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Saturday 10th April, 2021

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Nigeria’s Digital Switchover: Fresh Missteps Loom

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By Dominic OMUEDI

Heartwarming, it was for me, to read reports of the press conference addressed on Tuesday by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, on the country’s Digital Switchover (DSO) process, which seemed to have been interred under the rubble of poor conception, mismanagement and corruption.

The cheer brought by the government’s announced intention to reboot the process, positive as appears, has shown nothing beyond the fact that the DSO process is not completely forgotten. No more. No less.

At the press conference, Mohammed unveiled a 13-member Ministerial Task Force to take charge of the DSO process which, for years, has proceeded in staccato fashion and left the country trailing many others, including in Africa.

Members of the task force, to be chaired by Mohammed, include Joe Mutah of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (Secretary), Dr Armstrong Idachaba, acting Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC); Olusegun Yakubu of Pinnacle Communications and Toyin Zubair, promoter of the defunct HiTV and now of Inview.

At the press conference, Mohammed announced that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved outstanding payments to key DSO stakeholders; a development he said will remove all the hindrances to the entire process in the past three years. The funding source for the DSO, broadcast industry experts reckon, is from the N34billion paid by MTN for broadcast frequency.

“With the payment approval by FEC, and with 31 states to cover, we have our work cut out for us. We have no more excuses for not rapidly rolling out the DSO across the country, hence my decision to set up a 13-member Ministerial Task Force, which I will personally chair, to take charge of the rollout,” the minister said excitedly.

He added that the government took a decision last year, on account of the financial difficulties induced by Covid-19, that the DSO process will be private sector-driven, effectively cancelling the plan to provide subsidies for Set-Top-Boxes (STBs) or signal carriage.

What followed, typical of pronouncements on the DSO was a raft of big-sounding and dreamy projections. The DSO, said the minister, will deliver over one million jobs in the next three years, with 50,000 of such coming via local production of 24 million STBs and Smart TVs.

“Not even 20 Set-Top-Box manufacturers can comfortably produce the initial requirements to feed the market.  Furthermore, our position in West Africa, coupled with our size, makes us the definite source of these products for the whole sub-region,” he said.

Television production, he said, will create 200,000 jobs, as digitization will lead to “180 state channels, 30 regional channels and at least 10 national channels”. Digitization, he added, will boost local content propagation and draw many more Nigerians into the business. This, he said will create 400,000 jobs in film production and nudge Nollywood towards subscription Video-On-Demand on STBs and online, thereby providing cheaper distribution means, helping producers to make more money.

The envisaged boom in production, added the minister, will create an additional 200,000 jobs via an increase in foreign demand for fully indigenous content and fetch the country in excess of $100 million.

“I have no doubt in my mind that a successful DSO is not just a job spinner, creating over one million jobs in three years, but also a money-spinner,” said the minister.

Anyone familiar with the country’s DSO journey will not just doubt the minister’s projections, but dismiss them as drunkenly optimistic, especially given how squalidly it has been managed.

Undoubtedly, poor funding has inhibited the process. But more than that, squalid leadership and ill-conceived strategy are greater inhibitors. For instance, despite the pilot project, with the last roll-out three years ago in Osogbo, Osun State, there is no sustainable Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) coverage even in Plateau, Enugu, Osun, Kwara, and Kaduna states as well as the Federal Capital Territory, which were pilot states. Free Tv signals limited to state capitals.

This implies inhabitants outside state capitals are excluded and shows that the broadcast signal carriers selected for the DSO have the inadequate technical and financial capacity for effective DTT coverage, the first step in the DSO.

The minister’s near-orgasmic projections on STBs, which convert analogue signals to digital, ignore the fact that the country, for strange reasons, chose a process that builds conditional access (CA) on top of the STBs instead of a standard affordable STB process.

This means that the STBs process adopted for Nigeria’s DSO will be out of the financial reach of most Nigerians. The standard STBs for DSO are supposed to receive free-to-air signal and affordable.  Those with conditional access built onto them are similar to pay television STBs and are much pricier. Inview, the company providing the TV system/ conditional access, has already been paid N1billion for running the TV system only in Abuja and Jos.

The company and others involved in the process are understood to have filed invoices for additional sums.

The cancellation of subsidy for STBs, forced on the government by the inclement economic climate, is certain to ensure that the prices of the boxes will stretch users to breaking point. Prior to the devaluation of the naira, for instance, the recommended price STB ranged between N20,000 and N30,000. The boxes used in the roll-out at pilot locations were all imported, with the Federal Government giving the alleged STB manufacturers guarantees to fund the importation to the tune of N5billion.

The inordinately ambitious projection that Nigeria will, within three years, be heaving with locally manufactured STBs is something akin to a boxer’s boast-full of sound and fury.

According to experts, there are only three companies claiming to have STB assembly lines in the country and not a single one is manufacturing. How the few companies, even operating at full capacity, can assemble 24 million STBs over five years has something that has eluded experts, who reckon that it will take a minimum of five years to meet the demand of 24million users- if all the companies function at full capacity. Importantly, not one of those claiming to have assembly/manufacturing capacities is in operation, meaning that they are engaged in no economic activities and employ nobody, thereby bilking the country through government contracts.

But they are not alone and are actually encouraged by the disposition of government officials, who view funding for the DSO process as “serve yourself,” the local parlance for the buffet.

In a 21 March 2019 report published by The Guardian, experts interviewed identified corruption as the main obstacle to the country’s transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. A Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is on suspension from office and facing prosecution by the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) over the alleged fraudulent release of N2.5billion to a private company.

The matter, which is before the Federal High Court, Abuja, relates to the 2016 release of N10 billion to the Ministry of Information and Culture for the DSO.

The ICPC is accusing the suspended D-G of using his position to confer a corrupt advantage on his associates in two private companies.

The suspended D-G is alleged to have asked the Information Minister to approve payment of N2.5 billion to Pinnacle Communications Limited, a private signal distribution operator, as a “seed grant” for the DSO for which it was ineligible.

Mohammed, who was listed as a witness in the trial, claimed he approved the payment based on expert advice given by the suspended D-G.  The DSO guidelines, provided by a Federal Government Whitepaper, directed that the process be exclusively managed by companies affiliated to the Federal Government. Based on the guidelines, two companies were nominated for the purpose.

One of these was ITS, an affiliate to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), which has no infrastructure of its own and is relying on the one owned by another private operator. It got also go N1.7billion as seed grant.

The assumption that our wonky DSO system will boost local content production because it will serve as a distribution platform is also one without basis, as International Telecommunications Union (ITU) DSO policy is simply transiting free-to-air analogue signals to a digital signal. Thus, Nigeria’s system, with its in-built conditional access system, will rob Nigerians of the constitutionally-guaranteed right to receive information in view of the fact that most free-to-air broadcasters are government-owned.

In effect, 90 million Nigerians already living in poverty will be required to buy STBs, movies online and unlimited internet service to access such.

The claim that Nollywood output will benefit from better distribution is also a ruse. Nigerians are already using smart devices through which they access Nigerian creative content online.

Many have also blamed ministerial interference for the corrugated DSO process, arguing that worldwide, the DSO process is driven by the regulator and the industry.

What I have observed since 2015 is a lot of ministerial interference which, in addition to other factors, will leave the country panting to achieve DTT coverage by the time the rest of the world would have moved on a more modern platform, the OTT.

**Omuedi, a retired broadcast engineer, writes from Ughelli

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GOtv Nigeria Introduces Enhanced Decoder Notification

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GOtv Nigeria is introducing an Enhanced Decoder Notification (EDN) functionality to keep its customers informed and in control of their viewing experience.

This EDN functionality which will be activated on Tuesday, 6th April 2021 refers to a set of icons that appear on the screen containing valuable information like how many viewing days are left before a customer’s next payment is due, the latest special offers and discounts, as well as information on new content, campaigns and upcoming celebrations.

Customers can access this information by pressing the “okay” button on their remote, followed by “messages” on the menu bar and then use the arrow keys to scroll through the different messages.

Speaking on the latest update, Chief Customer Officer, MultiChoice Nigeria, Martin Mabutho said: “We are constantly driven to ensure our customers enjoy our services and are always looking to offer innovative ways to give them better control and improved customer support.

“The Enhanced Decoder Notification functionality is another way we are delivering on this promise.”

Mabutho added that with the new EDN service, customers will have fewer interruptions whilst viewing.

GOtv Nigeria continues to position itself as one of Africa’s most accessible sources of family entertainment.

The Enhanced Decoder Notification functionality will be activated on Tuesday, 6th April 2021.

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COVID-19: The Need To Look At MultiChoice

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By Chigoziem DIKE

A confession: I happen to be one of the millions of Nigerians, who view corporate organisations, especially those with non-Nigerian origins, as being in the country for nothing other than profits.

While I fully understand that a loss-making business is nothing more than a recreational activity, I still cling to the view that businesses in Nigeria, where regulatory institutions are frail, are in the game to make money and more money.

Nothing else in spite of efforts by companies at “giving back to the society”, which I think are sometimes attended by obsequious publicity which makes them appear hollow.

That view is a product of my belief that what businesses “give back to the society” is measly compared to what they cream off their customers – an assumption devoid of any knowledge of their operational costs and which ignores the inclement conditions under which businesses operate.

I hold a similar view of politicians, who I suspect, give tiny fractions of what they earn to their constituents via empowerment schemes. I have held on to this view for a long time, but my hold on it has weakened a little.

Why? How? By whom? I will answer the questions in reverse order. MultiChoice is the answer. I am a DStv subscriber and MultiChoice is the last company I thought had any feeling for its subscribers beyond taking their naira-of course, in exchange for the quality entertainment unavailable outside its two platforms.

My two youngest siblings recently became subscribers of DStv and GOtv respectively, a reason for which they are thrilled. The thrill they are experiencing is not just that they now have access to what they have always wished for (both just got jobs), but the cost at which they got it.

They are, I believe, two of the earliest beneficiaries of MultiChoice’s ongoing price reduction promo via which aspiring subscribers can buy DStv and GOtv decoders at hugely discounted prices. The older one got herself a DStv decoder at N9,900 complete with a free one-month subscription on DStv Confam. The younger rewarded herself with a GOtv decoder for N6, 900, which came with a free subscription on GOtv Jolli for the same period.

The price slash promo, announced some four weeks ago, I believe, is appropriately timed, as it shows that the provider’s understanding of COVID-19’s impact on finances and desire to soothe its effects on its customers.

Hints of the understanding shown had manifested last year, just as COVID-19 berthed in Nigeria and threatened a never-seen-before disruption of socio-economic life. The balm provided was “We’ve Got You” campaign, an allusion to the willingness to support customers.

The campaign, of which I was a beneficiary, ran for three months and provided DStv and GOtv subscribers an upgrade to the next higher bouquet on renewal of the subscription on his/her regular bouquets.

That gesture was also attended by the granting of access to Free-to-Air (FTA) news, kiddies and sporting channels. And with the ban on congregation for religious purposes, part of the measures to curtail the spread of the virus, a pop-up channel, Hallelujah, was introduced to bring the church to DStv and GOtv Christian subscribers’ living rooms just as Muslim subscribers were granted access to Sunna TV, starting from the beginning of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.

The lockdown, of course, imposed on fun seekers the obligation of staying away from parties. To fill the gap, party fun-loving DStv and GOtv subscribers were served weekly lashings of party fun through Turnup Friday and Owambe Saturday.  More fun came via COVID-19 Hope for Africa Concert, in partnership with One Africa Global Foundation.

Aside customers, the government and general public received support, as the country quaked under thinning finances and social disruption. To support government efforts at containing the spread of the virus, MultiChoice made cash donations of N200 million to the Federal Government and N50 million to Lagos State government.

It also donated 60, 000 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to hospitals and Non-Governmental Organisations. Delivered10,0000 face masks to dealers and other inits value chain and provided PPE, sanitiser and immunity-boosting multivitamins to employees.

These steps were accompanied by contribution to public education about the virus through a partnership with the UN and the U.S Embassy to carry Educational Public Service Announcements (PSAs).

Further support for public education and enlightenment was provided through the regular highlighting of the helplines of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on more than 10 channels on DStv and GOtv platforms at a cost estimated to be in excess of N550 million.

With its finger permanently on the pulse of entertainment, MultiChoice realised that with the lockdown, the TV and film sector was headed for something akin to an intensive care unit. Productions were naturally affected, leaving professionals in the sector gasping in the financial sense.

To save the situation, MultiChoice made a commitment of up to N400million, to safeguard the income of cast and crew on various production. Also, alumni of the MultiChoice Talent Factory Academy (MTFA) were financially supported to shoot documentaries.

There is no doubt that Covid-19 stole in on us all and shattered our plans, including the best-laid ones. That we, as a society are gradually emerging from the socio-economic rubble it bequeathed, is in large parts, due to contributions of corporate organisations like MultiChoice.

Dike a Public Affairs analyst, writes from Abuja

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GOtv Customers To Enjoy Up To 32% Discount This March

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GOtv Nigeria has announced the return of its special reward campaign, ‘GOtv Dey Your Side’, designed to appreciate loyal customers for their continued support and reward them with discounts, more content and more value this March.

The campaign which kicked off on Tuesday, 2nd March will see customers on GOtv Jolli and GOtv Jinja enjoy discounts up to 32% and an upgraded viewing on GOtv Max, which is the highest package offering on the platform.

John Ugbe, Chief Executive Officer, MultiChoice Nigeria, explained that the offer is borne out of GOtv’s desire to show support to subscribers, who have remained loyal to the service, by offering them more for less money in an economic situation worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are ensuring quality home entertainment continues to remain affordable, against the backdrop of the ongoing second wave of the pandemic and its attendant economic strain.

“We are also committed to Nigeria’s efforts to curb the spread of the Coronavirus, part of which requires people to stay home more. With this offer, we are making their stay at home a lot more enjoyable – and affordable,” said Ugbe.

The campaign offer is open to GOtv Jolli and Jinja customers when they renew their subscription for N2,460 on GOtv Jolli and get upgraded to GOtv Max worth N3,600 with 75+ world-class channels. This is a limited time offer that starts Tuesday, 2nd of March 2021.

GOtv Max is a bigger petri-dish of quality home entertainment, offering access to top channels such as ESPN, SuperSport La Liga, BET, FOX, M-Net Movies 4, StarLife, Africa Magic Family, Cartoon Network, Investigation Discovery and much more.

For football fans, GOtv Max offers access to the best European leagues, including LaLiga, Serie A and select Premier League matches. Also, available on GOtv Max are matches of the English Football League (EFL), Major League Soccer (MLS), Scottish Premier Football League (SPFL), Dutch Eredivisie and other popular premier American leagues on ESPN and all the action on All Elite Wrestling.

Subscribers equally have access to blockbuster local and international telenovelas on Telemundo, Televista and Eva Plus.

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