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Pay-television operator MultiChoice says subscriber growth in Africa's most populous market, Nigeria, has been slow, at only 100,000 subscribers, despite its 12-year flirtation with the country of more than 130-million people.

Caroline Creasy, head of corporate affairs at MultiChoice Africa, says although Nigeria is a difficult market to penetrate, MultiChoice believes there is room to grow its premium subscriber base. MultiChoice Africa and Adewunmi Ogunsanya Operations jointly own MultiChoice Nigeria. In 1991 Nigeria became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to allow private multi-channel broadcasting, although television broadcasting in the country dates back to 1959.

According to a report from global telecoms and media markets researcher Informa Telecoms & Media, the Nigerian television market is the most competitive on the continent. Three digital satellite platforms were launched in 2004 -- FSTV, TrendTV and Trumpet Internet TV -- all competing with MultiChoice.

Creasy says although the current size of the pay-television market is not known, "MultiChoice believes there is still plenty of room for growth".

Other than digital broadcasters, there are more than 31 terrestrial broadcasters operated by the publicly run National Television Authority (NTA).

Informa Telecoms & Media says that of the 26,9-million households in Nigeria, 8,7-million are television viewers. In 1999, 70 NTA regional television stations were licensed. "Our growth has been slow and steady in Nigeria, as we are selling a premium product," Creasy says.

Another factor that hamstrings growth in the Nigerian market, Creasy says, is the time Nigerians spend in traffic jams, leaving very little time for television viewing.

Gryphon Asset Management portfolio manager Abri du Plessis says the premium status attached to pay-television has stunted growth. "I think the segment of the population in Nigeria that can really go for MultiChoice is a bit nervous and low on consumer confidence. They are unsure about the future in Nigeria."

The country is the continent's largest oil exporter and the US's fifth-largest supplier. Attacks on oil pipelines and kidnappings have cut oil production by more than 20%, adding to the upward pressure on world prices.

Creasy says programmes such as Big Brother Nigeria, increased local content and the participation of Nigerians on the local version of Survivor were attempts at building the group's market share. The Big Brother series was a major success story, she says. "Viewership of Big Brother Nigeria was spread across the whole of Africa."

MultiChoice Africa is banking its growth strategy on the country's film industry, dubbed Nollywood and rated the third-busiest movie sector in the world.

The pay-television operator has introduced the Africa Magic channel, an African general entertainment channel with more than 70% Nigerian content.

Business Day