A recent decision by the Malawi court in regard to operations of MultiChoice Africa, the parent company of DSTV and GOtv may point to hard times ahead for the satellite television service provider and a big lesson for Uganda and other countries where it operates.

Why? MultiChoice Africa will withdraw all DStv services from Malawi with immediate effect following an injunction issued to MultiChoice Malawi (MCM) by the High Court in Lilongwe.

The injunction – which followed a court application by the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) – prohibits the pay-television operator, through its subsidiary, MultiChoice Malawi, from implementing price increases for DStv in the Southern African country.

“MultiChoice Malawi (MCM) does not offer the DStv service to the public and therefore cannot set or adjust tariffs for this service, a point repeatedly made to Macra,” MultiChoice Africa said in a statement earlier this week.

“As a result, MCM is incapable of implementing the order handed down to it [by the regulator]. The order, however, carries grave consequences for the directors and management of MultiChoice Malawi, including imprisonment. Multichoice Africa Holdings is therefore left with no option but to terminate the DStv service indefinitely.”

Keabetswe Modimoeng, the corporate affairs and stakeholder relations executive for MultiChoice Africa Holdings told TechCentral that MCM is the licensed operator for GOtv in Malawi.

MCM must – and does – seek approval from Macra when it wants to increase tariffs for GOtv, its digital terrestrial TV broadcasting offering.

THE TROUBLE IN MALAWI

DStv, on the other hand, is offered to the public by MultiChoice Africa, with MultiChoice Malawi only appointed by MultiChoice Africa to provide subscription management service to DStv customers. This means that although DStv customers interface with MultiChoice Malawi, MCM does not own DStv, MultiChoice Africa Holdings does – and that business “is not a licensee” of Macra.

“The regulator wants to exercise power over a service it does not have control over,” said Modimoeng. DStv subscribers, meanwhile, are left with no choice but to say good riddance.

“Customers are hereby, and with immediate effect, requested to halt payment for the DStv service. Customers who have already paid their new subscription for the DStv service will have those services honoured until the current 30-day viewing cycle ends on or before 10 September. From Wednesday, 9 August, no new subscriptions or reconnections will be accepted,” said MultiChoice.

LESSON FOR UGANDA AND AFRICA

The developments in Malawi could have far reaching consequences for MultiChoice with regulators like UCC now galvanized to hear subscribers’ cries.

Several Ugandan clients have been complaining to UCC about DSTV & GOtv poor services yet charge highly.

In April this year, Ugandans went gaga when the MultiChoice increased prices for its television bouquets for the second time in eight months.

The company, citing an increase in the costs of doing business, increased its DStv premium monthly package to Shs 275,000 from Shs 255,000, and family package from Shs 59,000 to Shs 64,000. Also, GOTV Supa prices increased from Shs 58,000 to Shs 65,000, and GOtv lite from Shs 14,000 to Shs 15,000, among others. The company had only increased its packages in September 2022.

Through his Twitter account, journalist Simon Kaggwa Njala announced, “Well @DStvUganda, it was nice subscribing to your services for a painful 12 years. Your intermittent upward rate reviews are incompatible with your services and cannot keep us together. Enjoy other subscribers.”

Chris Obore, the director of communications at the Parliament of Uganda, added, “DSTV is in self-destruct mode. You can take clients for granted, but the day they give up, the books will not balance. The idea should be to attract more clients instead of chasing them away. Increasing prices nearly every 6 months is a sign of a strategy gone wrong.”

Many consumers have now threatened to ditch MultiChoice’s and switch to other services. Gabriel Buule, a journalist, noted that “whoever regulates TV services must rescue Ugandans from DStvUganda. New competitors must be invited to tame the dubious charges.”

The Uganda Communications (Competition) Regulations 2019 seek to ensure, among other objectives, that communication services are reasonably accessible and fairly priced and to promote and maintain fair and efficient market conduct. The commission is empowered to take action to prohibit what it considers to be anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant position and anti-competitive mergers, takeovers and consolidations.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the regulator of the market, also weighed in on the MultiChoice issue. Irene Sewankambo, the acting executive director of UCC, tweeted: “UCC continues to undertake its role on tariffs but this can’t be done devoid of the market ecosystem as is international best practice. This is why subsidies are made to facilitate the provision of services in some places. UCC promotes cost-oriented pricing by licensed providers, balancing ensuring the sustainable provision of quality services and affordability,” she said.

Sewankambo noted that the recent re-organization within MultiChoice coincided with the global economic downturn that impacted the costs of supplies to operations.

Her explanation could not clearly show how economic changes had affected MultiChoice’s operations. With Malawi court precedent; Ugandans hope UCC can now soberly pick one or two lessons to tame MultiChoice’s exploitative tendencies.

Ugandans also accuse MultiChoice of offering poor services.

One of the complainants, John, has an account with DSTV but it has always been tempered with for a long period of time.

He narrated to us that on several occasions he has subscribed to some packages but gets deactivated before the paid-up time ends.

That, for instance, in the month of January this year, he paid for a Compact package which costs shs95000 monthly. That would get him to many different channels but on a sad note, this package was later disconnected before February started.

That he also started noticing some channels mysteriously going off.

He called DSTV customer service for help but was reportedly tossed around with unclear explanations. This went on until he was frustrated and resigned to fate.

Another client, Charles, says he has also faced a similar challenge with GOtv. That he can sometimes subscribe for GOtv Supa and ends up getting GOtv Max, or GOtv Max and ends with Gotv Value.

Several MultiChoice subscribers are also concerned with loss of signal on some channels and when others are ok. The issue has been on for years but MultiChoice has reportedly not come up with a plan to compensate them.

That for GOtv is even worse. That this happens especially on local channels like Bukedde TV 1, Bukedde TV 2, Urban TV, TV West, UBC Star TV, Citizen TV, KTN News, BTM, Record TV, Bukalango Tv, Spirit FM, LTV, Top Tv, Salt TV, Pearl Magic, Miracle TV, KTN, K24, KBCTV, Magic HD, U24, BBSTV, STV, HGTV, KTV, BABA TV, Moon TV, Excel TV, WTV, Nyce TV, Manifest TV, UCTV, Fresh TV, GTV, See TV, Success TV, Family TV, Life TV, Delta TV, Smart24 TV, HG TV, KSTV, KBSTV, ABS TV, ARK TV, Rest TV, Gugudde TV.

Jane is among those who confessed to being asked for money by MultiChoice technicians to sort a poor signal yet she expected the service to be free.

There is also an issue of repetitive programmes and old content on general entertainment & movies channels.

On GOtv, such channels include Honey TV, TL Novelas, ROK, Kix, Telemundo, M-Net Movies Zone, Zee World, B4U Movies, Fox Life, E!, AfricaMagic Epic, Africa Magic Family, Magic Epic, BET, CBS Reality, FOX, Investigation Discovery, Rock 2, Star Life, Movie Room, and TNT Africa.

“An action movie or love story or a Nigerian movie can be repeated on these channels month after month. It’s as if they don’t have new content,” says one of the clients.

“They recently added ‘Movie Room’ channel and they boasted to their clients. But it’s repeating the same old movies like ‘Big Game’. Talk of TNT Africa, ever repeating ‘The Negotiator’ and many others.”

Another client also complained about running old Kardashian shows and others. The same goes for DSTV.

Some clients are also branding MultiChoice customer care service personnel as the worst—unfriendly, poorly trained, incompetent, and don’t seem to be in touch with the clients they are supposed to serve.

Just like Uganda, subscribers in other countries where MultiChoice operates like Nigeria are also up in arms and it remains to be seen whether the Malawi precedent will cause some reforms at MultiChoice.


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