ITS incorporates 30 channels to aid DSO process

Rotimi Salami, an engineer, General Manager, Integrated Television Service (ITS), Nigerian Television Authority.

Rotimi Salami, an engineer, is the General Manager, Integrated Television Service (ITS), Nigerian Television Authority. He spoke to journalists recently on how ITS has incorporated 30 channels to aid DSO exercise and the many job opportunities it would bring to Nigerians when fully launched. He also spoke on other issues. Margaret Mwantok was there and provides excerpts.

ITS will have over 30 channels on its Free TV bouquet. Can you explain more about those channels?
We have the capacity to deliver much more channels. However, these 30 programmes are those approved by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission for the exercise. It is believed that in the nearest future, this number will rise. Each Broadcast Signal Distribution (BSD) projected will operate four multiplex.

Nigeria has come a long way in implementing the digital switchover, while StarTimes and its partners, especially, Integrated Television Services, ITS, have been in the forefront of the migration, can you explain what the whole partnership is about and what it means for Nigerians?
The partnership is about building the Digital Television Terrestrial (DTT) platform for ITS in line with what is envisaged in the Digital Switch Over (DSO) project. ITS is expected to build a platform and make same available to broadcasters to transmit their content to the general viewership. Given the enormous financial cost in building the platform, which ought to come from the government, the partnership had afforded ITS the capability of developing the capacity in a PPP arrangement as encouraged by government. Hence taking off government the burden of funding the project.

The Minister of Information was recently quoted as saying the Federal government may not be able to provide set up boxes for every home, because of cost implications, to what extent is this going to limit Nigerians switching over, and what is your company and ITS doing about it?
Set top boxes enable backward integration of the millions of analogue TV sets we currently own to the transmitted digital signals. None availability of this item will definitely slow down the citizen’s ability to enjoy our services. However, there are ways around this, one of which is the direct purchase of Integrated Receiver Decoder (IRD), which negates the spirit of free TV. The most ideal, which the ITS sought from inception, is that of simulcryption. This implies the simultaneous encryption of the free TV; Nagra CAS and that of our technical partner StarTimes Conax CAS. Recall Star Times already have about 4 million decoders subscribed on its platform with simulcryption. These sets of decoders can decipher the free TV services on the StarTimes decoder and they would be made to fulfill their social obligations, that is, pay DAF and other charges as may be necessary on the free TV STB.

One of the advantages of digital broadcasting is that it opens up the terrain for players, and one would observe that in Ilorin presently, there are only two players available for the six places earmarked for local broadcasters. Can you expatiate on these opportunities?
The licensing regimes as designed by the NBC in the digital era for the 30 channels is that there would be 20 national broadcasts, six local and the other four, regional broadcasts. In Ilorin, there exists only NTA Ilorin and Kwara TV as local contributor on the platform. Really, it opens up opportunity to other four players to come on board. However, since our verification tour, I have been contacted by one or two who are interested in being on the platform and we have directed them to the appropriate authority, the NBC.

Digital migration is said to open up more job opportunities for Nigerians, what are the benefits of DTT for Nigerians in terms of job creation and ancillary services?
Job opportunities abound in the creative and technical spheres. As the network expands, engineers and computer experts would be engaged to man the system. Content creation would increase necessitation opening for actors, producers, creative writer to fill the now available platform. Apps are to be developed for use on the Set Top Boxes (STB), marketing of these STBs too are revenue generating concerns. Similarly, as the networking optimises, other value added services would be explored.

How would you access pay TV business environment, especially in the area of regulations?
Paid subscription affords the platform the financial muscle to acquire rights to properties that the viewership would want to subscribe to. Football matches for example, sports fiestas, soaps, etc. Knowing Nigerians, our quest for things trending is almost insatiable. There is so much business for the PayTV operators to thrive. Contents would be the draw and creating awareness would also be key, for example, StarTimes acquired rights to Bundesliga, Ligue1, Eredivisie ETC, but awareness of the presence of these properties is rather poor. Subscribers on their satellite services who are football fans are entertained round the clock on about six sport channels. The MLS, CSL the UFC Championship. The list is limitless and the cost is a bargain. Awareness is key for Pay TV the market is huge. They have the facilities and platform to create this awareness unlike in the free TV. They are in charge of their destiny

Infrastructure expansion has been a major financial drain on pay TV firms, but these are the backbone for efficient operations and quality signals, what difficulties have you encountered so far, especially, expanding to the northern parts of Nigeria?
You have to qualify, which class of the pay-tv operators you have to invest in infrastructural development on the ground here in Nigeria. They are the DTT Pay-TV platform Operators particularly that which had to ingest local programmes onto its platform across the nook and crannies of the country. This only could talk of the enormous cost of infrastructural development. They give the community a sense of belonging in addition to this prohibitive cost given the recent exchange regime. The only challenge in expansion across the country is only peculiar with the North East Borno and Yobe states. These are the only states in which StarTimes is not present and their absence is down to the security challenges associated with these areas. Things are getting better now, and the NTAStar network is making arrangements to have its presence established here.

What is StarTimes expansion drive for nationwide coverage?
Nationwide coverage for StarTimes had already been achieved via their starsat operations. While I can’t speak for StarTimes, what I believe you have in mind is their DTT operations. The Free TV project will dovetail into total nationwide DTT network operations for both the NTA Star network and The ITS given our strategic alliance
One of the questions agitating the minds of Nigerian subscribers is whether there will come a time when they will pay as you watch? Is it possible in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world?

Truly I don’t Know if pay as you watch is operational in any part of the world. But then you already have VOD services this is a form of pay as you watch. But if what you are saying is like what obtains in the Pay as you go telephony services, I don’t think you will be realising that anytime soon. The operational cost borne by network operators is huge. Whether you watch or not, these services are running. It is just fair they recoup this cost.

Giving back to the society has been a corporate philosophy for many organizations, which areas of Corporate Social Responsibility have you identified so far for your CSR efforts?
Our CSR would be particularly geared towards educating the people we have recently supported some performing theatre arts units of our tertiary institution, we will definitely invest in intellectual development.

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