Nigeria switching from analogue to digital broadcasting in television and radio

In recent years Nigeria’s National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) have worked to implement digital television broadcasting in Nigeria. This effort began in 2006, when the government announced a plan to digitise the nation’s analogue television broadcast signal by June 2015, in line with a global deadline established by the International Telecommunications Union, the UN’s telecoms technology arm. Since, the digital migration programme has moved forward in fits and starts. As of early 2015 it appeared that the country would likely not meet the June deadline, though a substantial amount of progress had been made. “Digital broadcasting is coming upstream, but the 2015 target for switchover to digital television is not achievable,” Stephen Bello, former acting executive vice-chairman of the NCC, told local media in March 2014. “Transmitting stations may be able to broadcast digital television signals [by the deadline], but 90% of television sets will not be able to receive the signals.”

Effort Under Way

Currently most television stations in Nigeria broadcast analogue signals, though in recent years a steadily growing number of predominantly foreign-owned satellite firms have made the transition to digital broadcasting, such as Multichoice, a South African firm that owns and operates the Digitial Satellite Television (DS tv) pay service. NTA Star TV, a joint venture between the state-controlled Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and StarTimes, a Chinese firm, also broadcasts digitally. A number of the country’s other broadcasters have invested in switching to a digital signal, though the majority continue to operate analogue stations as well.

Indeed, the cost of converting every television in Nigeria to receive a digital signal is widely considered to be a key hurdle. Each of Nigeria’s estimated 44m television-viewing homes will be required to install a set-top box (STB) to enable them to receive a digital signal. At an estimated cost of around $100 per STB, the total cost to the country was estimated at N691bn ($414.6m) in 2013. According to the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology (FMCT), the former government announced plans to manufacture STBs in Nigeria and sell them to citizens at subsidised rates. As of early 2015 the government was reportedly working with local firms to manufacture 20m STBs by the end of the year, though it remains to be seen how the new government will tackle this issue.

Potential Outcomes

Most local players agree that while the programme will not likely be finalised by 2015, eventually Nigeria will join the ranks of countries that have completed the digital migration process. The initiative is expected to have myriad benefits. In addition to freeing up a considerable amount of valuable spectrum for use in other industries – notably telecommunications and information and communications technology (see Telecoms & IT chapter) – the transition can lead to rapid growth in the television industry itself. Based on recent forecasts Nigeria is set to be one of Africa’s largest television markets in the foreseeable future. According to a 2012 report published by Digital TV Research (DTVR), a UK-based research firm, by 2017 around 54% of sub-Saharan African television households are to receive digital signals, up from around 25% at the end of 2011. Nigeria currently accounts for around one-quarter of television households in sub-Saharan Africa, and this figure is also set to rise in the coming years. Both digital terrestrial television (DTT) – such as the government’s NTA Star TV station – and direct-to-home (DTH) pay-TV services, such as DS tv are expected to see considerable growth in coming years. According to DTVR, by 2017 Nigeria will be the market in subSaharan Africa for DTT, with 3.2m homes in total, and premium DTH channels, with 1.7m homes. These figures are impressive given the fact that according to a report by the National Bureau of Statistics, as of 2011, the most recent year for which data was available, just 44.7% of the population had access to a television, and that only 13.3% of Nigerians owned a television.