Four weeks ago, DSTV, the premier cable TV service in the country announced a hike in the cost of its various packages. Expectedly, subscribers shouted themselves hoarse about the unfair deal they are getting from the company. That is normal since consumers generally dislike paying more for the same services.
But what is not normal is expecting DSTV to act differently. Just for the heck of it, people should be reminded that DSTV is a business. Like all businesses, its number priority is to make as much money as possible in the shortest possible time for the shareholders.
What is also not normal is for a court to issue an injunction against the tariff hike by the company. That is exactly what happened some days ago when a Federal High Court granted the prayers of a petitioner to compel Multichoice, DSTV’s parent company, to suspend the new price regime until the determination of the substantive case.
For the records, the substantive issue at stake is whether it is appropriate for the company to unilaterally increase its subscription given the economic situation the country.
That the judge didn’t throw out the case is laughable. Maybe he would do so later when the issue comes up for hearing. Fingers crossed on that.
But what makes this case weighty is that the Consumer Protection Council filed the case on behalf of the Federal Government, invariably, that means on behalf of Nigerians.
With due respect to the CPC, there are better issues to tackle this vigorously.
The CPC petition against DSTV claims the new costs would have ‘unfavorable effects’ on Nigerians.
Take a step back and wonder about the importance of DSTV in the lives of Nigeria. Just do it honestly.
How many people in Nigeria are able to afford the services of the pay TV service in the first place?
If you live in cities, the ubiquitousness of their dishes in many homes creates the impression of a majority of Nigerians are using the service. It is false. Only a tiny percentage of the total population has it installed in their homes.
And for those who have it, a large number don’t even bother to renew their subscription monthly while an even larger majority opt for the cheapest bouquets.
The point here is simple: DSTV is not a factor in Nigeria as far as the well-being of the country is concerned.
Without the live football matches from European leagues, it is doubtful most subscribers would bat an eye even if they double their rates. Many of the people shouting online are those who only watch football matches.
Since when did watching European football became a yardstick for measuring anything in Nigeria, let alone ‘unfavorable effects’?
Beyond that, there is the larger issue of what private businesses do with their products and services. As a capitalist economy, privately-owned businesses have the right to sell their services at whatever amount they see fit.
It is the job of the consumers to reject the serves by non-patronage or a boycott. Nobody is forcing anybody to pay the DSTV rates. Is DSTV an essential commodity?
Nobody can argue reasonably that the pay TV company is a monopoly and so owe it to the public not to abuse that trust. There are other pay TV companies in Nigeria and they have their own loyal subscribers. If you are not satisfied with one, nothing stops you from taking your money to a different platform.
Government have to be careful about the kind of signal they send to businesses. Interfering in their affair is bad enough when utilities like power to help bring down overheads are at best epileptic.
Last year, after the latest hike, the National Assembly even waded in on the side of the masses. The House of Representatives passed a resolution urging DSTV to introduce a ‘pay as you go option.‘
‘Urging‘ should be as far as it should go. The government must not be seen to compel businesses to fix prices especially for something that is not essential. That is simply playing to the gallery to please a vocal minority who patronize these companies.
If the government is interested in keeping prices low, then they should call the management of the company to discuss a reasonable way to go about it.
Are you going to give them tax breaks? Or pay a substantial amount of money to subsidize the service? Or agree to pay the salaries and wages of the staff?
These are all legitimate and proper ways of keeping flatlining prices for a long time if the government is really serious instead of getting emotional about it.
And talking about the government, one of the reasons the company can afford to annoy most Nigerians is because of the patronage they get from public institutions in Nigeria.
Most, if not all, government MDAs make yearly provisions for DSTV subscription in their budgets. These are budgets approved by the National Assembly!
DSTV can afford to do whatever pleases them when they get a huge chunk of money from the government. And you bet these government institutions pay for the premium packages. Only the best for our public officials, right?
If subscribers want Multichoice to listen to them, it is easy. Simply stop paying up and force the government to stop paying too.
Do that, as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, DSTV would bring down their prices to stay in business. The consumers have the power, but they don’t know it yet.