BEIJING: China’s giant pay-TV company, StarTimes, with an ambitious expansion strategy into Africa, is considering prospects of entering Botswana’s subscription television market.
Last week, StarTimes management held a meeting at their Beijing headquarters where a resolution to dispatch a technical and marketing experts team to Botswana was reached.
StarTimes vice president, Zhao Yue Qin revealed this to BusinessWeek when fielding questions from journalists who embarked on the China-Africa reporting tour recently.
“A technical and marketing assessment team would be sent to Botswana soon,” she said.
Zhao could not announce when exactly the company would start operations in Botswana, a market solely enjoyed by South Africa’s MultiChoice. “What I can tell you is that based on the team’s report, StarTimes would then consider when exactly to set up in Botswana,” she said. The company, with presence in 15 African countries, is determined to break MultiChoice’s market dominance.
“We want to expose the African market, the whole market regardless of what part of Africa it is to an alternative and more accessible digital content,” said Zhao.
Currently, the company has no news production in the native languages of the African markets it operates in. This, together with culture differences between African communities and Chinese people have been identified among challenges to StarTimes’ expansion in the continent. For greater ownership and appreciation however, Max Zhao, who is the manager of Dubbing Department at the Multi-Lingual Media Centre last week announced intensified plans to translate drama programmes in local languages for respective African markets.
Their platform carries 350 TV channels, including international third party channels; African local channels and StarTimes owned and operated channels. However, it does not air the English Premier League (EPL)- which by far has proved to be a major attraction among Pay-TV subscribers across Africa.
Zhao is optimistic of securing EPL screening rights, which in Botswana are exclusive to MultiChoice. The StarTimes group was founded in 1988 and has businesses including broadcasting and television network, system integration, technology services, and Pay TV operation as well as programme production. The company’s oversees presence started in 2002, with Star Africa Media Co Rwanda set up in 2007.
“To date, we have registered branches in 28 African countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda with over 5 million digital TV subscribers.”
The company has been listed in Forbes magazine’s enterprises of great potential for five years in a row now. In 2013, MultiChoice Botswana became subject of an investigation by the Competition Authority over whether the pay-television operator’s structure of channel bouquets and pricing constitute anti-competitive behaviour.
The investigation, whose findings were never made public, was launched following a complaint to the competition watchdog by a member of the public who argued that MultiChoice’s conduct could be restrictive to consumer choices and therefore tantamount to a violation of a section in the Competition Act regarding abuse of dominant position by a market player.
“Competition Authority should assess whether MultiChoice is not offending Section 30 of the Act concerning abuse of dominant position, particularly on excessive pricing and selling us a block of channels which the consumers do not necessarily need, a behaviour so restrictive of consumer choice,” read the customer’s complaint that was lodged through the CA website. At the moment, the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) has no knowledge of the feasibility study that StarTimes intend to undertake.
“BOCRA confirmed that it has not been approached by any Chinese broadcasting company by the name StarTimes seeking to launch Pay Tv services in Botswana,” said the regulatory authority’s deputy director of corporate communications and relations, Aaron Nyelesi.
However, he disclosed BOCRA was developing a subscription management service licensing framework that would facilitate the licensing of additional players in the market.
“New market entrants will increase consumer choice, provide employment opportunities and grow the broadcasting industry in Botswana,” he said. Nyelesi added the existence of MultiChoice, as the only provider of subscription management services in Botswana, does not preclude other applicants from entering the market as BOCRA has licensed other players before in MultiChoice’s presence in the country.