In this piece, EDIDIONG IKPOTO examines customers’ reactions to the frequent price hikes by satellite television service providers

Recently, MultiChoice Nigeria, the parent company of DStv, began the implementation of another regime of price hikes across its various packages. The company had announced the upward review of the prices of its bouquets in April, citing economic realities as reasons for the price hike. This announcement came few days after few days after the Chinese-operated television company, StarTimes informed its customers of a price review.

For most pay-TV customers, the operators’ arguments were merely a platitude or familiar music to the ears. The latest hike was the third time in three years MultiChoice that had raised the prices of its various offerings.

With the latest price hike, the DStv Premium package increased by 16.7 per cent (N3,500) from N21,000 to N24,500. Similarly, the DStv Compact+ package has gone up by 16.5 per cent (N2,350) from N14,250 to N16,600. The DStv Compact package also rose by 16.7 per cent from N9,000 to N10,500. The DStv Confam package, previously priced at N5,300, went up by 17 per cent to N6,200.

Within the lower packages, the DStv Yanga package increased by 18.6 per cent (N550) from N2,950 to N3,500, while the DStv Padi package increased from N2,150 to N2,500, a difference of N350 or 16.3 per cent.

In the wake of the announcement, many DSTV users took to social media to condemn what they perceived as an indiscriminate hike by the pay-TV firm.

Much of the complaints revolved around the fact that the company was always quick to review prices to reflect economic realities, but it was doing little to review the packages to ensure that the content dished out to the viewers did not become monotonous.

A tweep, @shyboyeddie wrote, “Don’t even have a problem with DSTV increasing their prices… it’s the content stagnation that irritates me. Besides football and news and music, it’s the same dead movies they keep repeating, even documentaries and reality shows are old. And you have to pay for showmax again.”

Another tweep, @realgodfada46 stated, “This is entirely ridiculous. How on earth are they doing this now they know Nigerians are struggling?  They have the boldness to write “Nigeria only”. Does anyone have alternatives to DSTV? I can’t pay 10k 5H when I am struggling with 9k every month. This is exploitation.”

@Uche.W said, “Upload new movies and television programmes. You guys are outdated with your movies, Zee World programme, and more. Update new Nigeria movies latest 2022 to 2023. Dstv u guys don’t need to increase the money price. Don’t worth it (sic). Please update your actions movies not only Venom.”

A more cursory look at the disapproval against the perceived indiscriminate price hikes by MultiChoice showed that much of the criticism hinged on the frequency of the hikes, something many consumers believe should be more infrequent than it has been.

In September 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, MultiChoice Nigeria raised the monthly price of its Premium package from N16,200 to N18,400. Less than two years later, in March last 2022, DStv hiked its prices again, citing economic challenges impacting its business operations as the reason behind the hike.

With another hike barely one year later, there is a feeling among many that this pattern, if not checked, could open the floodgates for a company already dominating the market to make Nigerians higher than necessary to watch television. This has prompted many to ask a number of questions — who regulates pay-TV in Nigeria? And what are they doing about this?

By law, the National Broadcasting Commission oversees the activities of MultiChoice, but the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is in charge of ensuring consumer protection, anti-competition and fair pricing in the country. It is also to ensure that companies adopt measures to guarantee that goods and services are safe for intended or normally safe use.

The FCCPC is also expected to initiate broad-based policies and review economic activities in Nigeria to identify and prohibit anti-competitive and restrictive practices that may distort competition or constitute an abuse of a dominant position of market power.

Given that the mandate of the commission is clearly spelt out in its terms of reference, pay-TV customers are wondering if the FCCPC has chosen to take an ill-timed nap and allow MultiChoice to run amok with its indiscriminate hikes.

Last year, after MultiChoice announced new prices for its packages, a legal practitioner, Festus Onifade, on behalf of himself and the Coalition of Nigeria Consumers, filed an ex-parte motion to block MultiChoice from implementing its planned hike.

The suit, marked CCPT/OP/1/2022, had MultiChoice Nigeria Limited and Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission as 1st and 2nd respondents respectively.

The suit, which was to be adjudicated upon by a tribunal comprising of Sola Salako Ajulo and Ibrahim EL-Yakubu, prayed for “an order of interim injunction restraining the 1st defendants/respondents, either by itself, agents, representatives, officers or privies, howsoever described, from carrying out the impending increase in tariffs and cost of its products and services intended to take effect from April 1, 2022, until the hearing and determination of the motion on notice already filed before this tribunal.”

The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, on its part, had said that it was engaging MultiChoice Nigeria for clarity on its increase of subscription fee across all bouquets for its DStv and GOtv services.

However, despite an interim injunction by the tribunal stopping the company from its planned hike, MultiChoice eventually prevailed, and the prices of its packages were increased once again.

Pursuant to Section 17 (a) (c) (d) and (g) among other related provisions of the FCCPA, the commission is expected to monitor and engage business stakeholders in their dealings, regarding agreements and offers extended to their partners, wholesalers, or retailers.

This is to promote competitive markets within the Nigerian economy and prevent sharp practices that might lead to market dominance or monopoly by individuals or groups/ companies, in the consumer’s interest.

Pursuant to its mandate, the FCCPC had at different times rose against the activities of pay-TV operators.

Last year, the commission directed Multichoice Nigeria to increase the number of times subscribers suspend subscriptions to at least four times annually.

MultiChoice formerly allowed the suspension of accounts for a fixed period between seven to 14 days twice yearly.

In a statement signed by the Director of Legal Services, FCCPC, Tam Tamunokonbia,  the commission directed the satellite television company to allow customers to maintain the same subscription fee for a minimum period of one year.

While speaking with journalists last week at a forum organised by the commission, the Director-General of the FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera, condemned the practices of certain organisations, associations or groups, who arbitrarily fix prices and impose them on consumers.

According to him, such practices were anticompetitive and did not factor in the consumer’s take in the price-fixing process.

Irukera said, “Competition regulation and consumer protection is not only to regulate the big companies. It is not only to regulate the formal sector. It is also to regulate the informal sector. In a place like Nigeria, it is even more critical to find a strategy to regulate the informal sector, because, at the end of the day, the vast majority of our economy is informal.

“So, whether it is the barbers association, the vulcanisers’ association, the POS or money mobile money banking association or whether it is the market people’s association or the NURTW, all of them are subject to regulation. All of them have a duty to comply with the law. The purpose of competition regulation is to unlock the market.

“Let the market behave the way it should and let the price be negotiated between the seller and a buyer. Competition is two ways, sellers should compete for the business of the buyers, and buyers should compete to buy from the seller. When the price is determined based on the competition that happens on both sides, that is always almost the fairest price.”

Beyond what has been a public outcry against frequent pay-TV price hikes, there is a certain quarter of Nigerians who believe that the genesis of the problem is not the government’s unwillingness or inability to regulate this space. They have blamed the lack of investments in the local broadcast sector, which the majority of Nigerians relied upon in the 80s and 90s before the advent of satellite television in the country.

The looming danger here is that watching television, something which was akin to a fundamental right to all classes of Nigerians, from the bourgeois to the proletariat, only a few years ago, is fast becoming an exclusive reserve of the ultra-wealthy in the society.

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