Nigeria: 'How Plateau Is Preparing to Pioneer Digitaltv Broadcasting in Nigeria'

Broadcast

Jos city which pioneered colour television broadcasting in 1974 is set to achieve another first.  Sunday Rogo, General Manager of Plateau Radio Television Corporation (PRTV) , the pilot station for Nigeria's analogue-digital switchover, states how the station is preparing for the task.

How do you feel being the boss of the broadcasting station to pioneer analogue to digital switchover in Nigeria?

I consider myself privileged to be the head of this organisation at a time that this broadcasting phenomenon is coming to Nigeria starting from here. I feel honoured having the responsibility to pioneer this very important migration from analogue to digital platform.

How will you describe the switchover process? What is digital as against analogue broadcasting?


Analogue television broadcasting is the way it has always been, without choices, while digital terrestrial broadcasting is bringing freshness, diversity, and improvement in delivery. Analogue transmission has issues concerning clarity of picture, sound quality, and so on, which digital transmission will change. We watch DSTV today and wish our own television were like that. The idea of digital television is to reach the standard, to achieve what is obtainable in cable television transmission. It is all about improvement.

Multiplicity of programmes is a frequently mentioned benefit of digital transmission. How will this work out and what specific other benefits would you highlight?

One of the aims of the analogue-digital switch is to enable more players to come into the industry. We are going to have more programmes and better content. We as a station will be required to run several programmes simultaneously, reason being that we are classified as free-to-air television as against pay television: cable television to which you have to subscribe. With digital TV you are no longer tied to PRTV, NTA, or AIT. Now, if you are not satisfied with these stations, the change you desire is just a button away.

How far has the PRTV progressed towards starting digital broadcasting?

We were privileged to host the Director General (DG) of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Prince Emeka Mba with his team at the Rayfield station of the PRTV. We hosted him on a programme, after which we conducted him round our equipment and facilities.

He was really excited with our level of digital compliance, which was at that time about 75 to 80 percent. Now, the governor (Jonah Jang) has given more support to the station to ensure that we become 100 percent digital compliant as far as equipment and readiness are concerned.

What does 75, 80 per cent digital compliance mean?

The percentage is about what equipment you have. The equipment you basically need is the fibre optic, the major link between the main studio and the transmitters. Once you have that, any other thing simply follows. I am aware that there are studios that do not have fibre optic. We had it even before the NBC DG came on that visit. We have only a few things more to complete all we need. It's a gamut, an assortment of equipment. If you don't have all, you can't say you are complete. But what we have can enable a switchover, and that was why the ceremonial switchover (the formal switchover performed on June 30, 2014) went successfully.

That was ceremonial. When are you now going to switchover in terms of running your daily programmes digitally?

Now, there are concepts that need to be explained to viewers: you hear terms like switchover and switch-off and you wonder what is what. Switchover is the commencement of movement from analogue platform to digital platform. It's a process. What we are into now is the commencement of that process. A time will come when the NBC would have fully licensed national carriers, signal distributors. Once licensed and given areas of operation, they too will put certain infrastructure and equipment in place to be able to distribute signals.

At the moment we are told two signal distributors will be licensed. One, StarTimes, has almost got there. You know the synergy between NTA and StarTimes. Another signal distributor is about to be licensed. By the time these two are fully licensed, they are the ones that will now have a relationship with the TV stations. The stations will not be required to send out signals of their own as we now do. All the programmes you watch on PRTV now are coming from our own transmitters, but by the time these signal distributors take over fully, the contents we produce will be given to the signal distributors who will use their own facilities to distribute our signals to viewers.

So, the process of moving from analogue to digital is what you describe as switchover. By the time the entire process is completed, you now switch off (from analogue). When the NBC is convinced that all parts of this country have switched over, then there will be a switch-off. The (anticipated) time of the switch-off will be June 2015, but the deadline given to us here (in Jos as the pioneer switchover city) is the 1st of January 2015.

For us here, the switchover has started. We are now on StarTimes' platform, but because it is a process that has to be done systematically, the NBC has allowed what is called a dual regime, which means you still have your analogue transmission side by side the digital transmission, until you have fully switched over and your analogue can go completely for full digital transmission.

How are you preparing your viewers to use their usual analogue TV sets to view your digitalised signals when you start?

We have long realised that the programme can't succeed without intensive public sensitization and the state government has been working to sensitize the people. On our part in particular, we are working towards organising a roundtable where we will invite critical stakeholders to participate. It's going to be a life programme, both on television and radio, with experts from the National Broadcasting Corporation to speak and our lines open for members of the public to phone in and ask questions. Apart from that we believe that we should target particular institutions, e.g. religious organisations such as Christian Association of Nigeria and Jama'at Nasril Islam (JNI) through which messages will get to members. We will also be targeting traditional rulers and organisations like ALGON, who will pass the messages to the people in the grassroots.

How are you handling the need for your viewers with analogue TV sets to obtain set-top boxes to view your digitalised programmes?

In the same way that the NBC is licensing signal distributors, the Commission is licensing manufacturers of set-top boxes. The digital switch-over programme is opening up a vista of businesses, including set-top box manufacturing. The Federal Government is aware that buying set-top boxes could be difficult for many analogue TV set owners and is in consultation on how the set-top boxes will be made available to the average television users at reasonably reduced cost. I should point out for now that those who already have digital-compliant TV sets do not require set-top boxes. This is why the Federal Government is now strict against importation of analogue TV sets.

What has been the cost of preparing for digitalisation as the pilot station?

For us at the PRTV, we've always desired to upgrade our equipment, digitalisation or not. Most of our broadcast equipment and facilities were purchased in the regime of our revered late father, Chief Solomon Lar. He acquired and installed the equipment to set up the PTV at that time. Since then, nothing significant was done to upgrade the station until the government of Chief Joshua Dariye (1979-1983) when some equipment were brought in. Since the government of Dr Jonah Jang (2007 to date), a lot of equipment and facilities have been bought for PRTV. This government of Jonah Jang has expended well over N2.5 billion to upgrade PRTV not only for digital transmission but to generally standardise the operations of the station.

Jos city's historical background of being first to transmit colour TV signals in Nigeria is one of the attributes which NBC named as informing its choice of Jos to pioneer digital broadcasting. When did Jos pioneer colour television and what station achieved that feat?


That feat was achieved in the time of our first military governor, the late Commissioner of Police, Joseph Gomwalk, who governed the then Benue Plateau State (between 1966 and 1975). He ensured that the Benue Plateau Television, called BPTV, was the one that started colour television transmission way back in 1974. What was the BPTV was where NTA is now. The Federal Government took over the BPTV and made it NTV (Nigerian Television) which metamorphosed into NTA. The takeover of BPTV left the state with no television of its own, and especially during the regime of the late Solomon Lar, differences in party between the state (run by Solomon Lar's Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and the Federal Government (ruled by Shehu Shagari's National Party of Nigeria: NPN) was causing constant conflict. Programmes that the state would have wished to air would be suppressed by the Federal Government's NTV, so the governor felt since that was the case, let's have our own outfit. This was how Plateau Television (PTV) came to be, which is today PRTV.

Source: Daily Trust   27 July 2014