Much Ado about Non-renewal of MultiChoice’s Licence

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The notice given by the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission, Mr. Is’haq Modibbo Kawu on the non-renewal of licences owned by digital terrestrial television operators by 2019, has generated a lot of controversy based on misinterpretation, writes Emma Okonji

In a bid to meet up with its second deadline of June 2015 to conclude the process of switching Nigeria from analogue television broadcasting to digital television broadcasting, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), in 2014, licensed MultiChoice and Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) as pay Terrestrial Television (DTT) operators to provide digital contents as well as distribute digital signals. They were licensed as both content providers and signal distributors, to speed up the process of Digital Switchover (DSO).

At the time, NBC was under pressure to put an end to analogue television broadcasting in Nigeria and to subsequently switch the country to digital broadcasting by June 2015, having missed the first deadline of June 2012, due inadequate  preparation by to implement the white paper on DSO.

The licence, which has a lifespan of five years, is supposed to expire by June 2019. But during a press conference in Abuja penultimate week, Kawu told journalists that government has advised MultiChoice and NTA to begin discussions with the two signal distributors, ITS and Pinnacle Communications because the two pay DTT operators would no longer be licensed to operate as both content providers and signal distributors after June 2019. This, according to Kawu, was in line with government white paper on the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.

The statement from Kawu was, however, misinterpreted to mean that NTA and MultiChoice will lose their licences and that MultiChoice will not be able to operate GOtv, which is its digital terrestrial platform.

Although NBC has tried to clarify that the inability of MultiChoice to renew its Licence as both content provider and signal distributor after 2019 does not mean that MultiChoice will cease to operate with its GOtv platform in Nigeria, the misrepresentation had already gone viral.

NBC’s statement on DTT

At the Abuja press conference Kawu said that a recent retreat in Uyo, to review the progress of the DSO, the industry took some major steps, which it believes will further guarantee a seamless transition. Each player, he added, now understands more clearly, the roles they play in the DSO eco-system.

“We have also consciously delineated revenue streams for all players, an issue, which was the basis for some of the rancor that existed before. The broadcasters’ signal distributors, content aggregator, Set Top Box (STB) manufacturers, are all on the same page now, to help strengthen the work of delivering the DSO.

“NBC has also informed the pay DTT operators, GOtv and NTA/StarTimes, to begin discussions with the two signal distributors, ITS and Pinnacle Communications. This is because, in line with the government White Paper on the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting, after June 2019, these pay DTT operators would no longer be licensed to operate as both content providers and signal distributors. He also explained that the agency will also begin a phased Analogue Switch Off (ASO), in Plateau state and the FCT, by the end of the First Quarter of 2018, adding, “as part of acceleration of the work, we have commenced the digital mapping of Nigeria. It is a process that would help to give clarity to the entire DSO process.”

 

Public reaction 

Based on the statement by NBC on non-renewal of DTT licence by 2019, Nigerians were of the view that MultiChoice, which launched GOtv in 2014, was on its way out of the Nigeria broadcasting network. Their thinking was that GOtv will not have the opportunity to operate in the country’s broadcasting space after 2019.

The licence  issued to MultiChoice in 2014 is being insinuated not to be in line with the DSO White Paper and that is why it will not be renewed.

The misinterpretation has raised a lot of concerns, and if not well managed, could cause stalemate between the Nigerian government and the South African government, the home of MultiChoice, since majority of South Africa investments are in Nigeria, ranging from Shoprite, PEP, among several others.

The DSO White Paper is a policy, regulatory framework and a broadcasting model for the migration process from analogue TV broadcasting to digital TV broadcasting.

It was established in 2009 by a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC), to smoothen the transition from analogue to digital. The committee was created because Nigeria had signed an international and regional agreement to conclude the digital switchover by June 17, 2012, which was the first deadline that Nigeria set for itself.

MultiChoice entered into the Nigerian space in 1994. In 1995 it launched its Digital Satellite Television (DSTV), a direct broadcast satellite service for the sub-Saharan African market.

In 2011 MultiChoice launched the GOtv digital platform, a pay television offering on digital terrestrial television (DTT).

NBC’s position

In response to the misinterpretation of the DTT non-renewal licence, the Head Public Affairs at NBC, Mrs. Maimuna Jimada, told THISDAY that the statement from the Director General of NBC was misinterpreted.

According to her, both NTA and MultiChoice have the opportunity to renew their DTT licences by 2019 when they will expire, but that the terms and conditions of the licence will not be the same anymore, in line with government white paper on the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. She further explained that GOtv, which is a subsidiary of MultiChoice, has the DTT licence and that Pinnacle Communications and ITS, which are licensed signal distributors, also have the DTT licence. She said at the expiration of GOtv licence in 2019, it has the opportunity to renew the licence but that the terms and conditions of the licence will change and may not permit GOtv to distribute digital signals anymore, hence the advice  that it should open discussions with the existing licensed signal distributors on how best they could distribute their signals.

MultiChoice reacts

Worried about the drama of non-renewal of DTT licence by 2019, MultiChoice said it was a thing of surprise to read from some newspapers, a statement credited to the Director of NBC that GOtv would be shut down from the Nigerian broadcasting space by 2019, following government new directives on digital switchover as captured in government white paper on DSO. MultiChoice however promised to further investigate the matter to know the true position of things, come 2019.

According to a statement signed by its Public Relation Officer, Jennifer Ukoh, and made available to THISDAY, “GOtv is provided under a fully licenced and registered entity in Nigeria, and this license comes up for renewal in March 2019.  As a law-abiding and committed Nigerian operator, which has fulfilled and continues to comply with all regulatory requirements and applicable laws, it is not clear how or why this license would not be renewed, and as such the company will investigate further in the best interests of the many customers it serves in the market.

MultiChoice remains committed to providing its customers with a wide variety of quality entertainment through the usual best standards.”

 

DSO and the journey so far 

The journey of DSO started in Nigeria since 2006 when the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nation agency, issued the Geneva 2006 agreement, signalling the development of ‘all-digital’ terrestrial television services, for African countries, including Nigeria.

With a good intention to join the rest of the world in the entire process of digital migration, Nigeria, in agreement with ITU, initially chose June 17, 2012 as its deadline to complete the DSO, but failed to meet up with the deadline for lack of adequate preparation on the part of government. June 17, 2015, was again chosen as the second deadline to complete the DSO process, and NBC in 2014, licensed NTA (StarTimes) and MultiChoice (GOtv) as both content providers and signal distributors to drive the entire process of DSO, but Nigeria still could not meet up with the deadline of June 2015. Having missed the deadline twice, Nigeria, again, chose June 17, 2017 for the completion of the DSO process, but still could not cover 95 per cent digital access across the country, as at June 17, 2017, even though the NBC, the government agency responsible for driving DSO in Nigeria, continued to insist that so much have been achieved in the entire process of DSO since 2016.

“We have rolled out in two more states, namely Kaduna and Kwara at the end of 2017. The rollout in Kwara and kaduna brought the number of states now switched on to four. We are committed to roll out in many more states this year.

“We have also scheduled to switch on six more states , one each from the six geo-political regions, during this year, 2018. We envisage that by the end of the third quarter of 2018, we would have switched on in 12 states around Nigeria. We are steadily implementing this new digital broadcasting process,” Kawu said, during a recent press conference in Abuja.