DSTV'S MONOPOLY CRASHES IN NIGERIA

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Last month, the Federal Government decided to break the monopoly of Digital Satellite Television (DSTV) over the broadcast of some programmes in the country, notably the English Premiership League (EPL). And now, the management of EPL has separated Nigeria from the rest of Africa in its marketing deals, thereby removing the nation from the grip of Multichoice, owners of DSTV. This has set the stage for a healthier competition in the local media market.

This is a major departure from the past. That it took so long to deregulate the DSTV monopoly is shocking. Despite the near-cult following of English football in many parts of Africa, with the potential of willing and capable investors, Multichoice had secured the exclusive rights, on behalf of all African countries, to transmit EPL and channels like Discovery, Reality TV, National Geographic to the continent. And to ensure that it remains the only advantageous satellite subscription company in Africa, it has used, over the years, its enormous resources to negotiate for foreign programmes, on the pretext of doing so for the good of the continent. But while it is wrong to question the right of Multichoice to strengthen its profit base, the tendency of the South African company to stifle competition and maintain its stranglehold on the broadcast industry in Africa amounts to unfair trade practice.

The EPL gesture will enhance Nigeria's quest for social and economic status as the country now own the rights to air EPL matches via satellite. Not only that, domestic free-to-air television organisations have also been permitted to broadcast two games every week freely. In addition to liberalising the choices of Nigerians, these are, no doubt, remarkable contributions to the growth of soccer in the country. And if EPL's plan to invest in a Nigerian television station is actualised, the local football league that has wallowed in mediocrity for long will receive a big boost. But before then, both sporting and media stakeholders need to maximise EPL's offer.

The effort of the Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation in facilitating this breakthrough is commendable. Its directive to the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to inform the managers of EPL of government's resolution is directly responsible for the concession. The minister, Mr. Frank Nweke, represented the mood of the nation in London on September 4 when he declared: "Nigeria would do anything within its power to ensure that its local businesses are protected ... you will all understand that any government that fails to protect its local economy is not worth being called a government."

That pronouncement should not stop at mere rhetoric. Rather, it should be taken as a self-imposed marching order. The task of creating the environment for proper private sector participation is the government's. That means the infrastructure and policy framework that would enable the new licensee to attain and possibly surpass DSTV's achievements should be put in place. And for the local business community, this is one opportunity to justify the EPL management's confidence in Nigeria's capacity to perform.

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