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Toyin Subair speaks on how HiTV lost English Premier League to Multichoice

Kwame on why Nigezie pulled out 

TRULY, there is a time for everything under the sun.  For HiTV, after a tragedic July when it lost in three successive weeks two of its hottest programmes, Nigezie and the Barclays Premier League also called English Premier League (EPL), August has come on a more sonorous note, replacing its lost contents with new ones.



On Thursday, July 1, 2010, one of its music and lifestyle content providers, Virtual Media Networks owned by ace broadcaster and voice-over expert, Femi Aderibigbe (Kwame) severed its ties with HiTV, Nigeria’s first cable satellite television provider owned by Entertainment Highways Limited, thus bringing the broadcast of its programme, Nigezie on the HiTV platform to an end.

But like a gallant loser, HiTV on Sunday, August 1, 2010, launched on its broadcast a brand new music and lifestyle channel christened 1Music, perhaps in a swift replacement to Nigezie.

However, while running helter-skelter, moaning and groaning to deliver its newest baby, at the same time, groping for the direly needed bank guarantee to retain its EPL rights for the next season, the 2010-2011 season commencing on Saturday, August 14, 2010, HiTV received its second tragedy like a bolt from the blue.  The deadline to provide the guarantee had expired on Monday, July 19, 2010 and HiTV hoped to secure the guarantee four days late on Friday, July 23, 2010.  The delay has been widely attributed to new banking policies enforced by Lamido Sanusi.  But on Wednesday, July 21, 2010, its arch-rival, the South African multi-channel cable and satellite TV provider, Multichoice through one of its subsidiaries, Super Sports stupefied HiTV when it announced the take over of the EPL back to its stable for the next three seasons, 2010 to 2013.  The EPL is the biggest continuous, annual sporting event in the world with over 2.5 billion fans and over 500 million viewing homes all over the world.  It is an understatement to tag it a cash cow.  And that’s the reason that football buffs can’t stop wondering why and how HiTV let the money-magnet slip off its grasp just like that, enjoying it for just two seasons instead of three.  So, in the absence of HiTV’s official statement on the loss of the two programmes, various speculations keep circulating.

Some keen observers of the sector pontificated that HiTV’s problems proliferated mostly from an alleged squabble amongst its Board of Directors.  Some newspapers even reported that one of the chief investors, the erstwhile governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has been making moves to take possession and a firmer control of the HiTV business.  His motivation according to the reports stem from worrisome concerns shared mutually by some other financiers of the business including the former CEO of MTN Nigeria, Adrian Wood and Victor Odili, brother of former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili. But some other investors were said to be against Tinubu’s moves.  Most worrisome among the concerns was that the HiTV management under Toyin Subair’s leadership has not been generating encouraging returns on investment and enough revenues specifically from its other businesses (publishing and content provision).  Our findings revealed that in its penchant for very high bidding and investment on the EPL at the detriment of its other businesses, HiTV had hitherto over-concentrated on the EPL.  Before the loss of the EPL rights, Mr. Subair once defended the stance saying, “Pay TV thrives on beaming live sports.  From the very first day we started broadcasting the Premier League, we experienced an explosion because it was only on our platform you could see it.”  It is therefore not surprising that HiTV’s non-sporting channels and programmes including HiNolly are perceived (wrongly so or not) by the public as poorer in content quality compared with the offers of its main rivals, DSTV.

Relatively, these worrisome concerns among investors became the recipe for tale bearers to bake and spread the rumour of the sack of Toyin Subair some couple of weeks ago, before HiTV lost the EPL.  The icing on the rumour was the speculation in certain quarters that Bola Ahmed Tinubu was then intensifying efforts to take over the business in the next few weeks and then follow it up with a drastic shake-up in the management team led by Subari.

Another speculated setback that crippled HiTV’s retainership of the EPL rights is an alleged conspiracy between the bankers of HiTV , Ecobank and some key personalities in Multichoice.  It would be recalled that in 2007 when the fresh-new HiTV just kicked off operations, a similar scenario played out when HiTV emerged as the top bidder for the EPL rights, struggling only to cough out the initial $28 million instalment.  In fact, it was on the final day of deadline that HiTV raised and settled the dough to corner the EPL into its kitty.  Competent sources in the sector then alleged that some individuals did everything possible to stall HiTV’s operations, including inducing pay TV dealers not to work with HiTV.  The bankers to HiTV, Ecobank was fingered as being in moves to undermine the new company. It was even reported then that the relations between HiTV and Ecobank went sour in the face of allegations of teaming up with Multichoice to pull down HiTV.  Reports stated then that notwithstanding its relationship as bankers to HiTV, Ecobank refused to provide funds to aid the company.  Its relationship with the rivals, Multichoice who had enjoyed the EPL rights in a 10-year monopoly in Nigeria, only came to the fore in the Idols West Africa reality show.  In short, the alleged conspiracy was the harbinger of HiTV’s delayed transmission of its signals in the Lagos area from February 1, 2007, instead of the December 2006 kick-off earlier scheduled.

Now, four years later, well-informed sources hinted that Ecobank may still be relating with HiTV in the cloak-and-dagger attitude.  ENCOMIUM Weekly checks could not ascertain the basics for such suspicion as some of the key parties involved in the matter declined to comment or clarify anything asserting that it is not time yet for them to comment while others who did were rather taciturn.

“I’m not directly involved in our banking operations so I don’t know anything about these allegations.  There’s no comment from me on it now.  I can only say, please, give us the privilege to consider these allegations and we will explain our side to you on Monday (August 2, 2010),” was the response we got when we spoke on phone on Saturday, July 31, 2010 with Ecobank’s Head of Media Relations, Mr. Austin Osokpor.

On his part, the Public Relations Officer, Multichoice Nigeria, Mr. Segun Fadeyi sent us an SMS on Sunday, August 1, 2010, saying, ‘We neither bank with Ecobank nor do we have any relationships with them.  The allegation is totally false.”

Nigezie’s Femi Aderibigbe simply laughed over the matter when we sought his reaction on Nigezie’s retreat from the HiTV platform.  He debunked the rumour that he has taken HiTV to court.  “I just read it today too!  I was surprised because I have no court or legal battle with HiTV.  I’m not a battle type person.  The way it was going, I discovered that the foundation was not strong and I simply decided to call it quits and move on.  But I wish them good luck.”

When we sought to know where Nigezie is moving on to, Kwame quickly rounded off saying, ‘We are now rebuilding a strong foundation but I can’t talk now. I can’t say anything more.  When we are ready to talk, we’ll talk.”

On the same day, during a phone chat, Toyin Subair asserted on same note, “We cannot talk now.  Every company has a policy framework that guides its operations.  There is a right time for it if you’ll wait.  Better still, call Justin Akpovi-Esade, HiTV Head of Public Relations or send me a text.  I’ll send it to him.”  But on the alleged conspiracy by Ecobank to provide the guarantee and the launch of a new channel, his text said, “All NOT true apart from 1Music.”  Mr. Akpovi-Esade later sent us an SMS that, “HiTV will make its official statement on the issue next week (this week).


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