Pay-TV service providers are back to the drawing board after the Court of Appeal on Monday dismissed a case challenging a High Court ruling directing the providers to allow interoperability of set-top boxes distributed by the petitioners between different players in the market.
MultiChoice had moved to court to protest an earlier High Court ruling by Judge Mumbi Ngugi who had ordered the subscription-based TV firms to allow competitors to broadcast their content on the locked set-top boxes.
The South African company was seeking orders to reverse the ruling maintaining that Justice Ngugi had erred by ruling on a matter that was not before her. According to MultiChoice, Justice Ngugi ought to have restricted herself to the licensing of signal distribution.
Appellate Judges William Ouko, Asike Makhandia, Patrick Kiage, Gatembu Kairu and Fatuma Sichale dismissed the case averring that Multichoice had failed to prove its case.
“Therefore, on a full consideration of the material on record and arguments before us, I have concluded that no grounds have been presented to us to warrant interference with the learned judge’s exercise of discretion,” ruled Justice Ouko.
“I adopt those views as they mirror what happened in the appeal before us, where the judge arrived at her determination based on the law and evidence before her. If in the appellant’s opinion the conclusions were erroneous, it could only appeal.” added Justice Ouko.
MultiChoice runs DStv and GOtv, both subscription based TV packages which differ based on the ability of a viewer to pay. The more a viewer forks out, the more they access premium channels ranging from sports, news, children related content, music channels and entertainment channels that broadcast movies and an assortment of TV series.
Wananchi Group also offers the same through its different Zuku bouquets.
The friction in the paid tv space is not new.
Multichoice was the subject of fury from other players in the market during the shift from analogue to digital broadcasting.
At the time, The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) then known as the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) tasked the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) to set up a private company to manage signal distribution to avoid conflict of interest.
CA’s directive led to the birth of Signet Limited and not long after a battle ensued pitting Multichoice against Wananchi with the latter accusing Signet of treating MultiChoice preferentially.
Wananchi Group told Justice Ngugi that CCK and KBC ere permitting MultiChoice to sell locked set-top boxes that restricted content to the GoTV platform. The group in its submissions to the court questioned the independence of the two-state firms in discharging their duty as they were giving MultiChoice a free run to commercial opportunities while denying them the same courtesy.