Pay-as-you-view: Startimes, Multichoice in a tussle for the Nigerian market

Before the mid-1990s in Nigeria, television entertainment was just about tuning in and watching any terrestrial channel you could reach, with whatever quality. But the launch of Multichoice’s DSTV in 1996 started a gradual change of the narrative.

While this service majorly served the need of the rich, the introduction of other PayTV options in the 2000s broke monopoly and allowed more Nigerians to benefit from this service.

Amid all the challenges which have plagued the entertainment industry in 2020, Nigerians recently started demanding a pay-as-you-use model which will allow them only pay for what they use, rather than paying a fixed rate for a package monthly irrespective of usage. The House of Representatives was at the forefront of this request.

MultiChoice refused to bend as it says that it does not have the capacity to operate PPV model, as it operates a prepaid pricing model across the 50 Sub-Saharan African countries where it operates.

While the South-African company was busy trying to explain how its model does not allow it to detect when a customer is enjoying the service or not, its competitor, StarTimes announced that it had already integrated a flexible subscription plan where customers do not have to pay for what they do not get.

The model, according to the PR Manager of StarTimes Nigeria, Lazarus Ibeabuchi, allows subscribers to choose daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly plans and enjoy all exciting content on their preferred package/bouquet valid for the period paid for.

Maybe this was not what Nigerians had in mind when they demanded the pay-as-you-go billing system, but it was a lot more than MultiChoice was offering in its DStv and GOtv bouquets. It still provided a viable alternative giving customers a feel of being in charge of what they pay, and what value they get in return.

With as little as N90 or 160 naira daily, subscribers can watch several exciting channels, both foreign and local entertainment channels.

Note that both companies had, at the end of H1 2020, announced a new price plan for its bouquets in response to the new Value Added Tax (VAT) rate of 7.5%.

In its public announcement, MultiChoice noted the company had absorbed the additional 2.5% tax for the first half of the year, in the hope that the federal government would revert to the old tax rate before the end of Q1 2020.

Even though this action attracted lots of criticisms, the company has insisted that it would not be able to continue absorbing the extra costs given the large market in Nigeria, as it was already telling on its finances.

Some of the critics of this action claimed that the company is exploiting Nigerians, making them pay more than they should, even when the epileptic power supply in the country does not allow customers to get maximum value for subscribed plans.

The sports bait

In July, MultiChoice Group announced a new partnership with Walt Disney Company Africa, a partnership that brought in two 24-hour ESPN channels to DStv customers in Africa allowing them to enjoy the very best of US sports.

Note that some years back, ESPN withdrew from broadcasting in Africa and Europe. This new deal means that only DStv customers on the continent will now be able to watch the channels.

MultiChoice was still basking in this euphoria when Startimes announced that it had acquired four-season transmission rights to the Spanish Laliga and the UEFA Nations League, to be broadcast from 2020/21 to 2024 season across sub-Saharan Africa.

Even before this latest acquisition, StarTimes was already making a statement in sports broadcasting. It had exclusive rights to the Europa League, Bundesliga, Coppa Italia and Copa Del Rey. The PayTV operator also airs the English Football League Championship (EFL), Major League Soccer (MLS), Belgian Pro League, Netherlands Eredivisie; and Basketball tourneys – NBA and The EuroLeague; Formula E, MMA and Major League Wrestling.

Children and family entertainment

Away from sports, the competitors have taken their game to the children and family entertainment space.

Just recently, StarTimes partnered with the NBCUniversal International Networks’ (NBCUIN) to bring the DreamWorks family entertainment channel on the StarTimes pay TV platform across sub-Saharan African.

According to Lily Meng, head of StarTimes’ media division, the addition of the channel with its range of animated TV series is a timely deal coming at a time when “most kids and parents are staying home.”

On a similar note, MultiChoice had announced moves to integrate Netflix and Amazon Prime Video services into its Explora decoder as part of an agreement. According to the statement, the agreement is a proof of its aggregator model which provides choice and convenience for customers.

“As our industry evolves, we believe that we are well-positioned to benefit from both worlds – a large, growing pay-TV market in Africa, as well as an emerging over-the-top opportunity, where our own OTT services and aggregation capabilities can drive success,” CEO Calvo Mawela stated.

The company also said that it has commenced field trials for its own DStv streaming products, to be launched later in the year. This will be added to the streaming offering currently offered on Explora, the Showmax.

Observers opine that MultiChoice recent decisions are part of a larger strategy to remain the leading pay-TV channel and content aggregators.

The heated competition continues across all channels, especially on social media where both operators try to actively engage their customers with trailers and snippets from their content. During the Sallah celebration, StarTimes sent gift packages to some randomly selected customers as contributions to a bountiful celebration.

There is also the ongoing promo where StarTimes customers stand a chance to win smartphones, bulbs and other gifts, when they do two-months subscription.

This is clearly a competition that is not ending anytime soon, but interestingly, it would appear that the customers are the final beneficiaries of the tussle as each PayTV operator tries to outdo the other.

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