Kenya’s Habari TV to offer streamed online news from TV stations across Africa

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As the Thema Pay TV channels in France have shown, there’s a huge appetite for news from “back home” amongst those living in the global African diaspora. Kenya’s Habari TV hopes to capitalise on this interest by providing streamed news programmes from key African broadcasters. Russell Southwood spoke to Habari TV’s Kelvin Karungu about its plans.

Habari TV’s ambition is to be the web site where news programmes from TV stations all over Africa are aggregated under the slogan “News like Home”. It wants to be able to offer these news programmes within 24 hours of transmission, either at full length or as news clips. It also aims to carry news output in local languages. So for example, in Kenya, the objective would be to carry news output from the main five channels.

It’s working on getting the news programmes on to its servers within one hour of transmission. For broadcasters working digitally, this is fairly easy as it can be sent over the Internet and then formatted for presentation on the Habari TV site. It will index and tag clips and date stamp them, enabling users to use key words for searching.

The pitch to local broadcasters is that rather than buy rights from them, Habari TV will do a revenue share with the broadcaster. Kelvin Karungu won’t give specific numbers but says:”We have created a formula for the percentage revenue split based on ratings and viewership. The more views, the more money you get.” Whilst some broadcasters like Nation TV and KTN already have clips on their website, Habari TV’s service to TV stations is ideal for those who may not yet have a developed online offer.

The costs of having enough bandwidth for streaming programmes are not trivial and Habari TV offers a cost-effective way into the market. As Kelvin Karungu, Habari TV told us:”It’s an untapped market for broadcasters. It’s ideal for those who like the idea of doing it but don’t know how to do it.”

The business model is based on offering a subscription service. After a three day free trial, users pay US$19.99 for the news content carried by the website. There are significant discounts if you sign up for a quarterly or annual subscription. Registration is a very simple process and the web site is clear and easy to use. All content is streamed and requires a minimum down link of 256 kbps. The service is hosted in Canada. And as Karungu notes:”It’s easier to watch locally using 3G.”

Currently the web site has the nightly news programmes of Kenya’s Citizen TV and Uganda’s public broadcaster UBS. But it will be announcing two new signings in East Africa shortly. Beyond that, it wants to add Anglophone, Francophone and Arabic news content from across the continent.

The primary target audience will initially by the East African diaspora in the UK, the USA and Canada but it hopes to also reach out to those living in Australia and the Middle East. According to Karungu:”For it to succeed, we need to attract tens of thousands of subscribers but we believe they exist. An early test without payment attracted 60,000 unique views. And that was without really advertising it and it was only available for a relatively short period of time with just one newsclip.” If successful, it will provide competition for the diaspora channels being carried by Sky in the UK.

The site is clearly focused on news but will it widen its scope:”News is clearly the carrot but we’ve had discussions about other popular locally produced programmes.” It’s also looking at offering archive footage on a VOD basis.

Go online and try it – - because you never know what you might find out. Digital set-top boxes in Kenya cost a staggering US$75 so President Mwai Kibaki has pledged that he will remove taxes from them to make them cheaper. And Jomo Kenyatta Airport suffered a power blackout.