The Kenyan pay-Tv market has been through a rough past among. Investor have waded through low consumer uptake, financing troubles, content fights and other regulatory conflicts among other problems.
When StarTimes entered the market a year ago, with great ambitions, many people were skeptical on how long it was going to last, given that it came soon after two players closed shop.
StarTimes Media CEO, Leo Lee, spoke to Winfred Kagwe about their operations in Kenya and how far the company has come.
With two Pay TV firms having failed in their operations before your entry, how would you rate your experience in the market so far?
The reception has been overwhelming. As we celebrate our first anniversary this month, I can confidently tell you that we are encouraged by the response so far and we thank our loyal subscribers for giving us a head start. This goes to prove that Kenyans have an appetite for rich television content but have largely been locked out by cost something that we will continually seek to revise through the provision of world class television content at affordable subscription rates.
The Pay TV service has been a preserve of a few for long but the Digital Terrestrial Technology seems to have changed this. Why the big cost difference with the satellite Pay-TV service?
In actual sense, the massive disparity in subscription fees should not exist between the two since we equally pay our signal distributors annual amounts just as the satellite players do to lease satellite services while also paying rights to the international channel owners. The high subscription fees that Kenyans have been experiencing are largely as a result of monopoly tendencies which continue to be managed by increased competition.
How far have you extended your services since your launch?
In less than twelve months in the country, outside the main cities Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu we are also available in 12 other towns including Meru, Embu, Karatina, Malindi, Kakamega, Webuye, Kitale, Bungoma, Eldoret, Nyeri, Kisii and Nakuru. With continued informative efforts and expansion to more areas, we will continue growing the numbers.
What are the key challenges affecting your business roll out ?
There is inadequate information out there on Pay TV which for long has been regarded to be a preserve of a few but our aim is to sustain communication as an affordable Premium brand, we have had great headway so far and will continue extending our efforts to both urban and rural areas in an effort to meet our goals.
There has been concerns among your subscribers after some Free-to-Air channels withdrew from your platform, any developments to have them back?
Any journey has its hurdles and this has been one of them. Heightened negotiations between the said media owners and the regulator are ongoing and we are confident that very soon, the contentious issues will be ironed out. Our other pay television channels continue to air uninterrupted and plans are at an advanced stage to add some more local and sporting action.
You have recently launched a dual decoder capable of providing both Pay-TV and Free-to-Air service, what advised this move?
StarTimes key driver is to provide digital television service to the majority if not all households in Kenya, to achieve this, we thought it wise to give Kenyans a choice that is flexible enough not to lock them out from our pay television and/or Free-to-Air offering.
What does this mean to your current and prospective subscribers?
With the launch of the Free-to-Air decoder, one is able to access either the Pay-TV service or Free-to-Air platform while reverting to the other at will without necessarily having to acquire another set-top-box . We are giving Kenyans same trusted StarTimes offering while saving them money.
How confident are you that subscribers will not go for the Free-to-Air service against the Pay-TV one?
With the diverse tastes among subscribers, we believe there is a good number of those whose search for more information and entertainment goes beyond the free to air channel provision. This is the group that will continue enjoying the rich pay television content. At the same time, you will note that as people’s financial status improve, they yearn for something extra, the growing middle class in Kenya will therefore also form a key target for our Pay-TV service as they seek a service provider who is not only affordable but also hosting an enviable array of international and local content.
What kind of content are the key drivers of pay-TV in the Kenyan market and how are you positioning yourself to meet this demand?
Sports is one and our Setanta sports, Eurosports news and kung fu channels have proven very popular in Kenya. Drama series, documentary, gospel and soaps are popular with the adult population and the Kids channels are key to children entertainment all of which are available on StarTimes. We however intend to continue spicing our channel offering by incorporating more premium television content that is aimed at giving value for money to our subscribers.
From your experience in other markets, how is Kenya doing as far as rolling out the digital broadcasting technology is concerned?
The country is very much on track, the regulator and the ICT ministry have given indication that they have a well-tailored roll out plan involving a phased approach to the process. I believe today more people are aware of the process than same period last year so the moment it kicks off, it is likely to move faster.
As a player in this process, what is your role?
We have the advantage of having learnt a lot from the switch off in Tanzania, public understanding of the whole process is key, we are therefore engaged in public campaigns aimed at further enlightening our subscribers and potential subscribers on the key advantage of digital television. This is largely being done at our points of sale and road shows while we earmark some more marketing efforts soon.
Your Ugandan office was recently accused of selling obsolete DVB-T1 set-top boxes, what’s your position on this?
Our Uganda subsidiary has put the record straight on this matter. With the migration in Uganda having started earlier than Kenya DVB T1 decoders were the ones available in the market. DVB -T2 is a new technology and will progressively be adopted by most countries as consumers embrace the same. The decoders that were sold before the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) announced their phase out are still operational and legal. Unlike Kenya which decided to go with the DVB -T2 technology from the start of the migration process, it is only recently that UCC said Uganda would adapt DVB-T2 decoders.
What are the other developments lined up for the Kenyan market by your firm?
We intend to further expand our national coverage from the current 70 per cent to 90 per cent by the end of the year while boosting the current offering with more local content as well as equally entertaining international channels such as the sports channel that is coming soon. After sales service will continue receiving a lot of attention as we aspire to increasingly provide value for money.