The problem isn’t Multichoice DSTV; it’s the Zambians Stupid…


By Mwiine Lubemba


A COLLEAGUE of several years experience in Mass Communications called the proposed increase by Multichoice a scandal and went on to elaborate using Kinsley’s Law, discovered by journalist Michael Kinsley way back in the 80s that, “ The scandal isn’t what’s illegal, the scandal is what’s legal.”

A variant applies to Bota’s explanation of the proposed Multichoice subscriber fee increases.

And thinking about it, scandal is not exactly the right word here. Perhaps ‘Travesty’ or ‘Outrage’ is more fitting.

Bota’s undiplomatic utterances which last week were an irritant, have now become an annoyance that threatens to become a problem that could become catastrophe. We know Sky Sports has been winning the most tenders to air live British Premier League soccer events. True the British Football Association tender may be worth U$3.5 billion or more.

We know Multichoice Africa (not Zambia) has to purchase the rights from Sky sports for it to beam live British premier league soccer games to its African subscribers. Let’s assume Multichoice then receives the live signal at their Head Office in Randburg, they then encrypt it so that only bonafide subscribers to their various bouquets can access the feed and programs paid for. Thereafter Multichoice resends their feed to various independent Satellites covering their subscribers all over Africa to capture the Multichoice DSTV signal on their Dishes/LNB/decoders.

Let’s also assume that Multichoice has a customer base in Africa in excess of 5-10 million. The wise men and women that Bota reports to at Multichoice South Africa have hidden him in a dark place so as not to know how much they pay to Sky Sports for live British soccer feeds in South Africa otherwise Bota would not have picked on such an irrelevant Sky Sports live soccer beam example to justify the increase. In addition, not everyone in Zambia who watches DSTV is a British Premier League Soccer fun to suffer the high costs.

Before we get back to the Zambian scenario, let’s exhaust this argument.

We said Multichoice may have a subscriber base of about 5-10 million throughout Africa. Let’s use the 10 million number and the subscription figure that Bota gave out as the regional average at U$82 per month for a premium bouquet. Already we are looking at Multichoice making a turnover of U$82x10x12=U$9,840,000,000 (U$9.84 billion) exclusive of advertising income which is perhaps 10 times higher and is additional. Of course if we use a subscriber base of 5 million the figure will half. Remember Bota said Multichoice (like several other cable TV distributors in Britain, Europe, USA and world over) buys live soccer feeds from Sky Sports who also pay close to $3.5-$5 billion to the British Football Association for the rights? The question remains; how much does Multichoice South Africa, within this pool of world buyers, pay to Sky Sports for Live Soccer Feeds for Bota to use the figure as one of the major reasons for the increases in Zambia?

It’s a scandal for Multichoice to lie so as to justify an increase.

Let’s now assume as Bota said 3,000 online subscribers have so far signed the petition to force Multi Choice to lower its rates in Zambia in line with what’s being paid everywhere in the region especially South Africa, if we assume all these subscribers are on a premium bouquet and are currently paying K625 per month that’s almost twice what a similar bouquet subscriber in South Africa is paying at Rands 600.

If we now assume an exchange rate of K7.4 to the dollar it means the Zambian subscriber is paying U$85 per month where as his South African counterpart is paying U$55 per month (K403) that’s a difference of U$30 per month or U$360 per year or K2,664. So, the 3,000 concern Zambian subscribers are already over paying Multuichoice by U$ 1,080,000 per year, this is above what 3,000 similar South African subscribers are now paying. And this number increases with the number of subscribers on Multichoice signal in Zambia. And for our purpose here let’s assume the DSTV premium bouquet subscriber base in Zambia is 20,000, this will immediately translate into U$ 7,200,000 per year or K 53,280,000.

So far we’ve arrived at the point where 20,000 Zambian premium bouquet subscribers are overpaying Multichoice by U$7.2 million or K53.280 million above their South African counterparts. The point at issue is that Zambian subscribers are actually paying K625 or U$85 per month or U$ 1,020 per year (K 7,548). This means in addition our assumed 20,000 premium bouquet Zambian subscribers are actually paying an additional U$ 13,200,000 for their DSTV content bringing the total to U$ 20,400,000 or K 150,960,000 per year.

In addition to this turnover income that has been based on our assumed meagre 20,000 Zambian premium bouquet subscribers, Multichoice Africa includes in its numbers the dominant Zambian footprint and subscriber base it holds in selling their advertising time slots and space and the company goes on to receive several millions of dollars in advertising income as part of the feed beamed to Zambian subscribers but we are not sure if this income is Value Taxed (VAT) and shared with Mr. Msiska the local Zambian Revenue Authority agent.

And if Multichoice does not pay VAT on its advertising income based on its local Zambian customer base catchment then they are cheating the people of Zambia and must be taken to task. Alternatively if Multichoice refuses to pay the tax, then the Zambian authorities must ban Multichoice from showing any foreign material of advertising content on its Zambian feed.

But it doesn’t end here. If you have been watching the local television feeds, I’d say most content is repeats.

And most movies are old and can’t measure up to those obtained for a dollar on YouTube. News and current affairs is live only to the point its some ‘breaking news’ happening in some foreign country otherwise once you have seen the news at six in the morning be sure to find the same feed streaming at midnight and the following day until some breaking news comes up again.

Most news feeds and religious channels making up the bulk of the Multichoice bouquet are sponsored and free to air anyway or very little is paid for them by Multichoice yet Zambians are being asked to pay double what their South African counterparts are made to pay just to watch Live British Premier League Soccer for 4 hours on Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes on Mondays and Tuesdays for an hour and half? C’mon!

This is the 21st Century for God’s sake. Zambians must wake up and stop acting stupid. If Multichoice become adamant and don’t change their attitude to their Zambian customers and continue to steal from them then join them.

I mean you have every right to steal from them too. There are several very cheap gadgets on sale in China (as usual) that can re-send any Digital signal from point to point for as cheap as U$35 and can cover incremental areas of 500m² each. You can also buy yourself a cheap signal booster for U$100 should you prefer to watch the several World TV programs on your 3G smart phone or Laptop computer using your normal cheap cell phone bundles uninterrupted.

If you have a smart flat screen TV equipped with USB port you can have it connected and scan for the channels from your laptop to your HD TV.

The picture quality is amazing. Some pay channels require you to submit your visa card number and subscribe to British Premier League Soccer for as little as U$19.90 per month or K150 at current exchange rates.

You’ll receive a password or key that you can then use on any computer at home or office as long as you have a good quality 3G signal and hence the requirement for a signal booster if you live in some far flung places like farms and closed in places where signal quality is poor.

There are multiple permutations available but it’s beyond the scope of this article to encourage this route of settling this dispute with Multichoice Zambia Limited. We merely want the company to know they’ll be taken for a ride and beaten at their own game if they dare us.

What we should ask now is what is our National Broadcaster ZNBS doing about it? Before Multichoice came on the scene, Zambians were able to watch live Muhammad Ali fights all over the world they were held. We watched several British FA Cup finals sponsored by Lonrho Group and World cup games too. And it was free.

We have all seen how President Lungu is battling to bring down the cost of consumer goods and services in this country. Despite these government efforts, we have foreign based companies that are pushing Zambians to the wall by blackmailing them to pay silly rates to watch live British Soccer. So why can’t ZNBS and Zamtel be the ones to get this money by merely showing these games on local pay channels such as TV2 was meant to be-I’m told? What would it take for ZNBS digital service and Zamtel fibre network to have several pay channels beamed where we could then pay for TV bundles as we do for Zamtel bundles?

How far would cash from 20,000 Zambian subscribers paying U$19.9 (K150) per month take these organizations? How about 200,000 subscribers? Ok; how about 500,000 or 1 million rural subscribers who would be ‘paying on demand or as you go’ if they don’t want to pay for the monthly U$19.9 bundles? I am very sure sooner than latter ZNBS and Zamtel would become world-class telephony and Television service providers.

Zambians should not only cry about the expensive rates that Multichoice is going to start charging from April, they should cry for the bigger picture  and that is the huge amounts of foreign exchange that Multichoice Zambia remits to its parent company for shoddy services consisting repeat programs except for live British soccer and occasional CNN, BBC, Sky, Aljazeera ‘breaking news’. Seriously is there any program worth paying U$20 million or more for with Multichoice?

Just to watch those Supper Sport clowns (who despite being clothed in free suits still appear shabbily dressed), to analyse Live English soccer games in very bad English? And you wonder why the Kwacha exchange rates can’t come down when every Jim and Jack can just walk into this country with junk and get out with pockets full of dollars for it? It’s a travesty and nauseatingly outrageous!

I’ve lost count who the Cabinet Ministers of Information, Communications and Sports are, but I’m very confident both Zamtel and ZNBS have good young brains with excellent IT expertise that can hook up several local pay channels together and carry out test runs covering the City of Lusaka first in less than 10 days and for less than a million dollars with ease.  That’s why as this scandal unfolds this April; the problem isn’t Multichoice DSTV, it’s the Zambians stupid…

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