A few weeks ago, the amendment to the sixth broadcasting code was unveiled to the public by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) via a newspaper advert. The amendment, according to NBC, is to significantly restrict monopoly and anti-competitive behavior in the broadcast industry.
On the surface, the code is well intended, as it seeks to stimulate the growth of Nigeria’s local broadcast industry. A closer look, however, shows that the intention of the drafters is anything but good. Several sections of the code carry huge potentials to endanger the industry.
Section 0.2.2.7 says the Code seeks to address the “misuse of monopoly or market power or anti-competitive…” in the broadcast industry. But how can you restrict something that does not exist? Is the NBC trying to create a problem only just so that it can solve it? Technically speaking, there is no monopoly in the broadcast industry in Nigeria, as there are various public and private broadcasting stations in the country that offer consumers various options to choose from. At worst, what exists is market dominance, which is not monopoly.
I believe Nigeria operates a free market economy where content providers as well as other businesses can operate freely with minimal government intervention. It is the duty of the government to ensure a level playing field for all those who wish to participate in the economy but doing so should not entail holding back one for the other. Competition is important to business as it creates room for innovation and it enables businesses to build those traits that are appealing to their customers.
Considering that television content is very expensive either to create or acquire, the idea that when one broadcaster does so he is then mandated to sub-licensing it to a competitor without business considerations is rather incomprehensible. Content is not sold to broadcasters at a cheap price; it is business and should remain as such. Every business is deemed successful when it makes a profit. So why would a broadcast organization use billions to acquire the right to air content and then be compelled to sub-license to another broadcaster without the view to making a profit or at a price determined by the NBC if there is any dispute?
The insistence on sublicensing emboldens the rights owner to naturally hike the price of its content. But the code then goes ahead to insist that after acquiring the rights, no profit can be made off it. Section 126.96.36.199 states that “In determining the charges offered for supply under this section, consideration should be had to the prorated cost of acquisition of the sports and news programme and/ or channels by a subscriber on the platform of the licensee “stipulated price” and the retailing thereof to each subscriber. In no event shall the charges exceed the Stipulated Prices thereof”. The very idea that a DStv, for instance, which has acquired the broadcast right to Sky Sports News, must sub-license such rights to a terrestrial TV like STV or a pay-tv platform like StarTimes at a proportional price or a price that will be determined by NBC goes against the very definition of business.
Also, the worrisome is Section 188.8.131.52, which states that “a broadcaster shall offer the sports and news programme and/or channels to other broadcasters for retail… in accordance with the requirements of this section and directions issued by the commission” finds a place of pride very close to the throne of business lunacy. While other broadcasters are working hard, what some others need to do is wait to be spoon-fed by the suit or babanriga-wearing bureaucrats at NBC. After a broadcaster spends billions in acquiring content, it will be compelled to share with competitors at a regulated price? What other more compelling reason does an investor need to put their money into importing containers of some household items instead of wasting it on content acquisition?
NBC should have engaged in proper consultation with key stakeholders in the industry before the amendment was drafted and/or made public. No right thinking content producer will spend billions in developing content and then be obligated to share at a price determined by NBC. The amendments are largely unworkable and the only good news coming from the NBC at this time is the decision of its board to take a wholesale look at the entire document by inviting stakeholders to make input, an action that would most likely have enabled it to avoid the embarrassment and ridicule it currently faces.
Oladipupo writes from Lagos.