The African DTH TV Provider – MultiChoice Africa’s fresh update

Distribution

MultiChoice Africa has 4.5 million subscribers in South Africa and 2.3 million in other countries in Africa. Gerdus van Eeden, MultiChoice Africa’s chief technology officer, predicts that in 18 months, the numbers outside of South Africa will be more than they are in inside. The company operates in 53 markets in sub-Saharan Africa, of which van Eeden says the big ones are Nigeria, Kenya and Angola. “Angola is seeing a lot of growth. Zambia, Ghana and Uganda are also seeing strong growth. I would say these are the major markets in the 53 separate markets,” he adds.

The company is one of the biggest acquirers of satellite capacity in Africa, currently using 40 transponders across two satellites. “We are growing steady. We use quite a lot of that capacity for push Video-on-Demand (VoD) services. We have around 15 HD channels running. The rest is dedicated to SD. So, we will steadily increase our capacity usage but I don’t think our market will grow hugely,” Van Eeden says.

He admits the company is seeing an emergence of middle classes not just in South Africa but also in other markets across the region – some interesting customer dynamics are taking shape. “Unlike what some people might perceive and think, those customers are demanding subscribers; they know what they want. They are far more sophisticated than people might think.”

The role of OTT television in Africa is hard to assess, given the lack of terrestrial success. However, van Eeden does not believe satellite broadband is quite where it needs to be to make an impact in the region. “Broadband satellite is available in some places. They are very expensive in our kind of market. It is very limited. If we offer a broadband service, it has to be uncapped, high speed, high quality service to deliver to our customers. … The business model around satellite broadband, even though there have been massive improvements, is just not there where you can offer a high quality service to customers that they can afford. We have been looking closely at what is happening in the United States, but it is very niche. That niche in our markets is very small, it is not something we are particularly interested in doing,” he adds.

With all the recent talk of 4k, a key question is when it might come to Africa. Given MultiChoice’s position in the market, it is likely that the company will be one of the first 4K players in the region. However, with the number of HD channels not exactly high, it could take a while for this technology to see the light of day in Africa. “We might put up a 4K channel to start experimenting to see how the dynamics work, but there is no timeline in terms of when we might put up a 4K channel. Even in South Africa, there are only around 15 HD channels. A lot of our premium channels are in HD. I doubt that we will have massive further growth in HD. I think there will be steady growth. There is still a lot of SD knocking around. It is a difficult economic model for operators. We don’t have a drive to convert all of our channels to HD by a certain date,” says van Eeden. VS