Pay-as-you-go probe: Nigerian firms can’t face int’l market competition ― NBC

• dismisses report on hike tariff by Multichoice • assures on introduction of pay as you view technology

The Acting Director-General of National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Armstrong Idacha on Thursday alleged that Indigenous companies have over the years failed to face competition at the international market.

Mr Idacha stated this at the opening of the investigative hearing on the non-implementation of the Pay-as-you-go offer by Cable Service Providers operating in Nigeria, as well as the role of NBC in the enforcement of policies and regulations in the industry, held at the instance of the Ad-hoc Committee chaired by Hon. Unyiem Idem.

To this end, he underscored the need to vigorously pursue the de-monopolizing the sector in terms of content ownership, no-exclusivity, and promotion of Digital Switch-Over for effective penetration across the rural areas.

In responding to the questions, the acting NBC Director General, Armstrong Idacha who affirmed that this issue of high subscription imposed by Multichoice has been contentious over the years.

He explained that the Corporation has amended the Act to prohibit exclusive rights of programmes by a service provider, with the view to reduce the level of monopoly in the creative industry, adding that plans are underway to introduce the technological concept to ensure that subscribers are not billed when they are not watching, a philosophy of pay-as-you-go.

He, however, noted that the concept is easy to implement on the mobile telephone with the use of data, while it is impossible to do same on the Pay TV service provider who subscribed to broadcasting live programmes at the International market.

According to him, the challenge at hand was that the contents acquired by Multichoice at the international market were based on projected or assumed subscribers, and the technology will help in building content for signal distribution platform since it’s a continuous live broadcast.

Adding that “whether somebody puts it off or not, it keeps running and that is the argument of those who are offering Pay TV services. The bit is it impossible on the Television, no it is not impossible in television if you integrate the technology like the streaming technology that is done on mobile. All you need to do is to. establish interactive between the viewer at home and then the end-end of the distributor.

“So you are able to order to watch and you are able to pay as you view. That is possible but it is hugely expensive. Even in developed countries pay as you view is elitist, they use it when there is a major world boxing fight and they expect that everybody is going to make money by coming into the stadium to watch so the TV rights are limited,” he stressed.

He said: “the question about Multichoice price high subscription is one that I think is as old as the regulatory body itself since Multichoice even came into the scene.

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“This issue has been agitating the minds of Nigerians. I recall that in about 2003 when I was the zonal director of the newly founded NBC in the new zonal office, I made a deliberate trip to Port Harcourt because part of the operations was around Port Harcourt then which was the operational base because of the oil sector that was booming in that area and they were serving the estates and other households of the expatriates.

“And I asked them this question, why is it that you have unbending tariff and when people are watching or enjoying your services or travel your bills keep running? And I felt it was exploitative and that they need to consider.

“At that time they told me that perhaps there were some degrees of ignorance among their customers that it was possible if anybody who was their subscribers was travelling, probably you are going on holiday for a month or two, and you give them notice that they will actively unsubscribe you for that period.

“And I said not many people know about this, they said well it is a service they offer and it is there and that all those who made the effort to try to enjoy that they can always grant access or grant that service.

“But beyond that, we have also found out that, according to them due to fluctuations in the revenue in changing what you call, conversion of foreign exchange, that they have two intervals to adjust their price.

“And on many occasions, we have done comparative analysis it is from. the side of the NBC mostly with South Africa with Ghana and Kenya. And we find out that contrary to publicly held view really, that the exchange rate gate against the naira exchange rate than what the charge in Ghana and Kenya, there is really no price differential.

“Sometimes it even comes out that what is paid in Nigeria is a bit even lower. But what we have tried to do as regulatory intervention over the time is to in a way de-emphasis the monopolistic tendency of Multichoice as key players. And we did that by licensing a lot of Nigerian companies to offer the same service so that when there is competition, they will be able to drive down the price.

“Unfortunately, and I say unfortunately not many of our indigenous companies have been able to do very well in that domain. And why is it so, the reason basically is that the content that they transmit is acquired in the international market.

“What Multichoice does most of the times, Multichoice does not really produce anything, they contract and acquire programmes. What they do is to aggregate and then the package and then they deliver to subscribe rate.

“For example, the English premiership is a right they acquire and then they put on their buffet and also buy their movie channels. Even with the Nigerian movie that happens to be doing well, what they do is they have a deal with a company called African Magic. So African Magic produces those contents, sometimes they are commissioned or sometimes they acquire and then they give to Multichoice.

“So other companies that we have licensed in this business are unable to face the competition in the international market. One of them is sometimes they bide and they don’t have money to pay for those rights.

“Then the second one regrettably also is ethical. I’ve been to some international markets where some programmes producers have said they have had a culture of having issues with Nigerian buyers that once they acquire content they are unable to live up to the obligation subsequently.

“So the owners of these rights will rather do business with much more predictable client. And this has given them some kind of advantage which for us is not very healthy. It was at the heel of that, that the NBC has encouraged NTA StarTimes alliance to enter into the system.

“Fortunately it does appear that the NTA StarTimes cooperation is giving some kind of a bit of competition. I’m not too sure if it has reduced their monopoly entirely.

“The other thing we have also tried to.do is to de-aggregate their content distribution platforms so that they are varied, and that is what you have the cheaper option, like on GoTV, and then you also on StarTimes DTH, a pay-TV subscription which prices are also lower.

“But the big questions which you have asked is Nigerians still desire that these prices should go down. This is one argument if you have been following the media that we have been pushing. So what they do is to re-aggregate and then the package and then they deliver at a subscribed rate,” he explained.

In his opening remarks, the Chairman explained that the committee was mandated to look into the non-implementation of pay-as-you-go by service providers and also to know the activities of National Broadcasting Corporation in the industry as well as support offered to the service providers to enable them to respond to the yearnings of the subscribers.

While stressing on the need for proper management of the industry, the lawmakers frowned at the insensitivity of the service providers to the yearnings of millions of subscribers which increased during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period.

While expressing displeasure over the development, Hon. Idem said: “I’m quite sure you must have been hearing about the yearnings of Nigerians for years now, the subscribers of these services that they are not happy with the current relationship with the current services they are getting from the service providers.

“They have been crying on a daily basis that they are not happy with the current services they are getting from the service providers like high charges in terms of price hike and most importantly they are considering what is obtainable in other countries in the world and that is pay as you go offer that other countries are giving to their subscribers.

“Why is it that it is not implemented in Nigeria? That’s one of the reasons that we are here before we look into other issues. We want to know your position as the regulator of these service providers. What are the bottlenecks, what are the constraints, what are the implications, why are we not enjoying pay as you go as subscribers to these service providers?”

 

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