Since Nigeria’s broadcasting sector was liberalised in 1992, the country has become one of Africa’s largest television markets. In an early-2012 poll carried out by the US-based research firm Gallup in conjunction with the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a US federal agency, nearly 79% of Nigerians reported having a working television at home. More than 145 terrestrial television stations – including the government-owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), which is among the country’s largest broadcasters by most metrics – currently serve the local market. As in many other African nations, the public sector continues to be a major player in the domestic television sector. In addition to the NTA, which oversees stations that broadcast from the country’s 36 state capitals and the federal capital territory, many states also operate their own stations.

The large population and high rate of viewership has resulted in the establishment of a number of private terrestrial, satellite and cable service providers in recent years. Major local private sector players include African Independent Television (AIT), the Silverbird Group and Galaxy Television, the latter of which was the first privately registered station in the country. A number of major foreign channels are also popular in Nigeria, including those operated by South Africa’s Multichoice and China’s StarTimes, both of which have invested in expanding their Nigerian business in recent years.

HISTORY: The roots of the industry can be traced back to 1959, when the Western Nigerian Government Broadcasting Company became the first television station to operate in sub-Saharan Africa and, indeed, among the first on the continent. In the early and mid-1960s a number of state-owned stations were created, including the Northern Regional Government’s Radio-Television Kaduna in 1962, for example. In the early and mid1970s the federal government organised a consolidation effort among the numerous regional stations, which eventually resulted in the formation of the NTA in 1976. Since then the national broadcaster has consistently dominated the sector. In 1992 the television market was liberalised and a new federal regulatory body – the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) – was established, with a mandate to promote and facilitate private ownership and competition in the broadcasting sector. Additionally, the NBC was charged with drawing up and enforcing a comprehensive regulatory framework for the broadcasting sector.

The licensing of private players had a transformative and immediate impact on Nigeria’s television industry. Key changes introduced by private operators in the early and mid-1990s included 24-hour programming, which was quickly adopted by the NTA and other government stations; and pay TV, which was pioneered by Multichoice in 1994, when the firm rolled out its Digital Satellite Television (DS tv) network in the country. A number of indigenous and foreign firms have followed suit on the pay-TV front, though as of mid-2013 DS tv was still among the most popular broadcasters in Nigeria, not to mention sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.

IN FIGURES: A lack of official, up-to-date statistics on the nation’s television sector is considered to be a key development hurdle. According to the previously mentioned Gallup-BBG report, which was the result of a poll of 3000 Nigerians in April and May 2012, 78.9% of those surveyed had a working television at home. Television ownership rates were higher in southern Nigeria than in the north – at 87.3% compared to 71.1%, respectively. Viewership rates, as measured by the percentage of those surveyed that had watched television in the past week, were higher among urban residents (90%) as compared to the rural population (67.8%). These findings are in line with rural-urban and north-south divides that are pervasive throughout most of the media and information and communications technology sector in Nigeria. Some 73.3% of poll participants reported utilising television antennas, which allowed them to access terrestrial stations, while 13% had a satellite dish and a further 10.1% used a fixed cable connection. This data is broadly representative of the numerous ways in which Nigerians access television.

Most local television stations broadcast a mix of local and foreign content and channels. Under the NBC’s regulatory framework, terrestrial broadcasters are required to air at least 60% local content, while cable and satellite stations must air a minimum of 20% local content. Major international media and news brands, such as Al Jazeera, CNN and BBC, are often packaged alongside channels that show Nigerian-made movies, local reality shows and newscasts. Improving the quality of content has been a key area of focus among public and private operators in recent years. A similar push to improve production quality in the rapidly maturing film industry – known as “Nollywood” – is expected to have a positive knock-on effect in the television sector.

A VARIED MARKET: Terrestrial broadcast stations dominate Nigeria’s television industry. The NTA, which continues to receive a majority of its financing from the federal government, boasts a regular domestic audience in excess of 50m, making it one of the largest broadcasters in the region by most accounts. Like many of the country’s public state broadcasters, since liberalisation in the early 1990s the station has entered into commercial agreements with a handful of local and foreign players. In addition to an existing partnership with StarTimes, for example, in early 2013 the NTA signed a content-sharing and training agreement with Viacom International Media Networks Africa. Despite its status as a government-supported broadcaster, a percentage of the NTA’s revenues have come from advertising revenues since liberalisation.

A number of private terrestrial and satellite television stations are also popular. AIT, which was established in 1996 by the Daar Group, a Nigerian conglomerate that also controls a number of radio stations, broadcasts news, sports and entertainment of African origin throughout the continent and abroad to the UK and North America. AIT is widely credited with playing a key role in popularising Nigerian film in Africa over the past decade. The Silverbird Group, which is active in a variety of sectors, including television, radio, movie theatres and retail, was established in 1980. Other local television stations include Galaxy, Channels TV and NN24, the latter of which is a news network.

PAY TV: The foreign satellite pay-TV segment is dominated by Multichoice’s DS tv, which, according to recent estimates by local newspaper The Guardian, controls more than 90% of the market. The South African broadcaster offers Nigerian subscribers a variety of plans, starting at N1500 ($9.50) per month for basic access and topping out at N11,000 ($69) per month for premium services. StarTimes, which has been active in Nigeria since the mid-2000s, offers a mix of local and foreign content on a number of channels. Both DS tv and StarTimes operate in numerous other markets throughout Africa as well. In 2010 the NTA and StarTimes jointly launched NTA Star TV, a digital terrestrial television station that offers subscriptions priced as low as N1000 ($6) a month, in an attempt to appeal to low-cost subscribers. According to StarTimes, which owns 70% of the network, as of early 2013 the station had attracted more than 1m subscribers. In January 2013 StarTimes announced that it planned to spend more than N15bn ($94.5m) on building its Nigeria business before the end of the year, effectively doubling its existing commitment in the country. The new financing was expected to go towards expanding the company’s broadcast coverage area from 16 states at the end of 2012 to 31 states by the end of 2013. In what was widely seen as an effort to compete directly with NTA Star TV, in mid-2012 Multichoice launched GO tv, a new low-cost satellite station that offers subscription plans starting at N1000 ($6).

DIGITAL SHIFT: Television stations broadcast on a mix of analogue and digital signals. In June 2012 the government delayed a deadline to switch to exclusively digital signals because few people owned televisions compatible with the new standard. As of mid-2013 Nigeria was one of a handful of African nations that had begun the transition. Still, most countries on the continent are planning to have completed the switch by June 2015, a deadline set by the ITU. In early September 2013 the NTA announced that it had already carried out the digitalisation of its services in 32 states, and that it planned to be completely digital by June 2014. In 2012 the federal government announced it would offer subsidies on set-top boxes that convert digital signals so they can be plated on analogue televisions.

In addition to improving quality, lowering costs and broadening reach, digital migration will clear up broadcast spectrum in the country. Components of this so-called “digital dividend” – particularly the 700-MHz and 800-MHz bands – are expected to be sold to the telecommunications industry, which will use the new bandwidth to boost high-speed mobile capacity. “Properly managed, the sale of this leftover spectrum by auction should yield over N308bn ($1.94bn),” Edward Amana, the chairman of Fatora Consulting and a former director of engineering at the NTA, said in an August 2013 speech in Abuja. With more than 120m mobile subscribers, Nigeria is Africa’s largest telecoms sector, making additional bandwidth a key to growth.