Unacceptable excuse – The Nation

  • MultiChoice claim, that pay-as-you-go is “impossible”, is hot gas

That a player claims a yet-to-be-explored business model is “impossible” is not new. Nigeria’s earliest Telcos, Airtel (then Econet) and MTN, swore per-second billing was “impossible”.

But then came Globacom, the third player, which made per-second billing its market-entry strategy — and the solid “wall of Jericho”, against that billing, suddenly crashed!  By the time Etisalat (now 9 Mobile) dawned, the hitherto “impossibility” was firing Telco competition, spiced with generous consumer incentives, in sundry promos.

So if Multichoice, the content arm of DSTV, claims pay-as-you-go billing is impossible in pay-TV — as it did to the House of Representatives — it’s nothing but a dominant player’s bluff, which must be called, in the interest of consumer protection. It is nothing but monopoly hubris.

Though there is strictly no legal monopoly in the Digital Terrestrial Transmission (DTT) and the Direct-To-Home (DTH) markets, where DSTV and other providers play, DSTV is so dominant as to effectively constitute an operational monopoly, due to its better capitalisation and market penetration.

Yes, the Telcos’ bluff was called by competition, for it was Globacom’s entry, not any regulatory policy, that routinised per-second billing. But that should not negate the imperative for adequate legal consumer protection, especially in the face of increasing monopoly temper of a dominant player.

Which makes the House riposte most heart-warming: there is no going back on the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) pay-as-you-go tariff plan. Unyime Idem, chair of the House ad hoc committee investigating the non-implementation of the NBC policy, made that clear.

Pay-as-you-go is good tariff policy. Consumers crave it because it is fair. Pay-TV providers should grant it because it is equitable. The government and its agencies, as moderators and regulators, should implement it as market duty. If tariffs keep soaring, subscribers must have a choice on how they consume content. Though the players screech about forex difficulties, that is a market burden that should not be lugged by consumers alone.

Besides, pay-as-you-go appears a strategic policy to tackle a menacing and creeping monopoly.

With the defunct Hitv, DSTV’s market behaviour was much better. As Hitv shared in the sports TV market, and its movie/drama bouquets vied with DSTV’s Africa Magic, DSTV was less erratic in its  tariff jack-up pastime. Back then, tariffs at times fell; or subscribers were rewarded with incentives for early and advanced re-subscriptions.

Not any more!  Since Hitv went under, DSTV tariffs have defied gravity — always soaring. That has led to trenchant subscriber screeds, forcing the pay-as-you-go tariff policy. Though all of the active players have increased their tariffs this year — despite the COVID-19 economic paralysis, and no thanks to the Federal Government’s hiking of Value Added a Tax (VAT) from 5% to 7.5% — DSTV has especially galled.

On August 1, DSTV adjusted its rates, to be VAT-compliant. Its Premium rose to N16, 200 from N15, 800; Compact Plus (N12, 400, from N10, 925) and Compact Bouquet (N6, 975, from N6, 800). Its lowest bouquet, Yanga too, rose to N2, 565 from N2, 500. But the House, echoing customers’ angst nationwide, complained some of these hikes towered above the 2.5% VAT increase.

Even then by September 1, DSTV was banging on its subscribers’ doors for more cash, particularly in the premium and mid-tariff zones.  Premium got hiked from N16, 200 to N18, 400 (a N2, 200 increase), Compact Plus: N12, 400 (from N10, 925) and Compact: N7, 900 (from N6, 975) — and yet everyone was reeling from coronavirus! It’s therefore rich that it is this same player claiming pay-as-you-go is “impossible”!

DSTV is so dominant it can easily influence other players. For instance, in Gotv, it has a dog in the Star Times market, not only to protect its premium DSTV brand but to also nibble in that low-end-of-the-market pay-Tv segment, where Star Times is dominant. Besides, it is instructive, comparing Star Times/Gotv rates.

Super, Star Times’ premium bouquet (after the VAT adjustments of August 1), is N4, 200.  Max, the Gotv equivalent, is N3, 280. Classic (Star Times): N2, 500; Jolli (Gotv): N2, 460.  Basic (Star Times): N1, 700; Jinja (Gotv): N1, 640. Nova, the only Star Times standalone and the lowest of the bouquets, goes for N900 a month.

That Gotv bouquets are slightly priced below Star Times’ paint the picture of a premium brand nibbling at a lower market segment. Yet, at its own main market, there is no premium competitor — after Hitv!

That is the making of a looming monopoly, if not checked.  Monopolies ripple with bad market behaviours. That’s why they are consumers’ nightmares!

The House of Representatives, with NBC, should enforce and mainstream the pay-as-you-go tariff policy. But that can only be the first step to checkmate the monopoly practice, looming over the market. Both bodies owe consumers that sacred duty, pending when future competition further normalises the market.

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