We’ve spent N15bn on local content acquisition – Ugbe, MD, Multichoice

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By EMEKA OKOROANYANWU

Since the arrival of Multichoice in the Nigerian entertainment industry, Nigerians have not stopped celebrating its impact. With just one or two bouquets some years back at inception, Multichoice now has over 40 bouquets, each thrilling homes in Nigeria.

Managing Director of Multichoice, Mr. John Ugbe, who celebrated his one year in office in Nigeria, says the company is set to invest more in the country. “Our hope is that we can record massive growth in in the country. Nigeria is not an easy market but it is a market we believe in, and we continue to invest in,” said Ugbe.

For 2013, Ugbe said the Nigerian entertainment industry will be taken by storm, beginning with the Nation’s Cup in January and many other exciting events.

Excerpts:

You were appointed the company’s first Nigerian MD a year ago, how has the journey been?

It’s been exciting. The pay-TV industry is obviously a very interesting venture. What we do is entertainment. However, it’s not an easy industry. We can’t afford any down time. Our subscribers expect that anytime they put on their TV and switch on their decoder, it’s working; and that’s our pride. We are able to deliver a service that is so reliable. I’m lucky to be the MD of MultiChoice Nigeria at a time when there is a lot of growth, and there is a lot of investment in Nigeria, from an infrastructural point of view and from a peoples point of view. So, I’m happy to be able to do my own bit to grow the company here and support Nigeria to also develop skills in the industry.

Can you point to any milestone you achieved in the last one year?

We had many but one of our biggest milestones is the opportunity for us to introduce the 10 per cent discount to our subscribers. We’ve been able to give back. There’s been a lot of clamour for us to do that and we are proud to put that big incentive in front of our consumers. We have also had promotions where we’ve given out lots of prizes. We are currently running a promotion where we’ve already given out to subscribers cars and tickets to the African Cup of Nations, coming up in January.

Apart from giving back to subscribers, what are you doing for the community?

We are committed through our MultiChoice Resource Centre, which is a project that educates the young people, and we’ve continuously grown these centres. We are deploying another 20 in the next few months…we currently have about 200 of these resource centres around the country. Of very big importance to us is our ability to train teachers to use good educational content on TV to teach these young kids often in remote schools that are disadvantaged. We go all the way. We’ve even rolled out power generators in some of those schools to be able to ensure that these kids can be put on the same platform as any kids in the US, or any other country in the world. They are able to see the same content as kids anywhere. I think it’s a profound impact on the lives of those kids.

Still talking of impact, it will be 20 years, next year, since MultiChoice started out in Nigeria. How much have you impacted the Nigerian economy?

Apart from the direct taxes we pay, that contribute to infrastructural development, I can mention a lot of training programmes we’re sponsoring in various spheres…like the film industry and the media, especially the MultiChoice/CNN African Journalist of the Year Award. But one of the biggest impacts for us is the fact that over 100 of our offices nationwide are owned, hundred per cent, by Nigerians. These are entrepreneurs who started with the company when we launched the Super Dealer entrepreneurial scheme, and have grown these to become big businesses. These companies employ people in their thousands. You could also look at our indirect contributions to the economy; we cater for quite a few families in the country. Also, from the skills perspectives, I’ve been around the group for quite a while and there’s been a lot of training and development of people…and these are all Nigerians.

What’s it with your interest in the Nigerian Premier League?

A lot of people talk about the English Premier League and, often times, we are not even watching our own league. Super Sport is trying to change this and has been able to package the Nigerian league – its live content – on TV, and it’s generating more interests. We can see, over the last few years, that the quality of the football is increasing. We hope it increases even further, as we hope that we can get it to the level of leagues around the world, which we all clamour to watch. Our pride would be to see people walking around in the jerseys of Stationery Stores, for instance, in the future. We’re part of that development, not for a profit motive, but for us to grow the industry.

We’ve taken the same view in basketball. As a company, MultiChoice sponsors the basketball league, and Super Sport also produces free and puts the league on TV stations around Africa. In the last few years, we’ve seen growth in a number of kids who have won scholarships out of Nigeria to study and play basketball in the U.S. And great pride it was to see the Nigerian basket ball team play in the Olympics for the first time. We can see the impact of the development – people being able to watch it, and the league is getting better. We hope we can support it growing into a world-class league.

There is the view that ‘were your services more affordable than they currently are, you would have a greater number of subscribers than you have now?

We’ve continuously expanding the reach of our services. We started with one or two bouquets and we now have for as low as N1,000; even lower because our DStv mobile subscription is even less than N1,000. So, for a few hundred naira, you can watch good quality entertainment. We are a company that tries to ensure that we serve you the content at your convenience and at convenient prices. Internationally, content is quite expensive but we’ve continuously developed models and reduced the entry barriers to our products. We have a promo running now which subsidises or reduces the entry barrier. We do that continuously every year to reduce the cost of the hardware – the decoders – that people need to subscribe to our services.

How true is the notion that the cost of subscription in Nigeria is higher than elsewhere in Africa?

That is not true. I always encourage people that with the internet, information is now at our fingertips, so people can go on-line to actually check. However, as a group, our pricing is done locally. We ensure that our pricing is suited to the market and ensure that it is sustainable in the market. Obviously, you know some contents are licensed at different prices across different countries, so content is more expensive in certain regions. As a group, the Nigerian pricing decision or cost of service are done locally. So, we are not the most expensive. And this can be checked by anybody who is interested.

In terms of local content, what specific efforts have you made to develop content in Nigeria?

First is our investment in local talents. We acquire quite a lot of contents locally – about N15 billion spent on content acquisition over the last eight years. That translates into an investment in the industry, but not just in acquisition of content. M-Net has its own local production, Tinsel, which is one of the most talked about soaps in Nigeria. It is locally produced here in Nigeria. We have also sponsored many projects that have helped deepen the skills in the industry. Not only are we supporting, we are helping it to develop into a world-class industry.

How much are you doing to improve response to customer complaints on your services?

We continuously monitor our service levels. This year still, we opened a new call centre with 120 seats. We currently are developing another call centre as we continue to grow service levels. Also, access to the products is much better than it was years ago. We have 100 offices nationwide now offering services. These offices are closely monitored with quality control from our end. We continuously train and retrain our staff – over 80 per cent of staff are trained annually. We also opened a new training centre, which was purpose-built to increase the frequency of not just customer service staff, but the entire staff structure. We also offer good warranties on our products and have always been able to service our customers through these warranties

What about efforts to make it easier for subscribers to pay their subscriptions?

We continue to educate our subscribers. We have signed up to about three mobile payment services now. We accept online payments; you can actually pay your DStv subscription by walking to an ATM and from the comfort of your couch, online. We’ve been at the forefront of the cashless policy of the CBN. We stopped accepting cash as soon as that policy came to force and we continuously encourage people to use these alternative forms of payment. We’ve signed agreement with the relevant bodies to provide us with payment solutions and throughout our platforms we have those options available.

Given the huge potentials of the Nigerian market, what are your growth projections going forward?

Our hope is that we can record massive growth in Nigeria. Yes we have challenges; Nigeria is not an easy market but it is a market we believe in and we continue to invest in. We are not looking to reap the reward immediately but for us it’s to be able to develop a sustainable business that develops the overall economy. We are hopeful that as the economy continues to develop, we can see more of our investments beginning to bear fruits and we can definitely get significant growth out of the Nigerian market. Nigeria is key for the group as a whole and that informs a lot of investment that the group is making in Nigeria.

It’s been an eventful year, what should consumers look up to in the coming year?

More exciting content from us. January brings the African Cup of Nations so you would have all the matches live on Super Sport, and, as usual, with our expert analysts covering it. Sunday Oliseh, one of our great footballers, will be on TV. And after that there are lots of exciting contents coming. We keep surprising our subscribers with new channels all the time. We don’t announce it far ahead. We have the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards coming in the first quarter of next year. It’s massive. We believe it will be bigger that even the Golden Globes, if I can say that, for Africa. It’s a big project for the group, we believe in it and we will see the impact that it would have on African movies. There’s lot more in the works and we would introduce them as the year comes in.

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