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Nigeria: Is IPTV a pipe dream?

Since the establishment of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) way back on 31st October 1959, after the Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) beamed out its first Television signals in Nigeria, our mass media has functioned in one way. Programmers looked to advertisers to pay for the cost of the media in return for access to the audience for their marketing campaigns. Radio broadcasting was earlier introduced in Nigeria in 1932 by the then British Colonial authorities as an experiment of the empire service of the BBC.

During these periods, corporations, old and new, such as UAC, Unilever, Nestles, Cadbury, jostle for space as they relied on TV commercials to promote their products. The only differentiation between good and bad product was their appearance on TV commercials. This promoted wide acceptability of  their products. The rise of the earliest multinationals can be traced back to the lavish campaigns floated on the Nigeria Television Authority; NTA as it was the largest TV network in Africa as well as one of the oldest and most accomplished indigenous broadcast outfits in Nigeria.

Then comes the policies of commercialization and liberisation of the broadcasting industry in the late 80s during the Babangida administration, and the rise of new privatized TV stations, such as AIT, Channels, Minaj, Silverbirds as well as cable and satellite broadcast networks making it very hard for Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) to aggregate the mass audience needed for a basic commodity consumer product. Whereas in 1980 an average hit show on NTA could draw 30 million TV audience, today the highest rated program might draw a little over 10 million sometimes less of this TV audience base. So as the audience got disaggregated, so did the advertising business.

The Nigerian Television Authority, NTA had built a huge business in the broadcasting industry, relying on the infrastructure developed by the old NITEL, contributing to the wide network its enjoyed in the last couple of decades.

In the late 1990s a second disruptive factor to the classic TV advertising model entered the picture. This was the construction of the optical fiber backbone.

The year 2000s saw the development of terrestrial microwave links and the undersea cables, and it is also the year that saw the rise of IPTV, since its launch in Lagos by Integrity communications, it now counts 100,000 IPTV subscribers making it as the first successful entry in Nigeria.

As we move from the analog age of videotape and broadcast TV, the ability of content owners and independent filmmakers and musicians to reach their audiences without needing the distribution power of multi-national media companies has important meaning for the future of an independent media system.

In the world of IPTV, anyone who wanted to “Publish” media would have no more trouble than putting up a web site. They could sell their programming by subscription, “Pay per view” or give it away for free with targeted advertising. They would not have any “gatekeeper” determining who could reach their audience. Many of the worries about Media Concentration would be overtaken by the IP world of total abundance.

One unique aspect of IPTV deserves mention here. While a cable network transmits all channels to each user, an IPTV network operates interactively and transmits only the channels the viewer is actually watching. The number of channels that can be offered on a traditional cable network is limited by the amount of spectrum allotted on its hybrid fibre-coax distribution systems. But the number of channels on an IPTV network is effectively unlimited. Thus, IPTV represents a paradigm shift in the ability to target programming to niche audience that cannot be economically addressed today.

Although the necessary fiber backbone for a Trans-African IP TV system is in place, the local build out of robust broadband capacity to the home is lagging.

Currently in Nigeria, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, estimates that more than 10 terabytes of telecommunications capacity exists at the landing point, but the challenge is the deployment of fiber infrastructure across the country that will effectively distribute this capacity to the distribution nodes at the metropolitan areas of all regions in the country that will supply sufficient fiber capacity to the backbone.

But what was an opportunity in 2001 becomes a problem today. The conversion of the fibre optic network into an IP-TV broadband platform of immense capacity for Media to function in the society is yet to be enabled.

Assuming every home had Universal Broadband with an Ethernet jack in the wall to which residents could plug any browser based IP media terminal connected to a TV monitor with 2 MBPS connectivity capable of receiving streaming DVD quality video on demand, it probably would serve as the distribution system.

So far, in Nigeria, satellite DTH operators have long relied on its strong content acquisition and media relationships to starve off challengers. Content is the king and most Telcos IPTV ventures are still lacking in this area, but this will not always be the case. If satellite DTH operators do not look beyond their traditional business models when terrestrial triple play comes home to roost, they will be sorely tested by the interactivity and the converged services that terrestrial competition will be able to offer. There are many issues for telcos to address to achieve successful IPTV deployment, but it just a matter of time before they pose a serious threat. Since it re-launch many months ago, the services has had to rely on content from satellite DTH operators in order to broadcast tom its viewers.



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