Pay-as-you-go Vs Pay- per- view: Do we know what we really want?

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Gabriel Ntoka

In recent weeks, the debate concerning the billing model for the pay-television industry in Nigeria has shifted to the lack of implementation of the pay-per-view (PPV) billing model. This issue has, undeniably, dominated discussions in both the traditional and social media, particularly because of the profile of individuals that have expressed their position on the issue.

Some political office holders such as Hon. Unyime Idem, the Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Communication and Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, have both advocated and insisted that pay-TV operators ditch the monthly bundling model for PPV. The duo alongside other advocates have claimed that the PPV model is in widespread use in various countries, adding that subscribers can select channels they prefer to view and pay for daily, weekly or bi-monthly packages, similar to the billing system the telecommunications industry. They also claimed that the advocated model would provide an affordable option for poor Nigerians and reduce money spent on subscription, even when the service is not used due to the erratic nature of power supply in the country.

But the claims of PPV advocates in Nigeria just barely scratches the surface regarding the issue. In the promotion of their agenda, the campaigners did not disclose the full implications of the PPV implementation on Nigerian subscribers. The PPV model cannot be and is falsely equated to the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) system operational in the telecommunications industry.

It is instructive to note that the PAYG model is not operational in the pay-TV industry anywhere in the world. Telephone users are being billed for the time used for a phone call, hence the usage of the PAYG model in the telecommunications sector. The claim that viewers are only billed for the amount of time when the television is switched on in other climes as preposterously declared by the PAYG advocates is nothing but a creation of false impression, thereby misleading the Nigerian public. This is because content, and not time, is the currency bought by pay-TV operators. Therefore, the pay-TV’s industry billing system, for all intents and purposes, cannot be equated to that of the telcos.

Furthermore, it is not difficult to grasp while timing is not used as a billing metrics in pay-TV. The technology used in Pay-TV broadcast transmits signal in one direction: directly to the decoder; not to the operator. What this means is the pay-TV operator is unable to know whether or not a subscriber is watching.

However, the real pay-per-view model that is intended to be advocated by the campaigners as is a billing system which allows subscribers to pay a ONE-TIME fee view the broadcast of high-priced programmes that include feature films, and one-off live sporting and entertainment events. It can be described as a la carte – a system in which customers subscribe to individual channels or programmes.

So, if subscribers in Nigeria want to get access to their preferred channels or programmes as it is done in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and some parts of Europe, they must pay a one-off payment fee. For example, the comeback bout between two boxing legends, “Iron” Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jnr., is billed to air on PPV in the US at $49.99, which is approximately N19,996 (using interbank rates).

The aforementioned amount is the premium price just for a single event, not a monthly subscription fee that the price bundling option provides! About 82.9 million Nigerians spend less than $1 on basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, health, education, electricity, and security. If the bout is to be broadcast via PPV in Nigeria, that price would be ridiculous for an average Nigerian subscriber to pay as it is ultra-expensive. And there is no guarantee that the two old men will even last the scheduled eight rounds of their anticipated clash in the US state of California on 12 September. The subscriber cannot request a refund even if he or she perceives that time spent on watching the forthcoming bout was underutilised or the value sought for was not attained.

Another example of the astronomical price of PPV was the heavyweight boxing title rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder in February 2020. The bout was billed at $79.99 (High Definition), approximately N31,516; and $69.99 (Standard Definition), approximately N27,576, in the US. The bout also cost £61 (HD), approximately N30,683, and £53 (SD) N26,659, in the UK.

In 2017, the exhibition boxing bout between a former boxer, Floyd Mayweather, and retired Mixed Martial Arts fighter, Connor McGregor, was sold to PPV subscribers in the US at $99.99 (HD) and $89.99 (SD). Similarly, the blockbuster boxing clash between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao was sold for $99.5.

Again, what the vociferous advocates of PPV failed to mention for a subscriber to view for an event via PPV, he or she must, first of all, have an active subscription with the pay-TV operator. For example, anyone who wants to watch a live football match or a boxing bout via PPV, such subscriber must, first of all, have an active DStv Premium or StarTimes Super Bouquet packages (the two leading pay-TV operators in the country) before viewing these events. Meanwhile, the three above-mentioned fights already held were watched on DStv in Nigeria at no extra cost to subscribers. What is more: the PPV bill is not included in the normal subscription bill, as the subscriber must an additional bill for the PPV.

The reasons for the expensive cost of PPV is not farfetched. Factors such as the quality of programming, the cost of production, content right buying, sub-licensing and content marketing and distribution agreements determine the cost of PPV broadcasts. These factors vary across various countries, yet the price remains steep everywhere.

The price of PPV, as seen from the aforementioned countries, is double the price of the highest packages of the two leading pay-TV operators in the country. It is, therefore, not cheap for the Nigerian populace as claimed by its advocates.

PPV is that fanciful service that a large number of working Nigerian adults would not be able to afford once implemented in the country.

Ntoka, a public commentator, writes from Lagos



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