Most of us don't think much about the images we look at when we watch TV, flat-panel plasma or LCD display, or on a laptop or desktop computer screen; that is, we don't think about what comprises the image—because our eyes and brain merge all the elements of color, brightness and contrast into a "picture" we immediately see. The process is similar, but not exactly analogous, to what happens when we watch a movie.. We don't sit there and dissect the 24 still pictures presented sequentially every second (in the case of a TV program, 25 frames per second). Our visual system and brain merge the rapidly moving images into motion, and if the TV show or movie is any good, we're happy.
That is the picture, right? Not really.
Recently our Federal Executive Council approved the amount of N8.2 billion to ensure that the NTA meets the FIFA standards for ensuring that the world sees higher quality TV pictures in HD (high definition). That is Thirty Two Million British Pounds (#32,000,000) to ‘renovate’ existing facilities from Standard Definition to High Definition. This approval from the Federal Executive Council covers the ‘Renovation’ as stated on the approved invoice for the following facilities:
Renovate from SD to HD 6 x 12 Camera HD OB Van £25,777,571.24
Renovate from SD to HD 6 x 2 Camera HD SNG Van £4,389,798.89
Renovate and Upgrade 1 x IBC £1,952,722.26
TOTAL PROJECT COST APPROVED £32,120,092.39
NAIRA NGN N8, 351,224,022
GRAND Total Project @ 260 NGN = 1 GBP
Before we go into the cost issues, let us examine the issues of what is SD and HD, and if it is actually possible to renovate OB vans from SD to HD and what the processes are. This is very important.
In 2002-2003, the Federal Government of Nigeria invested more that USD28 Million to upgrade 8 x 10 camera Standard Television OB vans for the All Africa Games. Other facilities provided were the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) and other facilities, which included microwave links, earth stations and Digital Satellite vehicles in the same Standard TV formats. All these equipment are presently being used by NTA and are located in various parts of Nigeria including Abuja. It is these facilities we are informed would be renovated from SD to HD. Is this possible, and at what cost and what are the alternatives? Is this in the best interest of Nigeria, or is this a scam to milk the coffers of the Nigerian treasury? We will examine these issues in this memo, and hopefully provide an impartial and professional perspective to the current approval for these funds and leave Nigerians to decide if it is value for them as a people.
The dummy being sold to Nigeria is that these existing facilities would now be renovated to HD to ensure that Nigeria meets the demands and specifications of FIFA to cover and broadcast the U-17 Junior World Cup to the rest of the world, right? Let us look at the technical issues first.
Standard definition television (SDTV) is a digital television format that provides a picture quality of a lower resolution to High Definition. In Nigeria where we use the PAL signal, our Standard definition signal is 720 Lines of resolution and 4:3 aspect ratio. Standard and High definition television are the two categories of display formats for digital television (DTV) transmissions, which are becoming the standard around the world.
But how are these picture processed? Basically, the processing is the same. You must have cameras to acquire the pictures and process them. These signals must be manipulated, recorded, treated, audio and graphics added and then transmitted to your television. The keynote here is that if you acquire your pictures in Standard definition you will have to process and transmit your pictures in Standard definition.
You cannot adapt, manipulate or change any equipment within that Standard Definition equipment chain or renovate it and expect it will give you a High definition (HD) signal. It just does not work like that. So to say that you are renovating from SD to HD is not completely true.. Unless what is being said is that the present facilities will be completely turned into shells and new HD equipment installed.. And if that is the case, there are a few issues we need to look at.
Why are Nigerians being told that the facilities are being renovated, when clearly that cannot be done?
High Definition TV (HDTV) on the other hand provides a higher quality display, with a vertical resolution display from 720p to 1080i and higher and an aspect ratio (the width to height ratio of the screen) of 16:9, for a viewing experience similar to watching a movie. In comparison, SDTV has a range of lower resolutions. New television sets will be either HDTV-capable or SDTV-capable, with receivers that can convert the signal to their native display format. SDTV, in common with HDTV, uses the MPEG-2 file compression method. However, in Nigeria we are years away from this as more than 97% of TV sets in Nigeria can only receive Standard TV signals – Analog for that matter.
Clearly it is a misnomer for the Nigerian Government and Nigerian public to be given the impression that SD equipment is being renovated to HD. It cannot be renovated, as such the current OB vans and other facilities, which NTA have and which are Standard Definition, must be completely removed and a complete refit of the facilities carried out to meet the terms of the renovation as stated in the contract. That is REPLACEMENT, not renovation or “upgrade.”
Now let us look at some claims of “WTS-Sony,” the company that has been contracted for the job.
“NIGERIA'S broadcast and audio-visual production business environment is set to be strongly boosted following the planned investment of over £30 million (N7 billion) by a United Kingdom-based company, Well Trade Services (WTS) UK Limited in partnership with Sony Group, world leader in electronics and home entertainment manufacturing and production.
“World football governing body, FIFA has given its backing to WTS Nigeria as a best-in-class broadcast equipment supplier.
In a letter signed by Lucas Troxler, Manager Marketing Alliances, FIFA expressed its confidence on the ability of the Nigerian company equipment and services that would meet every standard for the cadre world tournament, being as it is a partner with world leader in broadcast equipment manufacture, Sony Broadcast.
The letter reads in part: "FIFA would like to herewith confirm that Sony is an Official FIFA Partner up to 2014 and we would like to inform you that Sony is working together with WTS (World Trade Services (WTS) with regards to the current broadcast equipment tender for the FIFA Under 17 World Cup in Nigeria. Please kindly be informed that FIFA supports the above."
Let us examine some of these claims by WTS and the content of this letter from FIFA and issues surrounding the award of this project.
(1). The project has been given to a WTS – Sony for N8.2 Billion as has been stated in National newspapers and TV media and confirmed by the Minister of Information, Prof. Dora Akunyili. WTS has evidently stated that they are partners with Sony. This gives cause to believe they are working hand in hand with Sony the broadcast giant to renovate the facilities of NTA from SD to HD.
(2). The prices quoted by them are for renovation as stated on the approved budget and quotation. Also Sony on its own part also quoted directly to NTA for the same project.
(3). However, we need to note that the same Sony Broadcast, which WTS claim to be partnering, in quoting directly for the same project, refused to provide NTA a quote for renovation, as they believed that there was no value in renovating the present facilities. Instead, Sony provided a CHEAPER QUOTE for BRAND NEW EQUIPMENT to NTA.
(4) Even though WTS claims to be working with Sony, the actual truth is that Sony is not a part of their submission, and would not work with WTS in the renovation of the facilities in Nigeria. Sony as the manufacturer of the equipment would only supply their equipment to WTS and WTS would be responsible for renovating the equipment. Thereby all warranties emanate from WTS and not Sony.
(5). Now, let us look at this other issue. Whilst Sony’s quote for ‘New’ Equipment with the same specifications as WTS for renovation is less by 20% of the cost approved for WTS, one would wonder the rationale to renovate SD equipment to HD, when for a much cheaper price you could have had new equipment.
(6) What happens to all the equipment that is gutted from the current Standard Definition OB vans and facilities, and the investment made on these equipment? Where does the equipment go? Are they going to be disposed off or taken over by some private individuals?
(7) On the cost quoted by MTS for these facilities, let us examine the international pricing and quotation formula used for this contract. Why is it that the equipment quoted in the tender does not carry itemized pricing? The normal excuse for this is that what is being sold is a system. However, the equipments that make up a system are purchased from various manufacturers who sell at a price in the open market and these should have been indicated for transparency purposes. Normally, the WTS format is used only when the intention is to “load” contracts so that tenders may not be properly scrutinized.
(8) It would also seem that cost on the WTS and Sony bids (even if at lower price), are prohibitive and will see Nigeria losing Billions of Naira that will go into the pockets of unscrupulous Nigerian officials who do not care about their country. Let’s look at the cost of OB vans supplied to South Africa for the World Cup in 2010.
[Johannesburg, 9 September 2008] - The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has won the right to proceed with a R380 million contract with Sony SA.
The deal covers the provision of four outside broadcasting (OB) vans to broadcast the 2009 Confederation Cup and the 2010 Soccer World Cup in high-definition.
The specifications of these OB vans supplied for the World Cup are far superior to that of NTA and are as follows:
SABC will deploy all four of the new Obs. Identically specified, each 30-ton vehicle is equipped with 18 cameras, and wired for 24, including 3 super-slo HD cameras. The interior is divided into four main areas; Production, Sound, Video Tape Area (VT) and Vision Control.
Note that SABC OB’s are BRAND NEW vans, whilst WTS intends to ‘renovate’ the current NTA OB vans, which are more than 14 years old with HD Equipment. Let us examine this issue further...
The WTS approved tender is for 12 cameras and the facilities being provided are not as expandable as the vans to be supplied to SABC. This is obvious in what SABC ordered for, compared with what has been approved for NTA.
In terms of cost it would seem that the WTS OB vans are well over-priced, and not value for money. The total cost of 4 x 18 camera HD OB vans with far superior facilities to SABC is N6.3 Billion. This includes new equipment, new 30-ton vans, generators and towable equipment hauls.
Nigeria on the other hand is paying N6.7 Billion for renovating 6 x existing OB facilities supposedly from SD to HD, and with only 12 cameras (as against 18 in the SABC vans) and far inferior equipment are being supplied. Additionally, all equipment within the existing NTA OB’s will be removed, so no new vans are supplied, just the old ones being reused; no new generators, just a total overhaul of what has been on the ground for 14 years. And for that we pay a substantial amount and lose out on actually upgrading with new equipment totally.
Other additional costs of the WTS project include DSNG’s, the IBC and other facilities. However, we are certain that a proper investigation and evaluation of value for money will reveal that Nigeria once again is receiving the short end of the stick.
One of the advantages of the project that has been peddled is the Contractor Project Financing aspect of the project, where the government pays back to the contractor over a period of time with an interest rate of 5%. Whilst this does look very patriotic and a good deal, it must be said that when the cost of a project is already over-loaded, contractor-financing amounts to nothing, but profiteering when you charge interest on a project that is already over-loaded.
We would like to suggest that a proper investigation of what is best for Nigeria, and the value of this project for Nigerians be properly established. The simple manner in which this could be done is to request all manufacturers to provide detailed and line item costs that can be verified from the various manufacturers. We should also clearly establish what is being supplied and if renovation, refurbishment or new equipment is what we need and what is the real cost compared with international practices.
With Billions of Naira already being spent on an event which commands little international attention relative to the senior World Cup, it is pertinent to ponder what N8.3 Billion would do for Nigerian Universities, Hospitals, power generation, our roads, national security, pipe borne water and other essential and structural requirements of the Nigerian people.
It would seem that once again we are pushing flogging the horse again, and soon it will collapse.
SABC Cost of OB vans
Standard TV and High Definition TV
FIFA Broadcast Standards
Sony Reps for Nigeria