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‘Big Brother Naija’s production team is made up of 90 per cent Nigerians’

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MultiChoice Nigeria, John Ugbe


Managing Director of MultiChoice Nigeria, John Ugbe, in this interview with MARGARET MWANTOK, said the Big Brother Naija show inspires many Nigerians, especially the youths. He spoke on the number of corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects the company has undertaken to create great professionals in various fields of human endeavour.

How true is the assertion that 170 million votes from the recently concluded BBN show came exclusively from SMS, thereby yielding profit in billions?
There has been a lot of focus on the figure 170 million, but to set the records straight, the 170 million votes came from 49 African countries and more than 90 per cent came from online voting.

Less than two per cent of the votes came from SMS voting. Nigeria is the only country that was enabled to vote via SMS. The actual revenue generated from SMS voting could not be further from the much-touted purported figure. Over and above the administration and platform set up costs, most of the profit went directly to the GSM and data service providers.

Is there a way you can review the location of Big Brother Naija to ensure that it is domiciled in Nigeria?
Big Brother demands a lot of complexities and outfitting a house. For the Big Brother shows, we set up one facility for the Nigerian, Angolan and other editions. It makes sense from a production perspective. It is impractical to replicate sets across our operations in 49 African countries. We choose the best location for each specific production. Big Brother Naija’s production team is made up of 90 per cent Nigerians even though it wasn’t set in Nigeria. Speaking as a Nigerian and an advocate of Nigeria – we keep looking at
what it entails to run it locally.

Star Trek inspired a lot of Americans to go into science and go into the moon. What does Big Brother inspire among Nigerians?
Entertainment is a mix of fun, inspiration and education. Remember, Reality TV is reality. The fact that they are on TV doesn’t change it. Entertainment can inspire in a variety of ways. A lot of people have come out of Big Brother and have grown into entertainment powerhouses. It’s a platform for exposure and advancement.

Furthermore, we have a lot of educational and kids content. We ask our viewers to set up parental guidance so you can control what your child views.Kids these days have smartphones and can download anything, but the blame is often put on TV. You can opt out of a channel or block it completely at any time. We put the power into your hands. And back to Big Brother, we can learn from their interaction in the house. They have tasks that promote nationalism, patriotism. You see those contestants singing the National Anthem proudly. When they talk about malaria day – we use it as an opportunity to educate. A lot of the tasks are subtle but meant to inspire and lead.

Have you considered implementing a Pay as you Consume model, as life’s schedules make it difficult to catch up with shows due to lack of power supply?
From a producer’s perspective, we have to buy the movie in full and we have to buy enough content to fill the channel and put it on air. That’s what the Pay-TV model prescribes anywhere in the world. We have to aggregate content for our different packages, this means ensuring there is something for everyone on the package depending on your interest and financial strength. But there is a good spread of variety of content across all packages.

Regarding breaking off of viewing according to your availability, the challenge is in the model of the business. We don’t know when your decoder is on or off. That makes it impossible to say I want to start billing because this customer has started viewing.Pay as you go is a mobile network term. The mobile operators have the technical resources to measure what is being used. For Pay-Tv on the other hand, it is not the same thing. Last August, the Mayweather vs. McGregor Boxing match was delayed for close to three hours. The reason was due to technicalities of pay-per-view in the United States. Pay-per-view for a fight like that would be $99–that is more than your one-month subscription on Premium–about double.

However, we buy the fight and aggregate it for our Premium subscribers, who were able to record it, even when the live event did not happen on schedule. What we encourage our subscribers to do is download DStv Now, and they can watch all the content on their current subscription on the go. You do not have to be bound by availability of power. Catch Up is there… Get it before the World Cup so it’s right there on your phone and your Ipad and your laptop.

What corporate social responsibility programmes do you invest in as an organisation?
We focus on Education, Health, Youth and Economic Empowerment. Our MultiChoice Resource Centre (MRC) project is our education initiative and we have been active for the past 14 years. We work with the governments of each state to select the beneficiary schools. We then provide audio-visual equipment (which include a dish, decoder with educational channels, TV, generating set, tables, chairs, UPS) to bring learning and school’s curriculum to life. We set up our education package in the chosen schools, train the teachers on how to select relevant programmes intended to illuminate and animate information that would otherwise have remained theoretical or textbook based. The MRCs are present in over 400 schools across 33 states in Nigeria, tens of thousands of students have benefitted from the centres since inception.

The feedback has been astounding. Several beneficiaries have gone on to become medical doctors, lawyers, and a good number are working in other professions. Also in terms of education, we have partnered with Eutelsat for many years to roll out DStv-Eutelsat Star Awards, a satellite based competition for secondary school students across Africa. The students are required to answer questions on how satellites can be used to improve processes, the advantages of satellite and so on.

Last year, a Nigerian, Emmanuel Ochenjele emerged overall winner from the poster category. He met a real life Astronaut – Claudie Haignere, here in Nigeria, and not long ago, he returned from Paris, as part of his winning prize, where he went to the Eutelsat headquarters to witness how rockets are assembled. This has changed his perspective forever.

We implement our health responsibility by supporting the Sickle Cell Foundation. The statistics of how Sickle Cell Anaemia affects Nigerians paints a dire picture. The Foundation seeks funds to carry out research, as well as treat and inform sufferers. On our part, we offer support by creating awareness, which we do on an ongoing basis through educational videos, community outreach programmes, fund raising and other initiatives to support them in whatever they do.

Our GOtv Boxing Next Gen clinics support the growth of Boxing, which we brought out of near extinction in Nigeria. The boxing matches provide an avenue for the boxers to earn a living. With the clinics providing tips on welfare, training and psychological support to these young ones, some of the young boxers were picked from our Next Generation Search and they have now proven themselves in mainstream boxing and have won millions over the years. Ultimately, we train them to go professional, so that one of our boxers can proudly fly the Nigerian flag internationally.

Is it possible for subscribers to put their subscription on hold when they travel for a month?
Yes, subscribers can put their subscription on hold when they travel for up to two weeks each time, twice a year. One of the things we thrive on is technology. The dual view decoder was first introduced in the world by MultiChoice. Digital Satellite TV (DStv) was only second after the US. When we build the DTT network we had Russians coming to study it.

Recently, MultiChoice ran a promo asking subscribers to pay for two months and get one month free, but there were complaints from customers who didn’t get what they were promised?
It is true that we ran a retention offer late last year. When we received feedback that some customers did not get the free month on schedule, we identified those customers that were affected and we fixed it. We introduced a new process, which helps to identify those who received the offer.Also, in terms of improving on technology, we upgrade our decoder software from time to time to improve customer-viewing experience. We ran a free swop campaign where we asked customers to bring in obsolete decoders for a free swop. We also introduced toll-free lines a few years ago.

Your payment operations run for 24 hours. How do you ensure that as soon as the payment drops, the channels come on immediately?
Payment is automated and we encourage our customers to use our payment platforms such as eazy.dstv.com. This way, the customer can troubleshoot and resolve reconnection issues directly from their mobile phones without having to call into our call centre to be reconnected.

Clarity of signals is still a problem. For instance, if you watch a match and it rains, you lose signal. What is the solution?
To shed some light on that, it is called rainfade. Satellite signal from the KU Band is susceptible to weather. I have taken pictures of my tv screen when I’ve been in New York or other parts of the world and I experienced interruption as a result of bad weather. It’s not a peculiar problem. Your DSTV will work even with 40 per cent signal. There is a need to boost the signal to have less interruption. We also make available quality cables to reduce interference. We recommend getting a certified installer to conduct regular checks to verify signal strength. Also, some dishes have not been checked for up to five years. Regular checks ensure that your dish works optimally, thereby reducing rainfade.


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