials, the recommended procedure for switching over, on single double and SP-PVR view entails that South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), e.tv and M-Net broadcast terrestrially, since its official launch of the field trials for DTT on Saturday 1 November 2008.

This, industry observers said Nigerian DSTv customers are waiting in excitement when the continent PayTV station operator, MultiChoice would commence trials in Nigeria.

Uganda:

In Uganda, five television stations were recently selected to participate in a digital broadcast pilot with 200 viewers receiving the signal in the capital Kampala.

The Executive Director, Uganda Communications Commission, Mr. Patrick Masambu, said those at the digital TV pilot viewing that the country would end analogue signals by December 2012, which is only three years away.

Ghana is not left out of the trails going on across the continent.

Conclusion:

As matter of fact, why the need arose, according to industry experts for the migration from analogue to digital TV, includes the benefits of digital TV broadcasting, taking into account the excellent picture quality, clearer sound, more channels, a digital TV guide which could be easily updated for more accurate schedules, and interactive services like games or the weather channel.

Additionally, experts said, picture quality of digital TV does not deteriorate with a weaker TV aerial signal, rather, the TV picture would either be perfect or you will have no picture at all. So, no more snowy pictures, as well as allowing transmission of High Definition (HD 1080) TV pictures.

Above all, what the foregoing has shown is that price war may be imminent as time draw near for the deadline in 2012, which is just about 24 months away.

Though Nigeria could be said to be dragging foot on the migration given its prominence in the continental Ministerial Committee decision that TV broadcast stations operator switch over by 2012. It’s demeaning, therefore, that since 2008, Nigeria is still working on presidential working committee report, which means practical migration is still a one-sided implementation as a few broadcasting stations have commenced actions in this regard.

It is hoped, however, that when the White Paper comes out eventually, it would encourage broadcast stations especially the pay TV operators in the country, because the more the merrier for end users. But, no doubt that the expectations are high as industry observers look forward to welcoming the likes of MultiChoice to take advantage of its subscriber base in this market to drive the path by playing a leading role in this respect.


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