Calumny as tool of pay TV signal theft

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The equipment used by the pirates for their criminal act

Dunni Majolagbe

There appears to be a desire in some quarters, not excluding some government officials, that the country’s pay-television landscape should be an ethics-free trade zone. That desire is regularly transmitted to the public in form of willful misrepresentation of facts, outright invention and hollow posturing. These are sold to members of the public who, being largely incurious, take them as the gospel truth. One of such appeared in the media early this week. It sought to present the theft of television signal and illegal rebroadcast of such as a way of widening access to pay television service. Fronted by an alleged coalition of human rights group, Nigeria Civil Society Group (NCSG), probably a special purpose vehicle for calumny, it targeted MultiChoice Nigeria.

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NGSG was reported as calling on the Federal Government to put an end to the arrest of pay television signal pirates in the country, claiming that MultiChoice was using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to harass the cable television operators illegally redistributing DStv, GOtv, StarTimes and BeiN, the Qatari broadcaster, to hundreds of homes in and around Port Harcourt and some communities in Akwa Ibom State. Were the NGSG faintly interested in human rights, it would have known that the rights of the signal owners had been breached. But it is not. It griped that last year, the offices of Communication Trends Limited (CTL), CANTV and MetroDigital were raided by the EFCC because MultiChoice is desperate to maintain its “monopoly”.

‘’We have monitored these events with keen attention and discovered that it is all about market monopoly by a South African company MultiChoice/DStv who claim to have exclusive preserve to air all English Premiership League matches to the exclusion of Nigerian companies,” said the spokesman of the group, Dr. Jackson Omenazu, who bears the colourful title of Chancellor.

Omenazu appears to believe that illegal rebroadcast of other operators’ signals in order. He failed to tell the media that in 2010, CTL had its licence suspended for pirating the signal of the defunct Hitv and that the other operators raided for activities at variance with the country’s laws. The illegal operators are members of the Association of Cable Operators of Nigeria (ACON), which, last year, claimed that the illegal activities of its members are to make pay television services affordable to Nigerians, who they claim cannot afford DStv, GOtv and StarTimes.

ACON also claimed that his members are licensed by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to rebroadcast those channels without authorization by those who own rights to them. Its members were charging subscribers between N3, 000 and N5, 000 monthly for content exclusively owned by others. They claimed to have been paying licence fees and two per cent turnover to the NBC, whose code, they alleged, bars a single broadcaster from having exclusive rights to major sports content. Last year in response to a letter by the lawyers of the rogue broadcasters, the EFCC said Section 40 of the law establishing it categorises TV signal theft as economic crime. The section defines economic crime as “non-violent criminal and illicit activity committed with the objectives of earning wealth illegally”.

The activities of the broadcasters is similarly in contravention of Section 51(1) of the Copyright Act, which defines broadcast piracy “as the rebroadcast commercial scale, without authorization, of content protected by copyright.”

The National Copyright Commission (NCC) on 26 January 2018 arrested one Idoni Joseph Osagie in Osogbo, with broadcast piracy equipment such as DStv and GOtv decoders, coaxial cables and signal boosters.

The NCC regularly carries out similar raids on facilities used for illegal broadcasts with many suspects facing prosecution.

Also in September 2018, the NCC warned two Kaduna-based cable television operators, ABG and QTV, that they risked suspension for unlicensed broadcasting.

The warning, according to Augustine Amodu, NCC’s Enforcement Director in Kaduna, followed the receipt of letters from international broadcasters such as Aljazeera, BeiN and Canal Plus that their content was being redistributed illegally.

“After doing vigilant surveillance and investigation, we have found out that the original and rightful owner of the content you are transmitting is MultiChoice. But ABG has gone behind without getting due licensing from MultiChoice to continue to operate on the cable of MultiChoice. The only people with the exclusive license to broadcast English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, LaLiga among others is MultiChoice Nigeria. So, we are here to issue a very stern warning to you to desist from this illegal act or run the risk of been shut down,” the NCC wrote in a letter to the crooked broadcasters.

But the signal pirates are persuaded that their activities are in the service of the nation.

They have found a patron saint in Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Information Minister, who, suffering a bout of exuberance and cheap populism in January, directed the NBC to compel exclusive licensees to share such exclusive rights with other broadcasters “upon the payment of commercially viable fees.” Who determines the “commercially viable” fees? It certainly cannot be the minister or the pirates, who believe they need not pay. And in a free market space, the government is in no position to determine prices. He was not the first to come up with the idea. The last Senate, under the Presidency of Dr. Bukola Saraki, made some noise about exclusivity and billing model, but did not do beyond getting people excited for nothing.  Mohammed, since January, has not told operators how the sub-licensing plan will proceed.

But he has succeeded in inspiring inspired a band of ill-informed commentators, who keep demanding the institution of a pay-per-view or “pay as you go” model, which they think is the same. In some cases, they claim this model operates in South Africa-a big, fat lie. A Google search would show that the monthly billing system is what operates in South Africa. Pay-Per-View (PPV), it should be noted, is not the same as serving television content a la carte. It is the model used for the broadcast of one-off, big-ticket events and such are more expensive.  In certain cases, as high as $100 is charged for events broadcast by PPV. The epic Manny Pacquaio vs Flloyd Mayweather boxing bout a few years ago was available on PPV at $99.5. Had it ended in the second round, it would have been almost hundred dollars gone. The ignorance that pushes some of these ideas is breathtaking. The Internet also can help-if we are willing. Pay TV companies, most often, do not own the content they broadcast. They pay eye-watering sums to acquire rights to such. Content producers/owners have all the powers and contracts to sell their shows, series, movies and other content to pay TV broadcasters for redistribution typically does not contain “pay as you go” basis. The system that allows you to pay for what you watch is video-on-demand (VoD) services. That is what is close to the “Mama Put” model that is desired. To pay for only what we want to watch on TV, it has been stated by experts in the industry, will cost individual subscribers a lot more than it does with channel bundles. A report on Stratechery states that if ESPN were offered on a pay as you go basis, it would cost the subscriber $100 monthly. Another report, published by the Future of TV, estimated that “50 per cent of total TV ecosystem revenue will evaporate and fewer than 20 channels will survive in a la carte world where consumers are required to bear 100 per cent of the cost of the channel.”

Majolagbe, a public affairs analyst, writes from Warri

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