Nigeria should focus on local content provision, experts say

LAGOS, NIGERIA – Content, not technology, will be the driving force behind Nigeria’s converged telecom and broadcast market as the sector inches toward full-blown multimedia access, according to regulators and operators.

With more than 50 million mobile phone subscribers and well over 65 million TV viewers, the Nigerian market is ripe for operators to converge telecom and broadcast services through one single optimized pipe, said Yomi Bolarinwa, director general of the National Broadcasting Commission.

“The issue of content is being overlooked, and a lot of people are failing to see the problem that content will pose in the industry,” Bolarinwa said in an interview. “Convergence is a technology reality made possible by IP. It offers optimized use of resources, whether spectrum or technology. What is deeply lacking is content — good quality contents that project the reality of the local market or express our state of development as a people.”

Increasingly, broadcast media and the rising number of content providers are sourcing content from foreign shores to aid in the continuous erosion of the local content industry, he noted. “‘Cockcrow at Dawn’ was a hit, and that’s one example to prove that local broadcasts could sell if they are well produced,” Bolarinwa added. “The increasing trend of bringing foreign soaps — such as ‘The Rich Also Cry,’ ‘Second Chance’ and the like — at the expense of locally produced soaps is not doing anyone any good. This is an area we believe regulation could address, and we are doing something about it.”

Though convergence should serve to expand the local content market, “it is making it possible for all sort of programs to intrude into our homes or the small window of our mobile phones,” complained Bayo Banjo, CEO of Disc Communications, a Lagos landline telephony and broadcast services provider.

“You are talking of an industry that is traditionally held to be a social service and where you could impact significantly on the mindset of the people,” Banjo said. “All sort of foreign programs go on air as TV broadcast, projecting everything unacceptable to us as a people with our own unique culture. Very soon, these programs will find their way to the mobile phones, making the local content industry where we could exert some measures of influence irrelevant.”

According to Bolarinwa, the industry must focus on building capacity to ensure local content as convergence widens the window for multimedia service. Operators should be responsible for training those that will carry the technology trend through, he said.

“People make technology; technology in itself does not make anything possible,” Bolarinwa said. “It is how competent the people are in managing or manipulating it that makes all the difference.”

The challenge of providing local content has as much to do with education as it does entertainment, said Olu Alabi-Isama, a Lagos telecommunications engineer.

“Many educational institutions have a good opportunity to provide e-Learning or distant education services through convergence,” he said. “They are not more than a computer and mouse away from their students. But the issue is how do they source and provide meaningful local content? They have to invest heavily in not just the technology but the people to get it right.”

With Nigeria’s plans to fuse its telecom and broadcasting regulatory agencies, Abuja-based software developer Nasiru Umar held up China and India as examples of the country should move forward. The Chinese and Indians, he said, have enriched their convergent environments “through deliberate policy and affirmative actions to ensure that they are reckoned with globally within the context of content provision.”

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