‘We have produced more local content than we have ever done’

John Ube, Managing director of MultiChoice Nigeria Limited

John Ube took over as managing director of MultiChoice Nigeria Limited in 2011, in this interview, he shares with MARGARET MWANTOK how the journey of six years communication business has been; challenges and achievements among other issues.

Having been MD for the past six years, what would you say are some of the challenges of the office, and how have you handled them?
Being an African company means having different people in different locations. Nigeria is a very dynamic country, so, I guess being a Nigerian has been very helpful but the principles of business is the same everywhere, you just need to adapt with your environment and try to provide the very best services.

Talking about challenging economy, how has it impacted on your business?
It’s no secret that in business of media entertainment the cost of content continues to rise and a lot of content we have on the platform is international, it means that you get to pay a lot in foreign currency and many companies have doubled their cost due to the rise of the foreign currency. The fact that the cost has doubled doesn’t mean that people are earning double.

We continue to improve on contents; we have produced more local contents than we have ever done, we recently acquired the WWE. We have lunched quite a few channels the last eighteen months and they are quiet ambitious channels. This has been a business of over a long period, it’s not just a business you start today and expect to start making money from it tomorrow. So we always look very far ahead because we have been in the country for twenty-four years so we will continue to improve and at the same time try to keep our cost minimum. We try to rigid the business and continue to provide good service. We have continued to improve on content.

You have invested heavily on the acquisition of local contents, what inspires you to take this decision and do you think there is a chance the investment could get deviant?
Well, if you look in the past we don’t usually make an increase in prices that has never been the model of the business, it’s an aggregate service because every time we want to give a compelling content; we want people to love watching TV like lots of different channels. We believe in our movies and our sport locally, we believe that’s the model for the business putting up the African magic channel which is very popular not just in Nigeria but all over the continent for people to know that brand around the world because we believe in our African stories, we need to be able to tell our own stories because we can’t rely on someone else’s story, we also believe there is a lot of creativity and lots of opportunity. We also want a lot of investment and believe on local content; we believe there are an opportunity and a lot more than that.

However, it’s not just about people putting money, there’s a lot of capacity building, training, equipment and studios locally and ensuring that you need to have willing buyers and willing sellers. Few years ago when we introduced African magic Igbo, there was a question like are we going to find enough movies to buy? But gradually it’s a 24hrs channel because we have a lot of people investing and making real money.

Your organisation has stayed on top in spite of the competition and other challenges, what is MultiChoice Nigeria doing differently?
We believe in the local market and we’re not shy to invest in the Nigerian market. Before Nigerian content was put on TV, it took a lot, but see how we’ve risen from one channel to seven channels. Like I said, we don’t do these things with a short-term projection. Besides you have to understand your local environment. We started with just one bouquet, but we have consistently introduced new bouquets, right down to a one thousand naira offering. So we don’t just cater to just one class and we’re ensuring that we put TV in practically every Nigerian home, with different offering. A while back, we even moved some popular football to the lower bouquets.

A major complaint against DSTV has been signal degeneration, and the assumption is that it doesn’t happen elsewhere; what is responsible for this and what can be done to stop this?
As with any satellite communication, be it the C Band (bigger dishes) or the K-U Band (smaller dishes), the signal can be interrupted. There are three factors: where are you on the continent? If you are on the equator, which you’d agree cuts very close to us, you’d obviously have more effect. But I think there is a misconception that it only happens here. I have been in New York in a hotel and the signal just went off. However, there’s something we’ve been pushing. What interrupts weather is the thick clouds, not just rain; but we have 99.97 percent, which is what K U band, which we use, gives you. And I dare say that the K-U Band is the best. But hopefully, as time goes on, a stronger satellite can be launched; we have also continued to train and improve our installers, so they can do a better job while installing your dish.

Is there any chance that DSTV will someday introduce the Pay Per View or Pay As You Go system?
Permit me to ask, would you rather pay your subscription and still pay extra to view the upcoming Mayweather/McGregor fight? Or would you rather have it as part of your subscription? That fight will be on Pay Per View in the US; so in addition to customers subscription, they will also pay for that fight. That channel will be opened only for the fight and will be shut down immediately after. The last time Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao, it was about a hundred dollars. Officially that gives you thirty one thousand naira; but that fight was available for you on DSTV as part of your subscription; and that’s where we always try to educate people that the business model does not allow for pay as you go. We have no way of knowing if your decoder is on or not, so we tend to aggregate. It’s a one-way communication; with the phone it is two-way. So I can tell you that pay per view is not available anywhere in the world.

Your two platforms are also reputed for bringing the family together…
I believe we are one of the reasons that men go home to be with their family, especially when there’s a football match going on. Also we have lot of interesting shows; The Voice is showing right now and I know a lot of families that will sit together every Sunday evening to sit together to watch. It’s something we don’t miss in my house; we’ll sit together, watch, scream and root for different people. I’d give anything for that one, two hours when we’d sit down together as a family to watch. Also the kids are home on holidays now and parents are looking to keep them engaged; we have proper parenting control in place, and they are learning at the same time. Often you feel the impact of their watching some of these educative programmes on TV, when you have to discuss something as strange as the tsunami.

Is it possible for DSTV to create a bouquet dedicated to children, which one can buy and place in their room, because sometimes you’re watching a movie with the kids, and the scene becomes really awkward?
Well, that becomes difficult for a one-TV household. But you can buy a decoder for the kids, select the channels you don’t want them to watch and put a PIN on it. Just don’t share it with them, otherwise they may end up locking you out. We’ve had such cases before and the parents had to bring the decoder here for us to try to unlock it.

What sort of partnership do you have with the Nollywood?
Nollywood is a name we have lots of producers who are collectively in the Nigerian industry known as Nollywood. We partner with a lot of producers and my assistant company African magic does it own production. And there’s a lot of capacity building in terms of training, we have the biggest movie award in Africa, which is the AMVCA because if you provide words for excellence people will tend tom work harder. You have to create a market so there’s an ability to acquire.

What other things are you doing to give back to the society?
We have our corporate social responsibility initiatives, which we do and we have a very good partnership with the sickle cell foundation. Two months ago we had an outreach in Lagos where we went out with the foundation and we did a lot of testing. We also have our school initiative where we train teachers to use videos in teaching such as certain learning channels but more importantly we trained the teachers to be able to use that as part of the curriculum.

The world is moving to Digital Television Broadcasting, but it appears Nigeria seems to be very far from achieving this. What is your take?
Digital is a very popular word for us, because DSTV itself is digital. We pioneered digital television in this country. It would interest you to know that Africa was the second operator continent in the world to launch digital television, even before America and Europe.

So, how do you explain Nigeria missing the target three times?
I think we are contributing our quota. First, we introduced digital on satellite and then, digital on terrestrial with GOTV offering, which is what our sister company offers. We have been pioneering digital because we understand digital and to a large extent, there is digital TV in Nigeria. Of course, the regulators and the government would make statement on the progression of how much courage that exists.



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