China wants Africa’s STB business

Statements made in Nairobi by officials from Chinese pay-TV operator StarTimes Group suggest the broadcaster has the whole of sub-Saharan Africa in its sights as far as pay-TV and the receiver technology side of the business is concerned. A StarTimes-organised seminar heard on June 3 that the broadcaster had now signed up more than 2.5 million subscribers across Africa.

StarTimes believes it has the right broadcasting model.  Kenya, for example, is shortly to switch off its Nairobi analogue transmitter and StarTimes says it is targeting the city’s 1 million existing TV homes, each of which will have to invest either in a new TV set or in a converter box. StarTimes is selling low-cost boxes, which can be upgraded to subscription to its pay-TV bouquet for about $59 (Kenyan Shillings 4999).

Moreover, the government is keen to see some progress as it estimates that to date only about 12,000 free-to-air terrestrial converter boxes have been sold in a nation of some 4 million TV homes.

“On realising that there are insufficient non subscription based decoders in the market, we decided to introduce a free-to-air decoder thereby giving Kenyans a great variety to choose from,” StarTimes Media CEO Leo Lee says.

Keny’s Communication Commission (CCK) says it has licensed around 20 free to air decoders, but sales have been slow when compared to around 200,000 pay-TV boxes which have sold.

Fenella Ephraim Mukangara, Tanzania’s Minister of Information, Culture & Sports said Tanzania is teaming up with the StarTimes in a bid to accomplish the analogue switch-off June 2015 target made by ITU and initial projects have seen 23 per cent of its population enjoy digital TV.

StarTimes Group sees itself as a pioneer in terms of TV. It has more than 7 million subscribers to its Chinese services, and is targeting Africa with pay-TV services. StarTimes started developing its African markets in 2002, and was issued the first digital TV operator license by Rwanda in 2007. Currently StarTimes has got licenses and registered companies in 10 African nations. The broadcaster’s operations network covers African, including Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Central African Republic, Guinea and Kenya.

Pang Xinxing, chairman of the Beijing-based company, noted only that a complete digital technology, and adequate financing for projects, are critically needed in African countries to help with the popularisation of its satellite projects. “The biggest challenge is the digitalization of the terminal, which [will replace] those analogue systems. Only by truly and completely switching off all the analogue system and upgrading facilities [can success be assured].”

Their new Mission Statement is simple: “To provide every African family with affordable and enjoyable DTV”.

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