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NBC ‘s new Amendment: The end of football viewership in Nigeria?

NBC's new amendment

Are you a football fan in Nigeria? If no, you can still be here. If yes, this is for you: the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), with its barrel of the sixth amended code, is on the verge of ending the tiny bits of happiness you get every weekend.

When Premier League matches come live (usually on weekends), football-crazy Nigerians come alive: parents trying to suppress goal jubilations as not to wake the kids who feel entitled to the television and their cartoons; noise raising intermittently from millions of ‘viewing centres’ as curses rain on footballers missing clear-cut chances; social media, buzzing as ‘savages’ destroy the week’s targets with banter. The magnificence of top-flight English football resonates with the goose-bumps alongside the UEFA Champions League anthem for Nigerians. But all that might end soon. 

Exclusive sporting rights in Nigeria is now – or about to be – forbidden, the ‘almighty’ NBC commanded in its newly amended code. However, in the event of obtaining such rights, the broadcaster must submit the right within two weeks – failure to do so will render the rights null and void. Is that all? Wait a bit.

NBC, the agency responsible for receiving and approving applications for the establishment, ownership or operation of radio and television stations, including cable television service, direct satellite broadcast and any other medium of broadcast, went further: when an exclusive sporting right is obtained, such right must be offered to other broadcasters at commercially agreeable terms, and should there be dilly-dallying in agreeing to terms, NBC shall intercede to determine what is an acceptable price.

Putting clarity to the above: exclusive ownership to foreign sports content is no longer acceptable and when a broadcaster acquires one, it’s mandated that the right is offered to other broadcasters.

Adam Smith – the philosopher, not the Bournemouth player – once put, ‘the economic benefits to society produced by the capitalists were no part of the intention; however, should there be a need to regulate the excesses of the capitalists, the above wouldn’t count for regulation – this is strangulation and economy sabotage writ large’. 

In defence of the amendments, the NBC Acting Director-General Armstrong Idachaba maintained: ‘The objectives of the amendments are in our national best interests – to help local content producers harness the benefits of their creative endowment against foreign monopolistic restrictions and anti-competitive behaviour.’ That sounds interesting, right? The politics of sports broadcasting monopoly would be more interesting to you – let’s explain.

The Politics of Monopoly

HITV was never set up to sell football only; it was circumstances that led us to use football at inception as our mainstay content,” Toyin Subair, the CEO of the now-defunct HITV.

While Adichaba hasn’t mentioned the name of any foreign company who has monopolised the sports broadcasting industry in Nigeria, one company fits his descriptions – DSTV, the digital satellite giant owned by Multichoice, an arm of South African media giant, Naspers.

The sixth NBC amended code seems like a pawn in a game with DSTV, as this wouldn’t be the first time government agencies would let their squabbles with this particular company push them into insignificant decisions that threaten to cost us our football.

In 2006, the Ministry of Information and Culture, in its bid to “end foreign monopoly” ripped DSTV off European football content fought to carve out the Nigerian market from the existing African PL broadcast rights. It won, and Nigerian broadcast right became independent from the rest of Africa. It was called “Territory 70”. A Nigerian start-up Entertainment Highway Limited, HiTV, quickly wormed through the cracks and won the $28 million bid before it even sold a single decoder, according to the Financial Times.

It soon became obvious that the Nigerian market, although ripe on paper with its teeming population, isn’t economically mature enough to be set apart from the rest of the continent. Widespread poverty and a dearth of disposable income meant HiTV couldn’t reach the minimum number of subscribers needed to keep their books in green. You could almost accuse the start-up of ‘Doing a Leeds’.

So, when renewals came around in 2010, the company couldn’t pay its outrageous bid of $110 million and the rights were stripped off of them. The company crashed immediately. The trick conjured to end monopoly of a foreign company created an obstacle for a local one, and DSTV, backed by its powerful parent company, acquired the exorbitant rights for the territory. Monopoly re-energised.

THE RHETORICS OF MONOPOLY

Now, the NBC comes with another “end monopoly” rhetoric, and it aims for the end of live football broadcast in Nigeria. Compelling a company to share its exclusive materials without allowing due negotiation will create content apathy.

So to put for NBC: would Supersport, who is mulling over the non-renewal of their rights to the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League when they come up for renewal at the end of 2020-21 football season (due to the rising cost of international sports right and the continuous value fall of Naira against other major currencies), obtain an EPL broadcasting right for around £296 million (over N144 billion) and be compelled to give the right out at a price NBC deems best for the company?

Who pays over N144 billion to get an exclusive sporting right and be compelled to do some broadcasting give away with it?

Product differentiation is the main selling point for Pay TV, e.g., While Supersport holds the right to EPL and UEFA Champions League games, Startimes is making itself a force to reckon with by acquiring rights to prominent cup games, as well as the Bundesliga and the UEFA Europa League. But since the NBC equates product differentiation to anti-competitive behaviour, why should Supersport go all out to pay a stratospheric fee to acquire EPL broadcast right when it could simply sit and wait for Startimes to do so and be compelled by NBC to share the right? Or will everyone just wait for someone to acquire the rights and then share it with them? Like some kind of dubbing assignments in secondary school?

While it will be intriguing to see how this squabble unfolds in subsequent months – should these amendments hold, here’s a gentle reminder for football fans in Nigeria that the extended 2019-20 EPL season may be the English league games you watch for a while.

Maybe now is that time to buy that Kwara United jersey. Maybe now is the time to brace yourself to go to the stadium for a game in which the home club chairman could pick up the match ball mid-play and end the game – that’s all – you all can go home, like some form of sanitation football run by an organisation.

THE ALTERNATIVE(S)

Okay, say you don’t quite want to watch the Nigerian Football League. For some weird reason, watching a league that could easily be called off midway through the second weekend of its new season and shown on low definition might not exactly tickle your fancy. What other options do you have if you’re hell-bent on European football? Streaming perhaps.

Football streaming is hardly new these days and is very much on the rise. Sites like FourFourTwo and ESPN already have articles dedicated to showing you the best ways to stream football matches. Not to mention the growing rumours that the Premier League could turn to streaming football and cut out the broadcasting middle man, saving us the trouble of broadcasting rights and whatnot. Seems like the perfect solution, but hang on a minute.

For many countries – Western countries – streaming is rather viable, due to the low-cost of data and bandwidth. But for Nigeria, it’s not all rosy. Decent data – or rather, semi-manageable data – costs about N1000, which usually translates to about a gigabyte and a half. And for many who stream football in Nigeria, a single game could cost up to 600 megabytes. Which means N1000 – in streaming times – equates to less than three games. To put into context, that’s about 10 games in public viewing centres, or sometimes, when a double-threat is ongoing 20 games.

The minimum wage in Nigeria about N30000. More context, the minimum wage equates to streaming about 60 games; for a five-game week – if all you do is watch football – that’s 12 weeks. The alternative for an average football fan doesn’t make for good reading. This simply means that unless the average wants to prioritise minimal football over their actual lives, it might be time to read watching foreign football its last rites.

You can follow spotkick on Twitter – @spot-kickng

Article authored by; Kunle Ajao, Olatosimi Fadahunsi, and Idris Shehu

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