By Ntia Usukuma.
Apart from the three stormy years- 2007 to 2010- that the defunct HiTV controlled the “almighty” English Premier League (EPL) rights, South African firm, Digital Satellite Television Company (DStv) has enjoyed near total monopoly in the Nigerian pay-tv market for about 25 years. Despite flurries of complaints from many subscribers in Nigeria, the brand has carried on in the arrogance of most business monopolies. To the discomfiture of consumers, they raise subscription fees on a yearly basis.
But today, a flurry of events is threatening to rock DStv’s equable cruise. The management of Multichoice Africa, parent company of DStv Nigeria should be having sleepless nights over the perception of the brand in the Nigerian market. They should equally be deploying diverse efforts to prevent business operations in Nigeria degenerating to an irredeemable level. How did it get to this? It all started with a routine increase the pay-tv giant probably felt the Nigerian market should see as normal. The price increase across several bouquets show between 10%-15% hike.
The Public Relations Manager of MultiChoice, Caroline Oghuma, in a statement on the latest DStv tariff increase, revealed that the company has taken into account many factors. What she listed include, “the impact on the subscriber, current inflation, and efficiencies effected within the company that may offset the necessity for a price increase.”
[ad id=”187″]“We would like to reassure our subscribers of our best intentions and reaffirm our commitment to Nigeria which is clearly demonstrated through our continuous investments in the country.” she added in her statement.
But Subscribers were not ready to be hoodwinked by such PR necessities. Pronto, two Lagos based legal practitioners, Osasuyi Adebayo and Oluyinka Oyeniji filed a suit before Justice Aneke’s high court in Lagos challenging the increase in price.
Justice Aneke promptly granted an interim order stopping Multichoice from implementing the new price. He also ordered for the suit and the Interim injunction to be published in national newspapers.
Indeed this is unprecedented in the history of consumer protectionism in Nigeria. Although few Nigerians have resorted to legal redress when they suffer losses due to the negligence of a corporate organization or brand, challenging inappropriate increases in service fees or price of product is virtually non- existent.
In the words of Franklin Ozekhome, Pop Culture Strategist with Trends Insight Intelligence network (TINK), “It is important that we monitor how this scenario plays out as it will define a major milestone in the dynamics of consumer protection in Nigeria. Whatever the outcome, brands now have their work clearly cut-out for them. It is inexcusable for a brand to take advantage of consumers because it enjoys a monopoly status”.
Even before the brouhaha generated by this increase, DStv reputation in the minds of most subscribers was anything but good. A glance on DStv’s Facebook page would reveal large quantities of venom from the frustrations of many subscribers. A large number of subscribers are very bitter over huge cost of the status symbol of many homes, the DStv explora, which many spent almost N85, 000 to get, plus LNB and installation
Another subscriber, Emette Young, claims she rushed to pay for the premium bouquet on the last day of March but was not connected till after five days. She explains further, “l was reconnected briefly that day but the following day, my line was suspended. I called their customer service number 29 times and they kept dropping my call. At a point none of their representative would come on line. I was really disappointed with DStv. They reconnected me after five days. Till date, they have not said anything about the five days they “stole”. Now who is paying for that? If only all subscribers can unite to boycott DStv for two or three months in Nigeria, they will sit up.”
From all these, it seems the social media has been quite strategic in most campaigns by consumer to canvass their positions in the scheme of things. In the words of Franklin Ozekhome, “this further endorses the power digital media has placed in the hands of consumers and the resolve by consumers to leverage this medium to amplify their voice towards brands that treat them unfairly. It is now clear that commerce is no longer about the exchange of goods and services; it is now more of a relationship between brands and consumers. Now brands are held accountable for whatever actions they take. In this digital era, brands need to tread carefully and become more transparent because these consumers will speak up, these same consumers will be heard.”
While consumers have taken their fate in their hand, the bodies mandated by law to protect their welfare have not been really active. The National Broadcasting Commission is a parastatal of the Federal Government of Nigeria, empowered to regulate the broadcasting industry by Act no. 38 of 1992 as amended by Act no. 55 of 1999.
One of the core responsibilities of NBC is to regulate the activities of operators, a duty NBC currently is accused of not doing. Most industry commentators had expected that NBC will sanction DSTV or at least call the company to order. Interestingly the silence of NBC, where Emeka Mba, a former employee of Multichoice Nigeria, serves as Director General is quite deafening.
[ad id=”169″]Another agency, The Consumer Protection Council ( CPC) seems quite helpless. Speaking on the DStv issue at a town hall gathering, the Director-General of CPC, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, said that the absence of anti-competition law is the reason why some monopolies in the country can continuously exploit consumers. She said the government was aware of the gap and was putting in place a legislation to effectively protect consumers. “We have received complaints about the seeming malpractice going on in upgrading the decoder. We have invited Multichoice; we summoned them to discuss the various complaints, including the request for pay-as-you-go view. But on the increment, I hasten to say that this does not fall within our mandate at the CPC. It is more of competition law and unfortunately, we don’t have that here yet”, she pointed.
She added, “Competition law, at the end of the road, protects consumers as it deals mainly with the conduct of businesses and it helps to check monopoly; it helps to check cartel where people just come together to fix price, or where you have a dominant actor who uses that position to arbitrarily increase price, which is what Multi Choice is doing because there is no competition”.
However, Moses Igbrude, Director of Consumer Rights Awareness Initiative, an NGO feels the regulatory bodies are doing their best within the laws of the land and the limited resources in their disposal. “They cannot do much without consumers whose rights are violated comes out to complained and until Nigerian consumers begins to challenge and points out continuously the deficiencies and inadequacies of the regulatory bodies they would not be up and doing” Igbrude explained.
[ad id=”147″]In all these, there are obvious lessons. There is a new level of consumer awareness on the air. This is revealed in the way Nigerian rose to condemn the recent hike in subscription charges by DStv. Almost all commentators believe it is a very good development that should be encouraged and sustained in the marketplace.
It is also clear that the new global wave of heightened consumer consciousness has spread to Nigeria. Enabled by the dexterity of social media, easier access to smart phones, mobile apps and real-time online publishing platforms, Nigerian consumers have over time nurtured, and subsequently, armed themselves with a strongly opinionated voice and are not afraid to use it. Private businesses and consumer brands can also be ‘dragged’ to Twitter to answer for perceived malpractices. The recent elections have proven also that an engaged and conscious populace can achieve tremendous impact via social media.
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Brands like DStv should always bear in mind that the customer is the king. Without consumers they cannot be in business. They can equally exploit this trend in sourcing real-time feedback to quickly initiate corrective measures that will positively impact their positioning, equity and bottomline. With issues like the xenophobic attack against Nigerian threatening to add a new twist in this crisis, DStv can only allow this issue to linger long in Nigeria to their own peril.
By Ntia Usukuma.