The Brouhaha Over Pay TV

Sitting over coffee in mid December last year with a group of friends while watching the Cable News Network (CNN) as it relayed the funeral rites for the departed black South African first post-apartheid leader Mr. Nelson Mandela, we all waited to see if the current leader of the world's largest black nation-Nigeria would be given the stage to address the World at that event which witnessed the participation of over ten dozen very prominent and preeminent global leaders, but that was not to be. sadly.

As we debated the merits or otherwise of the South Africa's Institutional refusal to give the Nigerian President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan a speaking time at that high profile state burial functions for the late champion of liberation struggle in the then white minority ruled South Africa, one of us protested by saying that for president Jacob Zuma to actively undermine the international recognition of Nigeria's role in ending the evil apartheid regime is the single most disappointing blunder of all times for Nigeria.

We also concluded that by not allowing the Nigerian leader to address the World's audience at that funeral events for Dr. Nelson Mandela, the South African political establishment has indeed committed an unpardonable political crime.

My mind then raced straight to the many successful business ventures started by South African investors in Nigeria and for which the Nigerian government created all the enabling environment for these South African business to thrive.

South African businesses such as the Multichoice Nigeria and the MTN telecommunication are some of the frontline private sector success stories in Nigeria even though most Nigerian subscribers have daily raised complaints of being systematically shortchanged and denied of the satisfactory services that they ought to get from these service providers.

Following a deluge of complaints lodged with them by hundreds of Nigerian subscribers, the Nigerian Consumers Protection Council only last December jointly addressed the media with the hierarchy of the Nigerian communication commission during which time they assured the Nigerian consumers of the determination of the regulatory bodies to rein in these service providers (including the South African owned businesses) who continued to render substandard and unsatisfactory services to customers.

Besides, one of my discussants also alluded to the fact that multichoice is doing everything possible to become a monopoly even in the area of service delivery that the Nigerian regulator-National Broadcasting Commission did not authorize them to venture into just as he argued that the newly introduced GOTV may not have being covered by the class of broadcast licence issued to the South African owned satellite pay television operator.

The question that keeps resonating is why is the South African owned mulitchoice venturing into a platform that it lacked the legal backing to so do in Nigeria if the groundswell of claims in some quarters is to be believed?

Another variant of the probing question is will any Nigerian owned company run in South Africa be given the open cheque as currently enjoyed by the South African Multi Choice to deviate from satellite broadcasting to terrestrial platform and/or combine both services just so as to drive away competition from a company such as StarTimes which is currently run as a partner of the Nigerian publicly owned Nigerian Television Authority?

Specifically, the emergence of Star Times into the Nigerian market was methodical.

During the Africast 2008, NTA had discussions with Star Communications Network Technology of Beijing on the possibility of working together to build a pilot Digital Terrestrial transmission Television plat form.

The story as told by those who should know within the hierarchy of the Nigerian Television Authority, a three man team was sent to Rwanda to inspect a similar DTT project newly completed by star and they came back with a favourable report based on which NTA management decided to go into the joint venture with Star.

The Nigerian government it was, that gave its authorization even as the regulator – National Broadcasting Commission gave its blessing for this revolutionary marketing marriage between NTA and STARTIMES.

Importantly, test transmission commenced in Lagos and Abuja in January 2010 even as the project was commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan on the 29th of July 2010.

NTA-STAR TV Network Ltd- StarTimes is a joint venture between Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) of Nigeria and Star Communication Network CO, Limited of China and was incorporated in August 2009 as a private limited liability company. The company was officially launched on the 29th of July 2010. The immediate mandate of the joint venture is to provide pay TV services, using digital terrestrial television (DTT) technology to build a multiple frequency platform. The project intends on the long term, to expand its business concerns to include provision of advertisement and signal transfer services, mobile phone television as well as wireless internet services. Operations of StarTimes Digital Terrestrial Television (Popularly known as DTT) first commenced in Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Ibadan and Port-Harcourt and in 2012 StarTimes extended her services to 11 more cities which include: Aba, Benin, Enugu, Ilorin, Jos, Kaduna, Makurdi, Onitsha, Sokoto, Uyo and Yola. It's the desire of StarTimes to cover the remaining states before the end of 2013.

Observers who are similarly worried that Multichoice may have introduced their services to cover transmission on the same kind of plat form dominated hitherto by STAR TIMES/NTA (which has unique licence to cover all plat forms), quickly introduced the GoTv to engage Startimes in a battle royale for customer loyalty.

For the promoters, the GOtv brand was specially created to make affordable digital television available to all.

“Television viewers in sub-Saharan Africa are now set to benefit from easy access to an increased number of channels, with enhanced picture and sound quality synonymous with digital television,” the company stated in a press statement.

Investigation revealed that some of the GOtv channels include: Africa Magic Movies, Africa Magic World, AfricaMagic Yoruba, AfricaMagic Hausa, E! Entertainment, Discovery World, eTV Africa, Select Sports, amongst others.

From the word go, StarTimes has among others channels: Eurosports News, NTA Sport 24, BBC World, Aljazeera, Orisun, NG Gold and local and international news channels. Many of their clients have expressed delight at the high quality of service delivery.

Recently, the General Manager of StarTimes Lagos Mr. Justin Zhang, announced that the company's subscriber base in the country has hit 1.5 million mark. It was also stated that It has made significant in-roads to south Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Central African Republic and Tanzania, but to mention a few.

The question being asked is what class of licence does multichoice Nigeria have and again is the South African company allowed the unending space to offer their services on all broadcasting platforms?

From the chapter two of the Nigerian broadcasting code, we learnt that there are Terrestrial television licence type and satellite television licence class. Covered within the terrestrial television licence category are VHf; UHF; subscription pay Tv (MMDS, cable) DVB-T and DVB-H.

On the satellite television licence type, we have the following; free-to-air; subscription TV (DTH); temporary uup link; DVB-S; and DVB – C.

Another unanswered question is why there is so much confusion within the hierarchy of the National Broadcasting commission (NBC) which may have given multichoice the latitude to introduce pay television with the sole aim of seeking to create a dangerous monopoly given its dominant role in satellite television broadcasting on the African continent?

This writer confronted the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission [NBC] Mr. Emeka Mba with the allegation that multichoice Nigeria limited was violating its terms of engagement regarding the category of licensing issued to it and therefore making Nigeria to lose huge revenue, he denied it and stated thus; "Multichoice only has license for dth [direct to home] pay tv. Multichoice does not operate terrestrial pay tv in Nigeria; the only two companies that currently do are NTA and Details Nigeria limited".

On 22nd January 2014, the Director General, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Mr. Emeka Mba was reported to have decried the high mortality rate of cable television station, a situation that has given rise to a multichoice, owners of DSTV.

Mba, who spoke when he hosted ICT editors in Abuja, said though there were structural deficiencies, players in the sector were also not getting their business models right.

While FSTV and HiTv came attempting to have a slice of the market direct to home (DTH) or pay Tv services market, they all fizzled out on sooner they came.

Mba said the NBC is not happy about the absence of local players in the sector, adding, however, that the NBC could not go beyond providing a level playing field to every operator as a regulator.

He said: “NBC is not happy about (the absence of competition) in the pay Tv sector. There are structural deficiencies which NBC will look at. Players in the industry are however not applying the appropriate business model. NBC cannot spoon-feed businesses, ours is to regulate”.

The major players in this segment are Multichoice with DST GOtv also from Multichoice, and Star TV network with StarTimes, experts recalled.

* Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head; HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA; [email protected];

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Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko