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Africa plays leap-frog

By Ed Waller 30-01-2015

One of the more interesting stories of 2014 was how Chinese pay TV outfit StarTimes expanded across Africa.

The company has already built a DTT foothold in 13 African countries, with some four million subscribers across the continent, and last July announced it would invest US$80m in a new regional HQ in Kenya by the end of this year.

The move underscored the importance of China to Africa’s media industries, from TV and radio to newspapers and magazines, and gives South African satellite TV leader MultiChoice and East Africa’s Zuku some stiff competition. And in an emerging market that’s set to see its population double to 2.4 billion by 2050, there’s plenty to play for.

According to a report by analyst Dataxis, Africa’s pay TV subscriptions reached 14.5 million by March 2014, up 25% from 11.6 million in the first quarter of 2013.

The pay TV battle has been intensifying of late, with MultiChoice adding a new East African movie net to its DStv package and StarTimes stepping up its operation in Kenya with the launch of a satellite TV service. Zuku, in turn, has garnered some US$130m to expand out from its East African base.

Interesting times, indeed. However, in developing markets without much legacy infrastructure, things often move so fast that roll-outs of new technologies don’t follow the same chronology seen in more mature markets and often leap-frog each other.

Digital TV signals, for instance, arrived in parts of Africa long before they did in Europe, simply because there wasn’t as much analogue infrastructure or time-consuming switchover required.

It happened again with mobile vs fixed lines and the same may now be happening with pay TV, as while MultiChoice, Zuku and StarTimes work on their DTH/DTT/cable issues, along comes SVoD and offers something even newer.

Recently, the number of on-demand platforms launching in Africa has gone through the roof. The list already includes iROKOtv, Vidi, PanaTV, Aflix, Icflix and Afrinolly. If existing pay services have drawn only 14.5 million subs out of Africa’s middle class of 350 million, according to World Bank, then VoD – particularly via mobile – looks to be the new battleground.

today's correspondent

Ed Waller Editorial director
Ed Waller PERSP 2

Ed Waller is a media journalist working out of London, England.

He is editorial director for C21 Media, which publishes the leading international TV trade website and print magazines Channel 21 International and C21 Kids. He also regularly contributes to UK national newspapers including The Guardian, The Independent and The Sunday Times.

Ed previously worked at trade magazines Televisual Magazine and Asia-Pacific Satellite.