By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
Almost three decades after Multichoice, owners of DStv and GOtv, launched the first pay TV service in Nigeria, a vicious battle is raging in the cable TV sector, as another competitor, Startimes, battles the South African firm for a share of the market.
The current fight makes the fierce competition between Multichoice and the now defunct HITV between 2008 and 2011 look like a child’s play by comparison.
It would be recalled that the pay TV Company began operations in Nigeria in 1993 as a joint venture between MultiChoice Africa and a Nigerian businessman and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Adewunmi Ogunsanya.
It grew rapidly by offering Nigerians premium products like general entertainment, news, information, sports and education channels through her DStv and GOtv platforms, as well as providing Nigerians local contents in their mother tongues through Africa Magic Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa channels.
According to Business Hallmark findings, the company currently controls more than 70% of the Nigerian market, despite stiff but sustained competition from rivals. At the height of Multichoice dominance in 2007, Nigerians paid N9,000 per month for the premium bouquet, prompting public outcry of exploitation from Nigerians and government officials.
Several local competitors like MyTv, Daarsat, Consaat, Kwese TV, TStv and several others were supported by government to help end Multichoice dominance. But all the interventions ended in vain as none was able to upstage the market leader.
However, the firm’s protective armour was soon be breached with the birth of a wholly owned Nigerian company, Hi Entertainment, owners of HItv.
On August 1, 2007, Nigerians witnessed the birth of HITV with the launching of Direct to Home (DTH) Satellite technology to broadcast its contents to citizens at the price of N3,500, as against the N9,000 charged by DStv.
Speaking at the launch as the special guest, the then Minister of Information and Communications, Mr. Frank Nweke Jr, had described as “ridiculous, exploitative and unacceptable”, a situation where Nigerians pay the highest rate for Pay-TV services in any part of the world.
“At N9,000 per month, which is equivalent of $65-$70 (in 2007), Nigeria is far exploited compared to all other societies where Pay TV exists, that they pay between 5 and 10 dollars monthly subscription,” Nweke had noted.
HITV quickly won the hearts of Nigerians with the deployment of 24hours premium channels like Hi-Movies, CNN, BBC World, LBC International, Al Jazeera, God Africa, MTV Base, Fox Sports and Nicke-lodeon, Hi-Sports, Hi-Ovation, Hi-Nolly, Nigezie, Hi-KIDS, Hi-Mix and Hi-Biz.
The pay TV provider gave DStv its first major dent when it won the right to broadcast the 2010/2011 English Premier League (EPL) to its Nigerian viewers, effectively hijacking the EPL from Multichoice. HITV, it would be recalled, had before the EPL coup won the rights to broadcast other football leagues including La Liga, Euro 2008 qualifiers, among others.
In a move that could have ended the continued dominance of DStv in Nigeria, HITV again won the exclusive right to air 2011-2013 EPL matches.
However, the supposed triumph turned out to be HITV’s albatross, as it was unable to pay the EPL owners of the rights owing to several issues, including new and stringent Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) regulations. In November 2011, HiTV ceased to exist, effectively ending the push to end DSTV’s dominance. Nigerians mourned.
Nigerians had to wait for the birth of another rival, Startimes, to take up the mantle of trying to end Multichoice monolopy.
In July 2010, Chinese company, StarTimes, launched a pay DTT service in Nigeria, featuring 30 channels. The service, which was only available to residents of Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt at its inception, was later extended to many cities and towns across the country.
In a move to break DSTV’s stranglehold on the market, the management of Startimes offered Nigerians premium channels at mouth offering rates. Some of the channels include Real Stars, Orisun (Yoruba Movies), E-Stars, Aljazeera, FRANCE 24, MSNBC, BBC World, CCTV and E! (Entertainment)
Others include Kidsco, Nickelodeon, Bollywood TV, Fox, MGM, Setanta Africa and MCS Extreme. At inception, a subscriber could get several of these channels for as low as N400. In no time, Nigerians, particularly the lower class, started to embrace the price friendly Startimes in their millions.
Threatened by Startimes emergence, Multichoice, it was learnt, decided to introduce its own low budget product, Gotv in 2011 to counter Startimes incursion into its market.
According to a former MD/CEO of Multichoince, Joseph Hundah, the GOtv digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform was launched to provide affordable family entertainment. Through the platform, GOtv customers are able to access diverse selection of quality international and local channels as those on the DSTV platform.
BH check shows that the platform provides premium family entertainment, with channels ranging from news and documentaries to children’s programming, series, sport and movies. Available channels include Fox, Supersport Select 1 to 5, CNN, Al-Jazeera, BBC News, Supersport, Discovery, National Geographic Wild, Jim Jam, Nickelodeon, PBS Kids, Disney Junior and many others.
In order to win more subscribers, the two pay TV giants have introduced new innovations. For instance, in early 2020, StarTimes announced a flexible subscription plan, Pay Per View (PPV) model, where customers do not have to pay for what they do not get.
Some Startimes subscribers revealed that they spend between N90 and N160 daily to watch exciting shows on both local and foreign channels.
Speaking on the innovation, the Public Relations Manager of StarTimes Nigeria, Lazarus Ibeabuchi, said the PPV model allows Nigerians to choose daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly plans and enjoy all exciting content on their preferred package/bouquet valid for the period paid for.
However, MultiChoice refused to swallow the bait, arguing that it does not have the capacity to operate the model in Nigeria. According to the company, it operates the prepaid pricing model, not only in Nigeria, but across the 50 Sub-Saharan African countries where it operates.
While many subscribers who spoke with our Correspondent agreed that the new PPV model introduced by Startimes is not economical and that customers will end up paying more at the end of the day, they noted that it is a new beginning as they now have the alternative of paying only for what they use.
Apart from the deployment of the PPV model, the payTV operators are also using pricing to win over subscribers to their networks. For instance, while the cheapest bouquet of DStv is Padi at N1,850 with about 40 channels, that of Gotv is Smallie at N800 monthly with over 20 channels.
Likewise, the cheapest bouquet on Startimes is Nova for N900, with about 58 channels. The beauty of the offer is that a subscriber can pay a daily connecting fee of N30 only.
Still on pricing, the two companies have affordable decoders for new subscribers to pick from. For instance, while a StarTimes decoder, plus antenna costs N7,500, that of DStv with dish receiver is N18,500 and GOtv is N10,799 (with antenna and HDMI wires).
In order to woo more customers to their platforms, the two rivals are daily introducing new and fascinating channels. In 2020, StarTimes added ST School Junior, ST School Senior that deal with the virtual tutorials on various subjects including Mathematics and English to mitigate the restrictions brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Also in 2020, Startimes acquired four-season transmission rights to the Spanish Laliga and the UEFA Nations League, to be broadcast from 2020/21 to 2024 season.
To crown it up, non Startimes subscribers can watch live sports, other sought-after TV channels and over 2000 video-on-demand content for as low as N400 weekly on their MTN line.
In a major move to provide more contents to her subscribers, MultiChoice also entered into a partnership with Walt Disney Company Africa to bring in two ESPN channels for them to enjoy sporting activities from the U.S.
While still trying to outdo Startimes, MultiChoice in 2020 integrated Netflix and Amazon Prime Video services into its Explora decoder.
“As our industry evolves, we believe that we are well-positioned to benefit from both worlds – a large, growing pay-TV market in Africa, as well as an emerging over-the-top opportunity, where our own OTT services and aggregation capabilities can drive success,” the company had said in a statement.
The company also commenced the streaming of its own products on DStv plaform to compliment the streaming of Showmax on Explora. All these initiatives, industry experts argued, are part of a larger strategy by the two leading pay-TV providers to gain more market.
Meanwhile, the relentless fight for market share amongst the duo, especially the decision of the federal government to pump state funds into Startimes to help it challenge the dominance of Multichoice, BH gathered, seems to be rubbing off negatively on the company.
According to available reports, the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) between the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and StarTimes International in 2008 has caused the nation over N200bn. In the agreement, while 70 per cent of all proceeds at the end of every financial year goes to StarTimes, the remaining 30 per cent goes to Nigeria.
Several Nigerians have decried the deal, describing it as unprofitable. For instance, the Chairman, Senate Joint Committee on Finance and National Planning, Solomon Adeola, queried why some of the accounts of StarTimes were in dollars and naira.
“If this business is truly owned and it is owned in Nigeria as you profess, this account should only be in naira value.
“Why you have structured it to be in dollars and naira is for easy movement of dollars outside the country. In 2019, the total revenue for subscription is $36.1 million and in naira terms, it is over N11 billion”, Adeola noted.
Also speaking, the Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Olubunmi Adetumbi, called for a forensic audit of the process.
“An independent forensic audit of this exercise is needed so that we can open up where the issues are, if NTA needs to renegotiate its agreement, so be it”.
The Senate subsequently set up a special investigative panel to look into the company’s record.
But the management of NTA-Star TV Network Ltd maintained that no N200 billion was missing as suggested by the legislators.
While stating that it was opened to forensic audit of its financials, it noted that the losses recorded over the years resulted from huge dollar investments made at the beginning, and naira depreciation over the years.
“We also want to clarify that no revenue is missing as gross earnings have been repeatedly ploughed back into cost of production to cover cost of components, namely transmitters, equipment, generating sets and satellite; content acquisition; as well as operating costs, which include salaries and other running costs, incurred within our ten years of operation,” said Lazarus Ibeabuchi, PR Manager, of StarTimes Nigeria.