New broadcast TV companies set to enter Nigeria’s cauldron of competition in Lagos

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The broadcast television market in Nigeria is as complex as the country itself. With an estimated 138 million population, it is more like several countries in one and until recently broadcast television tended to follow this regional pattern. The capital Lagos alone has a staggering 7.1 million potential viewers over the age of seven. It is a cauldron of competition as established private players seek to hold their own against new entrants. Russell Southwood looks at developments in the capital city.

According to the most recent census, about 24 million households have televisions in Nigeria. However, almost everyone in urban areas has access to television, either at home or in many public locations like bars, cafes and restaurants.

But with the exception of the Government station, the Nigerian Television Authority, there are no private companies with a national footprint. There are a number of reasons why this has not occurred. Until recently, access to the signal carrier was difficult as it was part of the NTA and Government restricted private stations geographically, guarding its own national monopoly carefully. However, this has recently changed and a number of the private stations have announced their intention to roll-out nationally. For example, both Silverbird and AIT have operations in Port Harcourt and Jos. There is resistance in the largely Muslim north where political leaders want to be able to control what their voters watch.

Although there were closures of stations in the pre-election period, content is relatively unrestricted. However, media ownership is often very political with owners aligning themselves with different political parties or figures within parties. Most of the original licences were given under previous military regimes.

According to the Nigerian regulator, the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation there are nine privately owned Free to Air television channels, two Federal Government Channels and one State-run channel in Lagos. In addition there are five Pay-TV channels including DStv, Hi-TV and Trend TV.

The main free to air TV channels in order of viewing figures are: Silverbird, AIT, Galaxy, Channels (which is 80-90% news) and LTV. It’s fair to say that the top ranked position in audience terms is disputed between entertainment channel Silverbird and news and entertainment channel AIT. According to the industry’s audience survey company MPS, Silverbird was top placed for the first three months of the year but before that the honours went to AIT. Silverbird has a younger demographic than most of the other TV stations. The number three position has been held by Galaxy for some while. The Federal Government run channels are not widely watched and have the lowest audience figures.

Other stations include: Minoj Broadcast TV, MITV and Lagos Day TV. The newly opened Continental TV appears to be the one to watch as its partisan (opposition) coverage is attracting a widening following. But to complicate matters further, Lagos viewers are able to tune into a further five free to air television stations from adjoining states.

Several companies run channels for Nigerian diaspora audiences. The NTA has launched a channel on Sky Television in the UK and AIT has a real-time broadcasting operation to Europe and the USA that will re-open shortly after a period of closure.

Television companies tend to produce some of their own material in-house (like studio-based productions) and externally commission other work. Most have around 80-90% local content but also runs American series, South African and Mexican soaps and Hollywood movies. Silverbird prides itself on its entertainment mix which includes Miss World, World Music TV and Next Stop Model. As a result of the relatively high proportions of local content, there is large and thriving local production sector. Along with Nollywood movies, it has been responsible for producing some of the blockbuster reality TV shows including Africa’s version of The Apprentice. According to local insiders, the production sector is developing very fast but skill levels are dropping as the sector expands.

The key companies are nearly all cross-media owners. AIT started life as a print media owner and diversified into radio before ploughing the profits from that venture back into a new television station. It is owned by former civil servant Chief Raymond Dokpesi. AIT recently raised funding in the market to expand. It has a thoroughly converged view of the future and has launched a broadband Internet service, which will be the precursor to a Triple Play service, more of which later.

According to the company’s fundraising prospectus, in the past five years of its operations, turnover has grown by 287 percent from N652.7 million in 2002 to over N2.53 billion in 2006. The offer prospectus also showed the company’s projections from 2007 to 2010. It projects turnover moving to N3.2 billion in 2007, N10.2 billion in 2008, N17.6 billion in 2009 and N25.0 billion in 2010.

AIT/Daar will soon set up a film village in Lagos to undertake the production of not only movies for sale but also for the consumption of Nigerians. Chair of the company Chief Raymond Dokpesi said at the time of the offering that AIT was commencing pay TV broadcasting with 40 channels and will transmit on high definition.

"We are starting with 40 channels. It is the first time in Africa that you will see transmission at this level in high definition. Viewers will see broadcasting at a new level.We are engaging more hands, engaging in training and exposing people to new technologies”.

"We are going from the present eight stations to 24 stations. That means we have 16 new stations coming up. Our Abuja station is already 100 percent digital while the Lagos station is about 60 percent digital and is being upgraded. We are running out feed to Asia, Europe, USA and all of Africa."

The moving force behind Channels is former journalist John Momo and it would like to be seen as the CNN of Nigeria.

The owner of Silverbird Productions is Ben Murray-Bruce, former beauty pageant organizer. He also owns a multiplex cinema and shopping mall on Victoria Island, the first to open in years after a long and almost terminal decline of cinema and has plans to open more. In addition, he has a radio station (Rhythm FM) and events promotions.

A number of broadcast television owners are looking at continental expansion but are keeping their powder dry in terms of the detail of their actual plans. It also appears likely that there will be two new Free to Air television stations opening in Lagos in the next months.

Media spend on broadcast channels reflects the viewership pattern above. Advertising spending has been on the increase over the last three years as the economy has expanded. The top ten spenders are almost all multinational brands and as elsewhere, the mobile telcos are well represented in high positions in the top 10 spenders but banks are also very prominent.

AIT has announced its intention to shift to DTT and offer HD programming. This week the regulator the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation held a meeting locally with stakeholders and announced that 2012 would be the deadline for the end of the transition. However, there will be significant difficulties if there is to be a subsidy for set-top boxes as the population eligible will be enormous. At a production level, most companies are still using a mixture of analogue and digital.

Convergence is happening apace. Zain Nigeria, and MTV, have revealed plans to turn upcoming Nigerian music artistes into super stars, through a newly created platform, Zain/MTV Advance Warning. He said Zain/MTV Advance Warning, a music talent development reality TV series will be aired on both satellite (MTV Channel on DSTV) and a number of terrestrial television stations such as the African Independent Television (AIT) and Silverbird Television (STV).

Nigerians are hungry for news and in July BBC International who run the news website revealed that 61% of its WAP users (in other words, who access it on a mobile phone) were Nigerian, against only 19% from South Africa. Page views for this type of usage are growing at the rate of 100% a year from a low base. 61% translates into 35 million page views.

Various players have mooted the possibility of triple play including Globacom and Daar. Globacom is perhaps one of the few players that has the spread of infrastructure to support a retail offer and with a hybrid IP-satellite bundle it could become a player. Daar would need to form an alliance with an existing player. Given the rights issues, the market locally thinks it’s more likely that those entering the market will simply sell DStv as part of a bundle. MTN has acquired VGC who offer a DSL broadband package.

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