Setanta Africa pioneers Free To Air sports television

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So much attention has been focused on the Pay TV battle for the Premiership rights that it would be easy to miss the development of Setanta Africa’s Free To Air coverage through its partner stations on the continent. This week Russell Southwood talks to Setanta Africa’s founder Barry Lambert and to Nada Anderson of Sports TV Uganda, one of its partner stations.

Setanta Africa has survived the very public collapse of Setanta UK because it is part of Setanta’s separate parent company based in Ireland. Barry Lambert launched LIM Africa in 2002 after leaving TV Africa, of which he was both a founder and shareholder. It was created to distribute specialised feed on an ad hoc basis from FIFA, the FA and UEFA among others.

He supplied terrestrial broadcasters via satellite with sponsorship attached. They paid nominal fees for it and integrated local programming around it at source. It really took off with the World Cup when 28 countries took the content.

Lambert knew two of the Irish founders of Setanta so in 2005 he said to them: do you want a partner in Africa? They said “yes” and this became the joint venture that is Setanta Africa. They had the administrative and legal knowledge of buying rights and already possessed the rights for things like the live rights for the Scottish Premier League and World title fights in boxing.

In addition, Setanta was already producing magazine programmes for some of the key clubs in the English Premier League like Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester City and were able to show Premier League games 24 hours after they had occurred. This became the Big Match Opportunity which was shown at 7pm either on Sunday or Monday.

According to Lambert, the aim of the business is to grow it:”We said to ourselves whatever we get from the business, we will put back into rights and that’s exactly what’s happened over the last two years. We’ll do that until we can afford the big ticket events and that will probably take is 3-4 years.”

“So we’re not a must have channel but a nice to have channel. Those going over to DTT will need our kind of sports channel. It’s also fantastic for people like Zuku (Wananchi, Kenya’s IP-TV provider). We’ve got a turnover of US$2 million and we know it will grow. We went into the black after GTV and individually found a new rate for everyone except Mauritius who are at the edge of the satellite footprints but we’ll solve that one soon.” It works with a wide range of affiliate broadcasters in Africa including Sports TV Uganda (see below) and Metro TV in Ghana.

He can see the merits of the bid for the Pay TV rights by Hi-TV’s Toyin Subair and the consortium he is putting together but also knows the difficulties that will be involved in making it work:”It gives an opportunity for African countries to create their own destinies but the decision will be made by the rights holders.”