Pay TV providers are right not to offer FTAs for free


Consumers Federation of Kenya has sought a meeting with CCK and Pay TV providers aimed at discussing the issue of Free to Air content not being free on the Pay TV platforms. As part of their agenda, the federation has asked the pubic via their Facebook page to air their views on issues they (the Federation) should discuss with the CCK and the Pay TV providers. Their Facebook update reads:

DIGITAL CONFUSION: Cofek will Thursday meet with pay-tv providers and #CCK on no longer free “Free-To-Air” channels. What message should we deliver for you, dear TV services consumer? Did you notice past advertisements from both GOtv Kenya and StarTimes Kenya which said you were to undergo a one-off cost for set-top-boxes (beyond universal) and that you will be entitled to view the FTA channels from any STB should you be unable to pay monthly premiums? Did the regulator shift the goal post and in whose interest was the regulator proposing a two–week grace period for disconnection on FTA? What next? Can we derive a win-win from the meeting requested by Cofek? What if the regulator and pay-tv providers do not budge? On consumer protection, every view counts!

To me it seems Cofek and a number of Kenyans do not understand the options pay TV providers have on digital migration. To recap quickly, StarTimes have two decoders, one strictly airing Pay TV content and selling for Kshs 3,000 and the other airing both Pay TV content and the Signet/Pan-Africa transmitted content (digital migration content) we currently want to call FTA channels. The Pay TV only decoder also has FTA channels and these are KBC, KTN, NTV, Citizen, QTV and GBS for Startimes whereas DStv have their own FTA channels e.g. excluding QTV and GBS but including Kiss TV.

The FTA channels on Pay TV are what the Pay TV providers have declined to provide to consumers when particular consumers have not been able to pay their monthly subscriptions. They are the same channels that StarTimes has allowed their customers to access for two weeks after expiry of a previous month’s subscription, an offer that ends on 31st Jan 2014. The channels available on Signet and Pan-Africa platforms are not in contention as these will be available on all DVB-T2 decoders without any monthly subscription.

On the other hand, GoTV subscribers were asked to pay a one time fee of Kshs 2,600 so that they can continue accessing FTAs without monthly subscription. I am yet to test a GoTV decoder so I do not have any details regarding the nature of FTA channels available on GoTV. DStv and Zuku, on the other hand, will not be able to air Signet/Pan-Africa transmitted content but will only air FTAs that have been given to them by the content providers (TV stations in this case).

In regards to FTA on Pay TV platforms, I have personally written here at arguing that Pay TV providers should provide these FTAs for free same way they provide KBC for free even when customers have not paid for particular months’ subscriptions. Some of the Pay TV Providers have sent to us feedback about our articles but none has explained, explicitly, on the rationale for denying Pay TV customers the freedom to watch FTA channels even when they have not paid. In this article I argue in support of their refusal to offer the FTAs for free.

Reading the comments on the Cofek’s Facebook update, the issue of Pay TV providers refusing to offer FTAs for free is the top most complain by Pay TV customers. One such customer writes;

I communicated to Zuku that I wanted to know if their decorders offers FTA Channels. I was told to pay Ksh.300 per month to view FTA Channels. Why should l pay to view FREE-TO-AIR Channels? What does the word FREE means?

Don’t bother Pay TV providers

Pay TV providers globally have also refused to to allow customers to pay per channel. Brian Roberts, the chief executive of Comcast, USA and DStv’s General Manager Mr. Stephen Isaboke provide one answer to the request that customers should be allowed to customize the channels they want to watch:

If you had to pay separately for just PBS, probably, sadly, not a majority of Americans would do that…So there’s many channels, whether it’s Discovery Channel or C-SPAN or many, many others, that just aren’t viable. You can’t just buy the sports section of The New York Times. You take the whole paper ~ Brian Roberts

DSTV pay TV Content sold in full inspite of whats viewed. Like paying 4 a nwspaper&reading a few pages,u stl pay for the paper ~ Stephen Isaboke

The argument of the newspaper, albeit old school and as such outdated due to technological advancement, can be extended to the argument on FTA. News papers, in addition to having different sections e.g. politics, business, lifestyle and sports, also have free pullout magazines or pages. These free pullout sections can be equated to FTA channels on Pay TVs.

When one subscribes to be supplied with News Papers each day, the News Paper is delivered in full. A subscriber will not however expect to continue receiving the free pullouts in the months they have not subscribed to the News Papers. Similarly, a Pay TV provider should not expect to continue receiving free to air content via Pay TV platforms.

As a TV viewer on Pay TV, you don’t need to bother Pay TV providers with constant request of asking for the FTAs to be provided for free. Before Digital Migration, you have always and still do have the option of watching the FTA/local channels via the traditional analogue method; what you have always needed is the antenna and your TV set. When digital migration comes, you who has Pay TV, just like any other Kenyan who is being forced to buy an STB decoder to continue viewing favorite programmes on local channels, should likewise invest in an STB decoder to continue viewing local channels even in months you won’t be able to afford to pay for your pay TV subscriptions.

When you opt for Pay TV option, I do not think your primary interest in the Pay TV is to watch the FTA channels; but I would bet your interest on Pay TV is either to watch the movies, documentaries, music, kids, or sports channels that Pay TV provides. You should consider the FTA as a bonus (not a right) to save you from hustle of toggling between the Pay TV input to the standard TV signal input.

Cofek has been in the forefront in the campaign for Pay TV providers to allow the FTA channels on their bouquets to be accessed by customers even in months the subscription fees have not been paid for. But Cofek has not fully understood the nature of FTA the Pay TV Providers have (e.g. how does the Pay TV source for the FTA channels) neither have they understood the different options the Pay TV providers have on digital migration.

Cofek should stop bothering Pay TV providers but instead encourage Kenyans to buy STB decoders, whether they are on Pay TV or not. Kenyans should be made to understand that Pay TV Providers primarily depend on the purchased content (movies, sports, documentaries etc) but provide FTAs to their customers as a value add. Just as News Papers won’t give their customers the free pullout when the News Paper is not bought, so the Pay TV providers should not be required to provide the FTA channels when the subscription is not paid for.