GoTV, a contender to digital TV across Africa


In the bruising roller-coaster ride to digital migration in Kenya and across Africa, Multichoice may well have established first-mover advantage with the introduction of its GoTV service that is currently being offered to residents of Nairobi and its environs. The GoTV service launched last year in Kenya is offering 21 digital TV channels including the local free to air stations to subscribers who buy a decoder at Sh6255 and offers a glimpse into what the post-migration TV landscape might look at. Felix Kyengo, the general manager of GoTV, a sister brand to DsTV that Multichoice also runs, explained to Star Tech how the service works.

Kindly explain how GOtv is transmitted to Kenyan households?

The GOtv service is received via satellite and re-transmitted from Kenya using a digital terrestrial transmitter located at the KBC transmission site/s. It is received in exactly the same manner that viewers receive KBC’s terrestrial analogue transmission services – the difference is that a decoder or converter is needed to convert the digital signals back into analogue, so that people are able to view. The decoder or converter is generally referred to as a Set Top Box (STB) – connoting placement on top of a TV set.

Since its launch, what sort of growth have you seen?

Since the launch of the GOtv last year in September, it has experienced a modest uptake of the service. We believe that as soon as consumers get to know more about it will take off phenomenally.

At its launch, it was indicated that under the DVB-T2 technology, frequencies could yield at least 20 channels each. You are currently offering 21 channels on GoTV. Does this mean you are only utilizing one frequency and if so which one?

Yes we are currently utilizing one frequency. We are using a frequency that MultiChoice Kenya used historically, which is part of the partnership basis between the KBC and MultiChoice Africa Limited, when it provided an analogue terrestrial rebroadcasting service, which, due to operational reasons and the available technology at the time, became unviable and was suspended a while back.

How do GoTV, Multichoice and KBC fit in with Signet, the signal distributor? Is GOtv running on signet infrastructure?

As you may be aware, MultiChoice Kenya is a joint venture between KBC and MultiChoice Africa Limited. MultiChoice Kenya is the premier subscriber management services (“sms”) provider in the Kenyan pay TV market with over 15 years’ experience. KBC, through Signet, is the pioneer digital signal distributor in Kenya. It is only natural that a symbiotic relationship should result between GOtv, the pioneer DTT pay TV service, MultiChoice Kenya, the premier sms provider, and the shareholders of MultiChoice Kenya, the KBC and MultiChoice Africa.

What is the current reach of GOtv. Can Kenyans access it countrywide?

GOtv is currently limited to parts of Nairobi. As soon as additional DTT infrastructure is rolled out, the service will no doubt be made available in other parts of the country.

What is the current reach of DVB-T2 infrastructure in the country?

To our knowledge it is still limited to Nairobi, but will soon be laid out to other parts of the country. Also, CCK had licensed another signal distributor, in addition to Signet, whose DVB-T2 infrastructure is also being rolled out throughout the country.

How soon should we expect to see enhanced content on GOtv above and beyond what is already offered?

As soon as additional networks are commissioned and available.

If one discontinues to pay for the GOtv service (Sh585 per month after the first three months) will they still be able to access FTA channels like NTV, Citizen, KBC, etc using your box?

It is important to appreciate that GOtv is a pay TV service. In terms thereof it offers paid for channels as well as FTA channels as an additional service to subscribers – and currently these channels are 21 at a cost of Sh585 per month. In order to encourage take up of this new service, we are heavily subsidizing decoders. As these are pay TV decoders required for the reception of pay TV services, it is imperative that we are able to recoup the investments we are making both in terms of the content, encryption, network services, subscriber management and customer hardware (decoder and antenna). This imperative would not be realized if such a pay TV decoder allowed free to air channels to be viewed without any subscription paid.

Do you see a standard platform being agreed upon for set top boxes in the country or do you expect rival platforms to compete each with their own set top box?

Both Government and the CCK have already decided on a DVB-T2 standard for Kenya. The CCK, like many other regulators in other jurisdictions, is concerned about dumping of old technology in Kenya – which is why it already has strict decoder conformance requirements which go with its “type approval” requirements for all STB’s. This already sets minimum standards and is in line with international best practice. It is important that one does not confuse functionality with a standard – a free to air decoder does not require a conditional access system or encryption, as this functionality is wasted on such. However, a pay TV service requires an encryption and a conditional access system. Essentially, it is important that authorities should avoid mandating high level technological standards. Specifications should not add features which go beyond the primary function of, for instance the free-to-air DTT STB - which is the conversion of a digital signal so that it can be viewed on an analogue television set. The CCK and government have recognized this distinction and are acting accordingly.

What about radio and internet? What are their potential under the DVB-T2 technology? Do we expect to see digital radio through GOtv at some point in the future?

DVB-T2 as a technology is miles ahead in catering for radio and internet. As an advanced digital standard, these are both technically possible. However, we do not really see the market/commercial potential for internet via decoders for a variety of reasons – one, you have a huge market penetration of mobile telephony devices that support internet, why would anyone want to get their internet fixed at home on a largely social device – a TV/decoder; two, internet on the TV or decoder may pose challenges for families in terms of which or who would take precedence, i.e. whether it is TV or internet or parents or children surfing the internet, etcetera; third, there are numerous platforms that provide both radio and internet, but not that many that provide a truly multi-channel TV experience. Services such as GOtv, at least initially and when the availability of frequencies is at a premium, should really focus on providing quality television channels previously unavailable on the terrestrial platform. As a result, there are currently no audio channels on GOtv.

Anything else you can add?

It is important to appreciate the role that services like GOtv play in assisting the digitization efforts of both the regulator and government. Suchservices provide new content not available on FTA, incentivising consumers to purchase set top boxes and migrate to DTT. This creates consumer awareness of DTT, spurs consumer appetite for DTT services, and stimulates consumer take up of DTT services. The take up of DTT services, whether FTA or pay TV, will help the country to attain critical mass of DTT users necessary for analogue switch off and the release of the digital dividend.