China’s Star Times wins UEFA 2012-2015 free-to-air media rights for sub-Saharan Africa

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UEFA announced that the 2012-15 free-to-air media rights for sub-Saharan Africa have been awarded to Chinese pay TV operator Star Times. It has come from nothing two years ago to becoming a player to watch. Russell Southwood looksat the implications of the deal for what it may do in the future.

UEFA announced that the 2012-15 free-to-air media rights for the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League in sub-Saharan Africa have been awarded to Star Times. The unusual thing about the deal is that Star Times is a Pay TV operator, not a Free-To-Air broadcaster.

However, the deal probably makes sense for Star Times in three ways. UEFA football coverage is a great incentive for people to buy Star Times’ DTT set-top boxes and once they have the box, they can be sold its (currently rather under-developed) pay TV bouquets. Secondly, it can sell the UEFA Free-To-Air rights to broadcasters in countries where it is not currently operator to offset what might be described as a marketing cost. Thirdly, it allows Star Times to plant a flag saying it will buy sports content rights in the future.

Pay TV football sports rights have been hard fought over in the last five years and arguably were one of the factors that led to the demise of GTV. Most people in the industry argue that they are over-priced but since companies are willing to pay the premium, it’s hard to see how this will change.

The only route to change is probably a regulatory one. In Europe, regulators have insisted that football rights are broken up into different packages, allowing greater choice and competition in the market. Currently African football rights – particularly Pay TV rights – tend to be locked down by a limited number of operators. But because Africa’s broadcast regulators are young, it will be some while before they have the confidence and skills to take on this task but it will happen.

Meanwhile Star Times is the dark horse Pay TV operator, powering up on the inside rail. In July it claimed to have connected 200,000 subscribers across its 10 East African territories. In Uganda, for example, it claims to have 30,000 subscribers; in Burundi, 8,000 subscribers; 30,000 in Rwanda; and 100,000 subscribers in Tanzania where it is partnership with state broadcaster TBC as one of the country’s signal carriers. The balance of subscribers are in Kenya.

In Nigeria it claims to have got 400,000 subscribers and is rolling out across the country, with boxes now selling in Port Harcourt. It is looking at 12more  states including Abia, Anambra, Kaduna and others before the end of the year. It claims to be selling 30,000 boxes a month. Taking East and West Africa together, its claimed subscriber base is around 600,000 subscribers, making it the largest of the current group of DStv challengers. Back in its home base in China it has around 7 million subscribers.

Like all the Pay TV challengers, Star Times is pitching is price lower to attract new customers. The initial installation fee is around US$60 while the monthly subscription fee is $7.50 and offers about 36 channels for all the East African countries.

Star Times’ strategy has been to do deals with state broadcasters ahead of any Government or regulatory digital transition strategy being in place. The weakness in this strategy are illustrated by Ghana where the regulator NCA told Swedish-owned NGB (which is pursuing the same strategy) that they must line up like everyone else to get a new licence. This forced it to go into alliance with Skyy TV which already has a licence so that it could continue operating.

However, the DTT space will not go uncontested by DStv. Because the DVB-T2 standard can carry both a terrestrial and mobile TV signal, it has rolled out a DTT service in four countries (Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria and Kenya) using its existing DVB-H masts. So watch this space with interest as the formerly glacially slow DTT transition begins to start becoming competitive….


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23 – 24 August 2011- The Mobile Entertainment Africa conference

For those wanting to understand how mobile phones have become the new media for African broadcast, the upcoming Mobile Entertainment Africa conference is a good opportunity to find out.

From the team behind the Mobile Web in Africa series of events comes Mobile Entertainment Africa.  The event will take place August 23rd to 24th at the 5 star One&Only Resort Hotel in Cape Town and will give attendees the opportunity to gain and exchange knowledge and expertise regarding maximising the entertainment opportunity on handheld devices in Africa.

The conference will utilise the acclaimed Interactive Roundtable Seating Format, which creates superb levels of interaction, discussions and enhances attendees’ on the day experience and conference outputs.

Key contributors include Emma Kaye (Bozza), Aryan Kaganof (Director of SMS Sugar Man), Mark Rayner (DStv Mobile), Candice Goodman (Mobitainment), Musa Kalenga (IHOP World), Richard Morgan-Grenville (Supa Strikas), Nevo Hadas, (/dev/null), Jon Hoelher (Starfish Mobile), Brett Loubser (Samsung), Fela Oke (Goldrush Entertainment), Wesley Lynch (Realmdigital), Russell Southwood (Balancing Act), Isis Nyong’o (InMobi), Toby Shapshak (Stuff Magazine), Karen Liebenberg (Digital Music Specialist), Justin Spratt (Quirk), Mark Kaigwa (Afrinnovator), Vincent Maher (Motribe), Honey Onile-Ere (Independent Entertainment Professional), Tim Bishop (Prezence) and Obi Asika (Storm360).

For more information on Mobile Entertainment Africa, including the latest news and updates, visit here:  or send an email to  Ticket subsidies are available for mobile start-ups and developers.

Venue: “One&Only Resort Hotel”, Cape Town, South Africa
From the team behind the Mobile Web in Africa series of events comes Mobile Entertainment Africa.  The event will give attendees the opportunity to gain and exchange knowledge and expertise regarding maximising the entertainment opportunity on handheld devices in Africa.
For more visit the website here: