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Why Does the NBC Want to Kill Local Content in Nigeria? By Chris Ihidero

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My plea, as a Nigerian content creator and investor, is that the NBC aides me and many like me in extracting maximum value from our creativity and entrepreneurship. If the NBC is incapable of doing this, can the NBC at least not hammer the final nails into my career’s coffin?

As a child growing up in the 80s, I waited with bated breath for 4pm every weekday. At a few minutes to 4, the TV in my family living room would come alive with a colour bar. Moments later, the Nigerian national anthem would come up and immediately afterwards, a roll call of the day’s programming. Long before the appearance of that colour bar, I would be sat directly in front of the TV, a wide smile on my face in anticipation of what the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, was going to serve me, for the NTA was my main, and often only, access to the amazing world of audio-visual entertainment and information.

I didn’t know it then, but the seeds of the filmmaker and TV content creator that I was to become were being planted and shaped by a Nigerian government parastatal. I couldn’t have been prouder to be Nigerian if I tried. Today, the reverse is the case: I have no contact and consume no content made by the NTA or any other government audio-visual agency.

How did we get here?

Recently, the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, announced some amendments to the Nigerian Broadcasting Code (6th edition). Chief among the reasons for these amendments, according to the Acting Director-General of the NBC, Dr. Armstrong Idachaba, is “…the protection and promotion of the local broadcast industry from monopolistic and anti-competitive behaviour…”. In summary, the NBC seeks to prohibit exclusivity of content broadcasting. The amendment compels right holders to sub-license the content they have exclusive rights to, to other broadcasters. Finally, the NBC wishes to regulate the price at which the content is sub-licensed. The amendment was also deemed needed in order to boost local content production and make the broadcast sector a better level playing field, according to the NBC.

As a content producer, these amendments are problematic for me on so many levels. Let’s start with the reality of content production and distribution in Nigeria. Nigeria is a tough media space. Deriving maximum value from the value chain of content production or broadcast is hard at best and impossible at worst. For example, I have just concluded the production of 26 episodes of my first television series, after many years doing commissioned work by many international platforms. I am trying to sell this content to broadcast platforms like Netflix, IROKOTV, Canal+ and DSTV. I am at the mercy of these platforms because I have to live with the terms and whatever value they place on my content because the NBC has failed me in its statutory responsibility.

How, you ask?

The Nigerian Broadcasting Code forbids the sale of airtime. A broadcast license cannot be bought off the shelves in Nigeria; it is given to a broadcaster in trust, on behalf of Nigerians. Guess who has allowed and encouraged the sale of airtime? NBC. Guess how the moribund NTA makes money? By collecting subvention from government and SELLING AIRTIME. For the lay readers, this is what this means: To put my series on any Nigerian TV station, including the NTA, I’ll have to go and buy a spot (airtime) on the channel and then go look for adverts/sponsorship to cover my production cost. Yes, I am serious. Are you then still wondering why there’s a dearth of quality content on Nigerian TV stations?

The Yoruba say: Orisa gbe mi, ti o ba le gbe mi, fi mi le bi o se ba mi (Trans: Dear god, aide me, but if you cannot aide me leave me the hell alone.) The NBC is the Orisa that should be aiding local content producers. Imagine this scenario: If Netflix acquires the rights to my show (Hint hint, Netflix, DSTV!) and it becomes a national blockbuster and outperforms Money Heist (It will, I promise!) and NTA, incapable of producing anything of quality, now goes crying to daddy NBC: “Daddy, that foolish Chris Ihidero boy sold his content to Netflix and it has blown! Come and tell Netflix to give us!” and NBC now says to Netflix: “Hey Netflix or what do they call yourself, come here! Give Chris Ihidero’s content to NTA under the new nonexclusive licensing arrangement, now!” and Netflix says, “Sure, not a problem; we told them to pay 50 kobo per episode.” NTA now cries harder and says: “But but but daddy NBC, you know we don’t like work because our arms are thin, tell them to sell it to us for 5 kobo!!” NBC now declares: “Netflix, I command you forthwith to sub-license Chris Ihidero’s content to NTA for 5 kobo and so be it! What do you think will happen the next time I try to sell content to Netflix? Or DSTV or IROKOTV?

Imagine that, like IROKOTV, DSTV and NETFLIX, the NTA — statutorily obligated to do so — spends millions of dollars on content production in Nigeria every year; wouldn’t that save independent producers like me a lot of headache? IROKOTV has spent around $25million in local content production over the past 5 years. DSTV has spent at least triple that in commissioning Nigerian content in the same time period. Netflix’s introduction into the Nigerian market and the kind of money they are willing to spend has already signaled to DSTV and others that they have to up their game. Should all these platforms not enjoy maximum value from the value chain of their investments? Why is the NBC trying to kill the potentials of Nigerian creatives even before they really take off?

Holding exclusive rights to content, no matter how lucrative that content looks from the outside, is not the be-all of the content production, distribution and broadcast game. If it were, HiTV would still be a force to be reckoned with today, rather than dead. We seem to be quick to forget that HiTV once held the exclusive rights to the most premium content on the continent, the English Premiere League. Not only did it not share the rights with other broadcasters, HiTV sought to prosecute viewing centres that screened matches to millions of Nigerians who couldn’t afford HiTV subscription. If for nothing else, the HiTV debacle should serve as a reminder to all of us in the content production and distribution sector that holding rights, even exclusive rights, to premium content is only the beginning of the work that needs to be done and all the cards are stacked against us all, especially in a debilitating Nigerian media space.

If truly the NBC is seeking worthy intervention in the broadcast industry, the path to a truly vibrant local content drive does not lie in this so-called anti-monopoly quest. Real growth will come from opening up the content production, distribution and broadcasting space by removing unnecessary roadblocks. Here are my immediate suggestions to the NBC:

1) Widen the scope of consultations around the amendment of the broadcasting code. Involve real industry players, listen to their genuine concerns, inspire a level playing field that gives more confidence to content and broadcast investors, the people who continue to risk their investments in a volatile media environment.

2) Be a truly neutral industry regulator. Lay the guidelines, stand away and let the players play. It should be impossible for the NBC to be involved in the fixing of sub-licensing prices. It is amoral to do so. It opens a rat hole of possibilities, waiting to be exploited by rent-seekers. If the NBC insists on enshrining sub-licensing in the broadcasting code, it should do it properly. It should be a willing buyer, willing seller agreement that doesn’t involve the NBC. This is the standard. And it should come before the exclusive rights are acquired, not after.

3) The NBC should formally ban the sale of airtime in the Nigerian broadcast industry. Broadcasters should live or die by their content creation and commissioning. The reason Nigerian local broadcasters are rent-seeking entities is that the NBC encourages them to be so. Why spend money creating content, like the NTA of my childhood, when you can simply sit back and collect rent, like the NTA of my adult life? This singular action, if the NBC is bold enough to carry it out, will reinvigorate the local content space massively. The next time DSTV’s Africa Magic approaches me to work on their projects, as I have done in the past, it will be easy for me to walk away if their terms are unfavourable if I know that I can go to NTA with my ideas, knowing that they too are spending millions of dollars on content. SABC in South Africa is a worthy case study.

As a regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission is the big Orisa of the broadcast industry. My plea, as a Nigerian content creator and investor, is that the NBC aides me and many like me in extracting maximum value from our creativity and entrepreneurship. If the NBC is incapable of doing this, can the NBC at least not hammer the final nails into my career’s coffin? This would be deeply appreciated.

Chris Ihidero is a multi-award winning Nigerian film and TV content creator and entrepreneur based in Lagos.

The post Why Does the NBC Want to Kill Local Content in Nigeria? By Chris Ihidero appeared first on Nigerian Entertainment Today.


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