For operators of Digital Satellite Television (DSTV) stations domiciled in Nigeria, these are not the best of times. The two surviving satellite TV network providers-Multichoice and Startimes, are currently in the eye of the storm, amid high-level criticisms that they are ripping off Nigerian subscribers. While various consumer consultative forums had at various times hit the media to query the proprietry of the high tarriff regime of the Pay TV, against the backdrop of harsh economic realities, a strong voice of protest has now joined in tow. MultiChoice, the leading satellite TV provider and owner of DStv and GOtv, is a South African media company.
A few weeks ago, the House of Representatives summoned the managements of the two satellite TV operators, compelling them to justify why their subscribers are restricted to pre-paid plans, as against Pay-Per-View. The House’s Committee on Communication, in summoning the TV outfits, has now resolved that cable and satellite television service providers in the country must introduce a pay-as-you-go subscription plan for customers. The House ad-hoc committee said the pay-per-view plan was aimed at addressing the yearnings of Nigerians, who feel fleeced by a high frequency of poor reception and epileptic electricity supplies. The lawmakers had in their sitting in March, resolved to investigate complaints about high tariffs and monopolised bouquets, brought against the cable subscription providers. At the committee’s recent hearing of the DSTV hoopla, Unyime Idem, the committee chairman, said excuses on why DSTV and other service providers had not introduced the PAYG plan were not tenable. “We have already taken a decision on pay-as-you-go and there is no going back,” he said.
Idem, however, whimsically told the MultiChoice and Startimes teams, “We only called you to rub minds so that you can tell us what it takes. “Nigerians have spoken to us and the challenge they threw at us is, no matter what it takes, they need pay-as-you-go. “So I want you to have it at the back of your mind that it is pay-as-you-go. That is the duty we owe the people that we are representing, and we are not going back.” The imbroglio between MultiChoice and its Nigerian subscribers has particularly been legion. In June last year, for instance, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) issued a final order to the digital media conglomerate, accusing it of showing alleged bad faith in compliments with a mutual agreement on tariffs’ review and other services. The spat, to recall, was spurned by an August 2018 announcement by MultiChoice, of upward review in the monthly subscription rates for its cable television systems-DSTV and GoTV. The company said under the new price regime, the Premium package subscribers would pay 7.5 per cent more (N15,800) from N14,700 every month. The Compact Plus customers were to pay N10,650, from N9,900; Compact bouquets N6,800, from N6,300, and Family package would increase from N3,800 to N4,000, with Access from N1,900 to N2,000. But the Consumer Protection agency kicked against the review and ordered DSTV to immediately reverse the decision. Despite the order, however, DSTV went ahead with the review. Irked, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) took it upon itself and raced to the Federal High Court, Abuja, to seek an order restraining Multichoice Nigeria or any of its agents or representatives from going ahead with the increment till further notice. The application was filed on behalf of the Nigerian government in case No. FHC/ABJ/CS/894. On August 20, 2018, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba granted the application for an interim order prohibiting any increase by Multichoice Nigeria in its DStv or GOtv subscription rates.
In his order, Justice Dimgba restrained Multichoice Nigeria or its agents and representatives from “continuing the implementation of any increase in subscription rates or price review policy imposing increased charges and costs on the consumers pending the determination of the motion on notice.” The court also restrained DSTV from “further carrying on or continuing any conduct or activity which interferes with or has effect of circumventing the outcome of ongoing investigations by the CPC into the company’s compliance or non-compliance with the February 16, 2016 order, pending the determination of the motion on notice”. Justice Dimgba equally rejected an August 24, 2018, appeal by Multichoice Nigeria against the application. Meanwhile, subscribers’ complaints over alleged rip-off from DSTV have not been limited to Nigeria. In home South Africa, the outfit frequently comes under fire from subscribers demanding a decrease in their monthly instalments, owing to the lack of live sport for broadcast. A subscriber, Logan Chetty, said, “Why is MultiChoice not reducing their monthly DStv premiums? The company always state that the reason for their high premiums is that they have to pay huge amounts for broadcasting rights for sporting events. “Given that most of these sporting events have been cancelled, MultiChoice will be getting refunds for amounts paid.” Another aggrieved subscriber, Charles Uys, also said, “Maybe everybody who is a DStv subscriber should flood the media with letters about how they feel about DStv.” Already, DStv is now under pressure to respond to its subscribers, particularly when many are struggling to meet their financial obligations. A petition, which has as many as 200 000 signatures, has also been circulating on the social media, urging the satellite service to give customers a subscription reprieve. But in the Nigerian instance, it is not all knocks for MultiChoice, as Armstrong Idachaba, acting director-general of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), told the House of Reps committee that the NBC had, on many occasions, compared the tariffs in Nigeria with those of other African countries and found out that Nigeria’s rates were much lower in some cases. But not lying low to be beaten, MultiChoice has in various explanations, said their tariff increased were in tune with economic realities in respective countries, but that it would always up its game in ensuring quality service.
One of its recent statements said, “The company is always looking to provide great value-adds for customers at various time of the year, most recently during the current Covid-19 period, which includes channels being opened up to more customers at lower DStv bouquets and pop-up channels.” Also, a self-adulation recently came from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MultiChoice, Mark Rayner, in response to subscribers’ enquires on his tweeter handle, regarding dipping sport coverage.
He said, “As DStv, we take our role as an entertainment provider seriously and do take heed of all the concerns raised by our customers. “In these unusual and uncertain times brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic disruptions, we have seen sport federations across the world prioritising the safety of players and fans; live sport suffered as measures were implemented to limit the spread of Covid-19. “With welcomed postponements and cancellations of live sport events, we bought some of the best award-winning sport documentaries globally and produced thematic channels to relive the greatest sporting moments of all time. “The SuperSport team further bought a selection of the greatest sporting films and are showing them every night on SuperSport.” Still, the hecks from subscribers, against DSTV service providers, live on.