Discordant tunes over broadcast content regulation
The on-going exercise by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to amend the code guiding the practice of broadcasting in Nigeria, especially as it relates to content generation and distribution is attracting diverse interpretation among stakeholders.
And this is evident in the statement by NBC on Friday titled ‘Broadcast rights and new amendments’. The commission through the chairman of the board, Alhaji Ikra Bilbis, said it acknowledges the efforts of its management and industry stakeholders, who spent the time to come up with new amendments in the administration of the broadcast industry, especially with the issues of broadcast rights.
It added that while it acknowledges all the efforts in reaching a consensus, it has become obvious that more voices need to be heard and a few other stakeholders who have ventilated their opinion to be given adequate audience. “The board would further study the new amendments and will reconvene next week in its attempts to respond to and smoothen the rough edges of the new amendments.”
Some of the clauses in the amendment that industry players are not happy with or not well thought out including the section that stated that for the purpose of ensuring the widest possible distribution and viewership of content considered critical to the success and sustainability of new entrants in the Pay-TV industry in Nigeria, the broadcaster shall ensure access by all Pay-TV platforms to premium content in the sports and news genre to generate effective competition at the wholesale level for such genre.
Also that a minimum of 75 per cent of programme and postproduction expenses are paid to services provided by Nigerians and Nigerian companies, just as the writers of the programmes are Nigerians and the products created in Nigeria?
It also stated that Nigeria should not be bundled in the same basket with other countries in the sale of football rights while the final bid for the acquisition of rights to sporting events for Nigeria shall be reasonable in comparison with other territories of similar economic indices. It added that the broadcaster shall submit the rights to the sporting events to the Commission for ratification within two weeks and in the event that the broadcaster fails to submit the rights to the sporting events to the Commission, the rights shall be null and void and the event shall not be broadcast within the Nigerian territory.
Surprisingly, after the amendment was done by some experts, it was interrogated by some stakeholders in Lagos, yet there were still sections vehemently being opposed to by industry players.
It is being alleged that NBC is not sincere in the way it is going about the amendment, as many of the gray areas were trashed during the review of the amendment in Lagos and rather than NBC strengthening things, it went ahead to add more clauses that are detrimental to the industry and content generation in particular.
Before the NBC issued the statement that more stakeholders and practitioners thought would be sought, one of the industry players that kicked against some of the sections in the amendment is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of iROKO TV Jason Njoku. He tweeted severally on the issue. One of his tweets reads: “Leave us alone. Do nothing. You may think you can help, it’s fine, at least I have built the largest independent Nollywood companies and am doing okay. Let us be. Regulation for regulation sake is bad. Let it be. We’re going to be okay.
“Soon CNN will leave its daily programming to show Arrival of Orji Kalu and APC and PDP conventions. Essentially be ready for NTA everywhere. This is the highest priority for NBC.
“National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) In making exclusivity illegal, compelling sub-licensing of content and regulating price, are effectively turning the private enterprise into state property. Interference Distorts Markets. If implemented this 100 per cent destroys PayTV in Nigeria
“In the last 5 years, @irokotv has commissioned, acquired & produced $25m in content. Only 20 per cent of our revenues come from Nigeria, mind you. So think about that for a second. 20 per cent of our revenues come from Nigeria but 90 per cent of that $24m was spent in Nigeria
“PayTV is a unique business that globally structurally tends to a monopoly. Requires unbelievable amounts of investments upfront for decades before its makes sense. Netflix doesn’t really have a comparable #2 today but still has been -$10B (negative) cash flow in the last 5 years.”
Also speaking on the amendment, a producer, Tope Alake reacted thus: ‘’NBC is coming for Nollywood and the business of over 2000 creative and unemployable youths plus over 20000 actors I employ every year. As a filmmaker, how can you take away my right to sell my content, who to sell to, when to sell and how much to sell. If DSTV, irokotv, Netflix and other investors stop funding Nollywood, the industry is dead. Nollywood is my life. Our life.’’
But some voices have risen from within Nollywood, in defense of the contentious provision of the code that restricts monopoly and anti-competitive behaviours. The practitioners in defense think that rather than make it a Nollywood battle with the NBC, the concern should be how broadcasters should engage the NBC to clarify aspect of the regulation of the collective buying of rights and more specifically sports right.
Foremost Content Entrepreneur and CEO of Digital Interactive Media Limited, Sola Fajobi described the rage amongst some content producers over the code as misplaced. He stated that the issue is actually positive for Nigerians and does not affect content producers that license their content.
“It aims to protect the Nigerian audience to have access to global contents without too much restriction on exclusivity.’’
Fajobi stated adding “it means that local broadcasters will now be able to pitch for the so-called exclusive content like football leagues without the initial challenges of exclusive to platform A or B. It means that as a content owner, you can license your content to any broadcaster but other broadcasters can also license the same content from you provided they can pay the price you fix.”
He also stated that he had read the code and there was nothing in the code that suggested that NBC was going to fix the price to be paid by sub-licensees. “The code did not suggest or fix price. The global contents that are meant to be affected have prices fixed for regions or open bid at a scheduled time. So, you fix the price and if they can pay they pay. But what the code is saying is that you cannot say you won’t sub-license if they are willing to pay your price.’’
A veteran broadcaster, who didn’t want to be named, expressed shock at the outburst by Nollywood practitioners over the provision in the code that aims at reforming the buying activities of sports right including opening it up to sub-licensing on fair and non-discriminatory terms. “I am still waiting for what the real issue is with the code. The energy to point out what might be wrong, especially by the ultimate beneficiaries of the code is alarming,” he said, even as he canvassed stakeholders’ engagement with the NBC to clarify the contentious provision that restricts monopoly and anti-competitive behaviours.
Prof Ralph Akinfeleye said the role NBC should be playing is that of a moderator and not to acquire or be the chief player. He said this should be in addition to preventing the erosion of Nigerian and African culture.
He stated that though some sections of the amendment need to be expunged, some of the clauses were introduced to protect Nigerian authors and scholars. “We need to protect Nigeria’s culture peculiarity and diversity. Content pluralism, diversity of ideas and talent, africanising content are key,” Akinfeleye said.
On if sharing of exclusive content would not discourage stakeholders from investing in content generation, he said: “There is nothing better than what you own, it is better than what you borrow. Though it is a probability, you may decide not to give me or give it to my competitors, since you own the content.”
Also commenting, a stakeholder, who pleaded anonymity said the entire amendments is full of prescriptions and rules that are disguised as well-intended, but in reality would result in the emasculation of the struggling Nigerian broadcast industry, which has been further negatively impacted by COVID-19 and low purchasing power.
“Every good piece of regulation starts from determination of a problem, how big the problem is, its causes and impact, including adequate definitions of the situations, factors, and players, and their role or status within the problem/situation; and then moves to explain how the intended regulation would act to resolve the problem, indicating its impact on the players, the industry, and possibly the cost of compliance and enforcement.”
According to him, NBC is clearly over-reaching itself, noting that though there can be sectoral standards for how regulated entities must operate in a particular sector, “the way NBC has acted is dangerously overreaching in a sector that is also dynamic and evolving given impact of digital and convergence.”