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Kenya’s pay TV market heats up

Consumers benefit from increase in rivals

Kenyan consumers are looking to cash in on growing competition in the country’s 15-year-old pay TV market.

The East African country now has four pay TV platforms to choose from following the launch of Smart TV, owned by Sweden’s Next Generation Broadcasting, in November.

Smart is the latest competitor to South African company Nasper’s DStv, the dominant provider, which entered the Kenyan market in 1995 and enjoyed a monopoly until the 2007 bow of the short-lived Gateway TV.

London-based Gateway Communications shuttered GTV suddenly in 2009, citing the effects of the global financial crisis.

Around the same time, Kenya’s Wananchi Group rolled out its pay TV offering, Zuku TV (now touted as one of the few triple-play operators in East Africa), while Dubai-based Strong Technologies’ Remember TV launched MyTV in 2010.

Analysts hope the competition will rouse the pay TV sector, which has long suffered from sluggish growth partly because high prices make it inaccessible to most people: An estimated 100,000 customers subscribe to pay TV services in a country of 40 million.

Smart TV has already ignited a price war by undercutting its rivals.

Its subscribers pay 5,000 Kenyan shillings ($61.80) for a set-top box, and $12.25 a month for a bouquet of eight channels covering news, entertainment, sports, kids content and gossip.

This forced DStv to lower the price on its set-top box from $221.81 to $61.80, to compete with the upstart. Its entry-level bouquet is now $10.50 a month.

MyTV comes in at $21.57 for its entry-level bouquet. Zuku TV’s cheapest package is $12.35 although subscribers can pay less if they use the company’s phone service as well. The Wananchi Group has also stepped up its game, with an ambitious $18.5 million content-development strategy, which would make it the first local player to offer VOD, PPV and HD services to subscribers.

Meanwhile, NGB Kenya CEO Dan Kagwe is confident that Smart TV’s smaller, cheaper bouquets will lure the many consumers for whom cost, rather than technical innovation, is a prime concern.

“We have a product that we believe suits the consumer,” he says. “We have seen most people do not watch more than five channels … so it’s useless to have 200 when you only watch one.”

He said the company was targeting a goal of 100,000 subscribers by the middle of this year.

NGB launched its Smart TV platform in Ghana in 2010, its first venture into Africa. The company is expected to launch in Uganda this year.

The debut of Smart TV comes as Kenya prepares to make the migration to digital, which the government expects to take place in 2012. Smart TV is using the Kenya Broadcasting Corp.’s digital platform to reach its customers.

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