Highest demand ever for satellite broadcast services in Africa, says Eutelsat’s Christoph Limmer
Picture above: Christoph Limmer, Vice President, Global Sales and Commercial Development, for broadcast services at Eutelsat.
By Sylvain Béletre for Balancing Act, May 2015.
Eutelsat has been pretty active in providing satellite capacity to African countries, both on the telecoms and broadcast segments. As Africa rather belatedly accelerates the transition to digital TV, Eutelsat has made quite a few announcements showing that the operator is consolidating its position as the key player in that field.
Balancing Act’s Senior Analyst Sylvain Beletre talked to Christoph Limmer, Vice President, Global Sales and Commercial Development, for broadcast services at Eutelsat.
Prior to his current assignment, Christoph Limmer held various positions including at competitor SES Astra, where he was Senior Director, Market Development and Marketing.
His experience with broadcasting, digitisation, consumer equipment manufacturers and installers around the world enabled him to get a solid understanding of the respective industry, media and regulatory environments as well as what all these things meant for Africa.
Q: What is Eutelsat's positioning today in Africa, within the broadcast sector?
Christoph Limmer: Over the last two years I’ve witnessed the highest ever demand for broadcast services in Africa, and the prospects for further growth are strong. Of all my professional experience in Africa these are without doubt the most exciting times. Satellites are a core infrastructure in the digital broadcasting environment, both for feeding head-ends and reaching viewers beyond terrestrial on a direct-to-home basis. Our satellites are today broadcasting 1,100 TV channels, representing over 50% of satellite channels on the African continent*. We work with all major pay-TV providers in Africa, including MultiChoice, Azam, Canal+ in the Indian Ocean, StarTimes, Strong Media SMO, ZAP/Zon, Zuku TV and we see new players continuing to emerge. We’ve recently added five African TV as new clients of Eutelsat: Arewa 24, Impact TV, TVT, Burkina Info TV and VoxAfrica Afrique.
To serve the market, we have progressively built satellite television neighbourhoods that each address specific African regions and offer compelling content to attract an audience. The 36° East neighbourhood occupied by the EUTELSAT 36A and B satellites is where we started, over 15 years ago. Covering sub-Saharan Africa, these satellites are the chosen platform for MultiChoice (north of South Africa) and the Portuguese-language Zap platform. Building on this success, we have opened three further neighbourhoods: 16° East, occupied by EUTELSAT 16A and collocated with Amos-5 at 17° East, is fast ramping up to be a key point of reference for African and international free-to-air and pay content in West Africa and Indian Ocean islands. 7° East, occupied by the EUTELSAT 7A and 7B satellites and selected by Azam TV has rapidly made a big impact in southwestern Africa. The fourth, most recent neighbourhood is 70° East where we leverage the high power of the EUTELSAT 70B satellite for DTH reception in an area including Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya. Each position serves clearly delineated markets with its roadmap for growth.”
Q: So what is Eutelsat’s secret to its growing success in Africa?
Christoph Limmer: We want to be perceived as a company that goes beyond selling services. We are driving projects shaping a strong DTH environment that include dedicated marketing and distribution strategies, roadshows across the continent, technical training for installers and marketing agreements with TV set manufacturers such as Samsung. We try to better understand local challenges and propose customised solutions. We define market entry and expansion strategies for national and international broadcasters and help to bring content, including local content which is an essential component of digital transition. Eutelsat’s DNA is also one of strong partnerships with other operators and this drove the agreement we announced in November last year with Amos to combine our strengths and offer Africa’s broadcast community the full benefits of our expertise.
Q: Where is the market going?
Christoph Limmer: Besides pay TV and the progressive addition of High-Definition channels, we see increasing interest from free-to-air channels to target the growing middle class in a number of African countries: from South Africa, West Africa – e.g. Ghana, Nigeria – to the Indian Ocean. East Africa, with Kenya and Tanzania, hold continued strong potential, while Ethiopia, Sudan and DRC are probably the next frontiers. Today, we carry over 100 free-to-air channels across Africa. Besides those trends we are moving to a multi-technology audiovisual access landscape.»
Q: What are your key challenges in Africa?
Christoph Limmer: Some of the key challenges are behind us. For example, we see decision-makers much more educated and motivated on the stakes for digital broadcasting than 2 years ago. They have fully integrated that DTT will happen with the help of satellites. There are still some financial and copyright infringement issues, but the market is very dynamic and open to trying new solutions.
Q: In terms of the digital transition in broadcasting, what solutions are you proposing?
Christoph Limmer: Our goal is to help drive the digitization process and contribute to building and growing a dynamic and sustainable broadcasting sector across the Africa continent. Through our experience in other regions of the world that have completed analogue switch-off and achieved 100% coverage, we are convinced that hybrid terrestrial-satellite solutions are the right mix and a cost-saver for Africa. Satellite has both timing and coverage advantages. We can deploy digital infrastructure quickly and we can provide blanket reach of a region thereby limiting the massive investment in terrestrial towers to cover the last mile.
Note: *Cross-checking with Balancing Act’s data at the end of April 2015, Eutelsat contributes to broadcasting the top 10 pay TV providers in Africa, representing a contribution to carry signals to around 9 million households over 16 million pay TV households in total.
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