Andrew Hanlon, CEO, TVC Communications is the host of this year’s 18th annual general meeting of Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON, held recently at the premises of TVC in Lagos. At the event, Mr. Hanlon spoke with EFFECTS on digital communication in Nigeria, his life and what he likes about Nigeria.
The hall is filled with media executives, communication experts, could you tell us what the event is all about?
This is the Broadcasters of Nigeria Annual Conference. We do it every year, we are asked to host this year’s as members of Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria and the idea behind the conference this year is really to discuss the plans for Digital Terrestrial Television.(DTT). Most Nigerians know nothing about DTT but most Nigerians love their TV, they love watching TV, if you have an aerial in your house you get free TV, you can watch Silverbird, you watch TVC, you watch AIT, you can watch all the channels but the way that you receive signal is going to change because your old aerial will not work anymore as the government switches off the analogue segment. You get to set up box to receive free television channels like you do now. The question is, who is going to pay for the box, how much will the box cost. For instance, the Lagos State government could subsidize money to get the box. A box could cost 10 to 20 dollars. That’s a lot of money for people who don’t have it. So all of a sudden, the signals would go off and people will be scratching their head on how they would get their free TV channels. That’s what DTT is and very few people in Nigeria know anything about it. That’s what this conference is about.
It’s the government that is introducing the system and we as broadcasters have to shut down our transmitters when they take off. We don’t know when, maybe it’s next year. We all have to shut down our transmitters and hand our pictures over to new signal transmitters, licensed by the federal government. As broadcasters, we are very nervous about this, because here in TVC, we have our big antenna here, we are in charge of that signal, we own the signal and we own the transmitter but a day is going to come, possibly next year and government would say we must turn off our transmitters, give us your pictures, we put them into our new digital transmitter which will be received all round Nigeria.
What is the advantage of DTT?
It’s a huge advantage. The picture quality is much better than the quality you get right now. The sound quality is better and you will get more channels. That’s really good for TV viewers but there are still a lot of questions around it. If I’m a viewer, how am I going to get pictures, who is going to buy the box, how much is the box going to cost to put it in my house? For every TV you have in your house, you need to get the box. Like I said, each box could cost 10-20 dollars and a lot of people could not afford that money and it would affect their watching TV. Me as TVC CEO, if people don’t have the boxes, then I’m going to lose, hundreds and thousands of viewers and the advertisers will say to me: “Hey Andrew, you have lost all your viewers, NTA, Channels have lost all their viewers…” We as broadcasters need to be sure our signals are going to be put right there on the new system. We need to know that the viewers all over this country will be able to receive the signals as well. So, the government needs to launch a huge educational campaign to educate viewers on how it’s all going to happen. Guess what, people in Nigeria do not know anything about this. What happens is that countries elsewhere in the continent or around the world, is that the government and the NBC in this case would launch a very big advertising campaign to help people understand the changes that are likely to occur and what is going to happen and how they would receive the new pictures and what’s involved. So, it’s a big, big, project. And it’s the government that needs to inform and educate people what is happening. We, the broadcasters have to make sure we are ready to hand our signals over to this new transmission network operated by government.
As a businessman, what’s going to happen if government take over the transmission?
I’m very nervous about it. We have to turn off the transmitter here. We would then need to know that everyone can receive us on the new digital transmission system and that everyone has that little black boxes in their homes. If they don’t have the black box in their house they can’t receive us. People need to know this is coming and it’s probably going to happen in the next 12 months and they switch you off. When the old signals are turned off, then the only way you see us is how many boxes you have bought or given to receive the new pictures. As a business, we are nervous but we welcome it, for as long it’s properly planned and everybody knows what is going on, otherwise all broadcasters are going to say to government we are not turning off our transmitters yet until we are absolutely sure that everybody has a set up box in their homes, where they can receive the new pictures properly.
How has the economic environment affected TVC, how have you been able to handle these challenges?
I came here just at the end of recession two and half years ago but the recession has really ended. We all know that. The economy has grown, the growth in the economy in the last two years has been tiny, and so, a lot of people still feel we are in recession in this country. So, we try to navigate our way through. About the economy, we have to be clever, we have to work harder, we keep hustling for business all the time, and we are trying to make business attractive with companies we make business with. We are actually creating more employment even though we are in tough economic times. We are growing the company, we are succeeding but it takes a lot of hard work, it takes great commitment from all the employees we have here, they have been coming and working really hard to help us. So you can’t dodge, even in a sluggish economy and the advertising market is also getting contracted. It’s getting smaller by 10 percent this year but we are still growing the company regardless of the stagnant economy and contracted advertising market.
Before you became the CEO of TVC, where did you work?
I am from Ireland. Ireland has a lot of connections with Nigerians. We are a nation beside the United Kingdom. It has a population of five million people, we are small European country but Ireland is famous for potato, which we have here. The Irish potatoes. It’s also famous for Baileys and Ireland is where Guinness first brewed Guinness; the first place in the world. So, it’s a famous little place, it’s a small country. That is where I come from. I worked in radio and television stations for 30 years in Ireland. I have quite an experience in radio and television, it’s what I have done all my life. I’m very happy to be here. We invest a lot of money in TVC and we are doing very well as a result of that investment. People are really crucial part of change that we have made here, in this business.
How long have you been in Nigeria?
I have been here for two and a half years.
How do you like Nigeria?
I love Nigeria. I am an adopted Nigerian. The best thing that Nigeria has is the people. The people make Nigeria. Without the people there is nothing here. It’s a fabulous country but a lot of progress has to be made, a lot of investment has to come in here, government needs to support private businesses, public businesses, to get more people back to work in this country. There’s too much unemployment, there’s too much youth unemployment. The youths want jobs, the government and private enterprise have to create more jobs.
Do you eat Nigerian food?
I do eat Jollof rice, I love suya. Beef suya is fantastic. I’m an adopted Nigerian. The Irish missionaries came here many many years ago to help educate the people, way back when the health missionaries came over here to help build health communities around Nigeria, the Irish have deep connection with Nigeria. We also share the same Patron saint. St Patrick is also the same Patron Saint for Ireland.
How do you unwind?
I watch TVC all the time and I listen to Max FM.