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How Nigerian Pay TV customers are getting value for premium sport content

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Not unlike the rest of the globe, Nigeria’s pay-tv market is always roiled by debates centered on contrasting views on the balance between pricing and value. This debate is loudest and most intense amongst sports fans, an unsurprising fact given the popular and passionate followership football enjoys in the country and the exclusive nature of expensive broadcast rights required for access to elite competitions across different leagues and indeed sports.

DStv, a pay-tv brand owned by MultiChoice, is a prominent mention in the debates. As holders of the exclusive broadcasting rights of major sports competitions including the English Premier League, Italian SERIE A, and the UEFA Champions League, among others, critics often paint it as a “monopoly” exploiting its exclusive rights by arbitrarily setting prices to extract the most profits.

Its purported lack of competition and exclusive ownership of broadcasting rights of the major competitions, the critics claim, has meant that it enjoys outsized latitude in dictating prices they consider above value. But this claim, and other iterations of it, is without basis and self-defeating.

The avalanche of DTH pay-tv platforms in Nigeria betrays the misconception that DStv operates without competition. Startimes, for instance, is a dominant player in the market with a subscriber strength of millions. The remarkable difference and indicator of superior value offering that critics inadvertently admit are the premium and exclusive content DStv has managed to acquire and maintain over the years.

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This is the reality of the pay-tv market across the globe. Competitors strive for market advantage through exclusive rights acquisition, and to keep the advantage, and they implement a price model that helps them remain competitive but also generate enough revenue to renew the rights purchase and withstand bids from new and existing competitors.

The purchase of rights to broadcast the English Premier League in Africa, Nigeria inclusive, routinely costs DStv millions of pounds it must recoup from subscription fee and sub-licensing. Most fans of Premier League clubs in the country are always excited when the clubs declare increased profits as that ordinarily means the purchase of better players and other support infrastructure. But they fail or refuse to connect the dots between the astounding profits, which has indeed gone up dramatically since 1992, and the broadcast licensing fees that produce them and inevitably means that viewers must pay more.

No realistic comparison can be drawn between the pricing model of DStv and competitors like Startimes, given the gulf in content and value offering. To illustrate, Startimes presently charges about 2500 Nigerian Naira (estimated $7) for its premium bouquet with 24 channels, including sports stations that solely broadcast football action in the UEFA Europa League and the German Bundesliga. GOtv, the other pay-tv brand of MultiChoice rolled out in Nigeria to offer cheaper alternatives to premium content, is a fitting equivalent for comparison.

Its premium bouquet plan costs 3,600 Nigerian Naira (estimated $9) and offers to viewers over 74 channels, including six sports stations that broadcast the prized English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, and the UEFA Champions League.

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An understanding of this easily lays to rest the accusations of “arbitrary and extortionate pricing” some critics lay against MultiChoice, the owners of DStv. In fact, when set against other EPL and exclusive sports broadcasters in the world, the MultiChoice pay-tv brand offers perhaps the cheapest bouquet plans. Whereas Nigerian DStv subscribers can watch the EPL, La Liga, SERIE A, Champions League, UFC, Wimbledon and other Tennis competitions, NBA, etc with a single monthly premium subscription of 18,400 Nigerian naira (estimated $45), it costs UK residents around the same amount to watch the major football competitions alone.

The misconception of DStv as a monopoly has also resulted in calls for the platform to be stripped of its exclusive rights, with many agitating for a fragmented and splintered pay-tv market where multiple platforms hold rights to different sports events and competitions. In their view, this would result in a scuffle that will ultimately drive prices down. Yet again, this is unreflective of the true reality of the market and only stems from limited understanding.

Content fragmentation in the pay-tv market, and the resulting screen-hopping to watch the major sports events, will cost the audience more, not less. A recent experience best demonstrates this.

In the early hours of Sunday, April 25, I joined several other Nigerians who kept a vigil of sort owing to the time difference to watch Kamaru Usman, the Nigerian nightmare, knock the lights out of Jorge Masvidal to retain his Welterweight Championship title in the UFC.

Later the same day, I settled in front of the television again to watch my favorite sports team, Manchester United, play out a disappointing goalless draw away at Leeds in the English Premier League and, most agonizingly, as rivals Manchester City, buoyed by a late goal from Aymeric Laporte, marched to their historic fourth straight EFL title with a victory over Tottenham Hotspur.

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There was also the intriguing matter of Atletico Madrid’s cratering to Athletico Bilbao in the Spanish La Liga. With a 2-1 loss, what was left of Atletico’s commanding lead evaporated to the chagrin of their fans but to amusement of neutrals who are now guaranteed an exciting three-way title challenge to the end of a season that previously appeared like a procession.

Access to these elite content across different sports in different countries came at the cost of a monthly $48 subscription charge as I regularly take out the premium subscription. Meanwhile, my counterparts in the UK had to pay an additional $89 on top of their existing subscriptions just to watch the fight between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal. More so, a recent analysis showed that to keep up with all the sports action in the summer, fans in the UK will pay an excess of £150 per month to 16 different broadcasting platforms.

There is some merit to the argument presented by critics on Nigeria’s different economic reality. Per capita income in the country is, after all, not the same in most parts of Europe. But an inescapable and undeniable fact is that premium content is an expensive luxury anywhere, not a fundamental right. And when DStv goes to negotiate licensing fees for the content that makes it the most valuable in the African market, it is hardly given a special discount because it operates in a relatively low-income market.

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