My first experience of DStv was in 1996, some three years after MultiChoice arrived Nigeria with its pay-TV offering. It was during that year’s Olympic Games, hosted by Atlanta.
My family had just moved to a new house and our next door neighbour was a DStv subscriber. In actuality, he was the only one who owned a satellite dish on the entire street at that time. To welcome us to the neighbourhood, our new neighbour invited us over to watch Nigeria play Argentina in the final match of the football event at the Olympics. It is an experience that still remains fresh in my memory, principally because the picture quality was nothing like I had ever seen before. For a man who had watched much of the games (and, indeed television on good old NTA), seeing the vast difference in picture quality raised my excitement. And to crown an already pleasant evening, Nigeria’s U-23 team (aka Dream Team) defeated Argentina to win the gold medal.
Nigerians of my generation were raised on a television diet served by the national broadcaster. The national broadcaster opened at 4pm and closed at 10pm on weekdays. On weekends, it opened by noon. Then it got better with arrival of state-owned stations, as we began watching right up to midnight daily.
Then came the fascinating experience of a 24-hour television service. The launch of DStv in the 90s totally changed the way we watch television.
Ideally, being the first to launch a new service in an emerging market or creating a new market altogether should be celebrated. But for some obscure reasons, this is regarded as one of many sins of MultiChoice. Subscribers and competitors seem united in anger against MultiChoice for pioneering pay-TV and keeping it alive and well for over two decades on an extremely difficult terrain.
MultiChoice, without fail, is blamed for the failure of its competitors. Editorials, as a rule, accuse MultiChoice of “killing competition” simply because the company continues evolving and innovating.
When it is not been accused of killing competition, it is branded a monopoly. But neither is correct. There were and there still are competitors to MultiChoice. What it has succeeded in doing is staying far ahead of the pack that competitors actually require binoculars to see it. This has happened through its acquisition of the most exciting content and innovation, something for which it paid enormous sums. Even when it lost the rights to broadcast some football content a few years ago, it still remained ahead of the pack. The rival that won the bid, as we all know, is no longer in existence. Its inability to pay the amount required to retain the rights to the content, after initially overbidding to acquire it, not MultiChoice, was responsible for its demise. This narrative is well known, but it is omitted because critics find it a useful ammo in their war against the industry leader.
From the days of the huge satellite dishes, which cost over a N100,000 in the 90s, MultiChoice has upgraded its technology to make the DStv service more accessible to the average Nigerian. Because of these new technologies, the DStv dish is more compact, while acquisition, and installation costs are lower. Today, DStv is widespread with a complete set comprising a dish and decoder costing less than N20,000.
Despite these improvements, Nigerians are quick to highlight every hitch experienced with the DStv service. But is there a technology that doesn’t have shortcomings?
Way back, I used to get angry when I experienced signal degeneration or service interruption whenever it rained. It was not until when I experienced same in the US a few years ago that I realised that the problem is not exclusive to DStv.
One day in New York, I was indoors watching the news when a raging storm broke. To my surprise, a message similar to what appears on DStv popped-up on the TV screen, and it went blank. That incident compelled me to read up about the occurrence on the internet.
The loss of signals when it rains is technically known as “rain fade”.
Rain fade is a universal problem, but more prevalent in certain climatic conditions. It occurs when the sky is overcast during rainfall or when it snows. It does not need to be raining at a location for the service to be affected by rain fade, as signals travel many miles from the satellite. Digital satellite television providers which operate on the Ku band (such as DStv) or Ka band are faced with this challenge of rain fade. Contrary to the belief that rain fade is unique to DStv and the result of obsolete technology, the phenomenon also occurs in parts of Asia, Europe, South America and North America. Rain fade may occur less frequently in Europe compared to Africa, as its prevalence is largely due to two factors: differences in rain characteristics in temperate and tropical regions and the quality of your installation.
These factors are ignored, often willfully, when the subject is discussed. DStv’s critics prefer the convenient to the factual and have gone out to build-on willful ignorance- a vicious campaign against it.
Another sin of MultiChoice appears to be its decision to make huge investments in sports and entertainment. Our love for football, a huge one at that, has grown beyond the national team to affiliation with different European clubs. Through DStv, a bond between us and those clubs has been created and is, of course, sustained by our daily exposure to their games and news about their activities.
A modern football fan in Nigeria is either a Gunner or Blue; proudly Red and so forth. This is all due to what DStv has created.
MultiChioce’s investments in broadcast rights through the years have been heavy. That is expected, given that nothing good comes cheap. It is also entitled to reap dividends on its investments because businesses are set up to do exactly that. These broadcast rights escalate subscription fees. Recently, Sky and BT acquired the EPL rights for the 2016 to 2019 football season for 5.14billion pounds. That transfer of the additional cost to subscribers has already been announced. The announcement has provoked no class action suit, the type we have seen here.
I have also heard a few people blame MultiChoice for our children’s difficulty with our indigenous languages. An Igbo friend of mine once wrote a letter to an editor complaining of how his children have learnt to speak Yoruba from watching AfricaMagic Yoruba. Having married an Edo woman, it was not feasible for him to speak his language dialect at home. And as is common in many cross-cultural marriages, in which wives and husbands do not understand their respective indigenous languages, my friend’s children are unable to speak Igbo. Curiously, this was blamed on MultiChioce- for not having an Igbo channel. Thankfully, AfricaMagic Igbo channel is now available. But I wonder if it is right to blame a pay-TV company for our children’s inability to speak our local languages.
MultiChoice is also perceived as arrogant and unresponsive to customer complaints. As a small business owner, I understand that poor customer service is a general problem which most service-oriented businesses in Nigeria are contending with. Whenever, I get poor service at a restaurant, bank or from a call centre agent, I have learnt not take it out on the organisation. The reason is not far-fetched. Whether it is a multinational or indigenous establishment, the staff are Nigerians. Sure, there is room for improvement in this area, but it should not be enough to provoke an all-out war against MultiChoice.
The lack of parking space and the long queues at MultiChoice branches are simply not acceptable. Rather than breaking MultiChoice down, new indigenous pay-TV operators should step up their game.
After all said and done, what makes a premium brand premium? Other than pricing and the tangible worth of the brand, it is quality. It is a consistent show of attention to detail and top-notch service. When one pays for a premium service such as DStv, expectations are high. My view is that to a large extent, the expectations are being met in the quality of programming as well as audio-visual quality.
_ Asemota, an accountant and businessman, writes from Benin.