We’ll soon launch Yoruba, Igbo channels –StarTimes Chairman

The Chairman of StarTimes Group, Mr. Pang Xinxing, in this interview with EVEREST AMAEFULE of Punch, highlights the essential elements for a successful digitisation of the broadcasting industry in Nigeria.

StarTimes came into the Nigerian market in 2010, what has been your contribution to the economy since then?

We are contributing to the development of the society because apart from almost 1,000 direct job opportunities created, we have created indirect job opportunities of over 10,000. We also have consistently been paying tax, which has run into about N4bn in the last five years.

Generally speaking, in the last five years, we have been growing quite well, covering many cities from a very small beginning. Also, besides increasing both foreign and local contents on our platforms, our staff strength is growing. We now have almost 1,000 staff in Nigeria. Our subscriber base is also increasing. All these have been achieved in the space of five years.

What do you make of Nigeria’s failure to meet the deadline for digital broadcast migration?

The digital migration of the broadcast industry is not a very simple project. And it then means that it will require all the stakeholders actively participating. And for StarTimes, we are just a company; what we can do is to promote the idea. We cannot take decisions, as we cannot fully participate in the process.

However, the digital TV system is both technology- and capital-intensive. The digitisation of the broadcasting industry is not just a single upgrading or change; it is a revolution. So, it demands huge investment in terms of technology and capital. It is also a specialised and systematic project; so, obviously we will have many challenges in order to achieve result.

What in specific terms are the things required for the country to achieve this migration?

There were several provisions that must be met for the country to fully migrate. There must be very good technical proposal, financial proposal, operation and training plans.

This is because the digitisation project is a very complicated system; it is composed of four parts. The first part is the digitisation of the programme, which means we have to reorganise the operations of TV stations, including the shooting, recording, editing and broadcasting.

We have to multiple the signals from the local channel, national TV stations, state and private TV stations, including some international TV stations. We have to multiple all the signals into one platform so they could be carried on the digital network.

The third is that digitisation is a technical network. For example, when we were under the analogue system, one site can carry one analogue channel but after digitisation, one site can carry more than 20 digital channels. The fourth part is that successfully migrating is not the end of the process. Currently, for most of the people to have signals, they have to buy a decoder or setup box in order to receive the digital signals.

For the families that do not have TV sets in their homes, at least they do not have reason to buy another analogue TV sets but a set up box. That means our government should create a legislation to stop the production and importation of analogue TV sets. And these four parts are important if the country would successfully migrate.

What else should industry stakeholders do to bring about a successful migration?

It is also important that the consumers are educated on the benefits of digital migration because there is going to be a lot of anxiety. People will be apprehensive that they are going to switch off their signal, but if we take them on the journey, explain to them how they are going to benefit from the process, they would be glad to be part of it.

Besides the four elements mentioned above which are critical to successfully migrating, the system still needs an entity to operate it. And it will require five conditions – rich content, good network coverage, brilliant and complete marketing team and professional team that know the technology and the management of the operation and the last is the operation.

What is StarTimes doing to support this process?

As an organisation, we have not stopped promoting the digitisation process. Since we entered the Nigerian market, we have been preparing for the migration. The only thing is that we cannot decide for the country but we wish that the migration is achieved very soon, though it seems the government is talking too much with little action.

How wide is your coverage in the country and what are the challenges limiting it?

We are in 46 cities but we cover more than that. I will give you two examples. We are in Ilorin, but the coverage gets to Offa and Omu-Aran. We are in Osogbo, but the coverage gets to Ilesha and some parts of Ife, though we intend to improve the coverage in these areas. We have covered 80 per cent of the states in Nigeria. Our intention is to be in all the senatorial zones. It is only in Borno and Yobe states that we have no presence and it is due to the insecurity challenge in those states.

You know the network construction is a process; it cannot be done at once. This is because we have been encountering some delays, which are not from us. As a DTT operator, we need to be granted a licence for each location and this is not coming at the pace we want to move, as it is taking longer time than expected. We are currently working on setting up additional 16 transmission sites to get a wider coverage as well as improve on existing services.

There is growing competition in the market where you operate, what are you doing to scale up your share of the market?

We have to lower the price to maximise the advantage embedded in economies of scale. When a satellite is mounted and when a licence is issued for the satellite, the fee being paid to the regulator is the same whether it is being used in one country or several countries. And the same thing applies to the content; no matter the number of people watching the content, whether it is one person or hundreds of millions of people, the same amount is usually paid.

The second point is that we needed to have a rapid growth of our subscribers’ base to achieve profit. The idea is not to monopolise the market but to make profit from the scale operation. The third is that we are a high-tech enterprise, so we are deploying a lot of leading technology in our operations, innovative equipment that helps us to reduce production and running cost. So we use cutting-edge technology.

The fourth is that, as an organisation, we try to daily improve on our work efficiency in order to lower the cost. That is the philosophy of StarTimes business and we are satisfied with marginal profit. So our business is driven by the economies of scale philosophy. And it is a plus for us that we have kept improving content yet the price the consumers pay is being cut down on a gradual basis.

What does your company plan to achieve in Nigeria going forward?

We have several plans moving forward. The first is to keep improving our DTT service. And to achieve this, we would keep optimising our network. Nigeria is a big country with a large territory and the land is not plain. So we have to use the DTH platform as a good complement to the DTT coverage. With the two platforms, we can adequately cover the country.

The second area we are working is on content. StarTimes brought DTT to the continent, which has the advantage of promoting local content. For example, the Igbo and Hausa channels, which are regional content, DTT is the best choice for regional coverage. And with the improvement in our coverage, it will promote and enhance the popularity of local content and prosperity of the local content.

The third is in the area of set-up boxes. In order to enable Nigerian families to enjoy the digital TV services, we are providing affordable set-up boxes and digital TV set. We also have very affordable bouquets for different categories of people. We are also providing good content and network for people to enjoy because we believe that good content and network go together. After-sales service is very important to us as an organisation

What new offerings are you bringing to the Nigerian market?

As a pay TV operator, we have to proactively develop the content which could be enjoyed by the Nigerian people. So, we have to introduce more international content like football matches loved by Nigerians. We also have to encourage local content production. Currently, we have the Hausa Channel and we are planning to launch the Igbo and Yoruba Channels. Gradually, we are enriching the local content on our platform. In addition, we are collaborating with the local content providers to launch movie channels for Nollywood and TV drama channels.

Our role in the Nigerian market is, among other things, to be a public signal distributor, and then a pay TV operator. As a signal distributor, we are more concerned about providing high quality services to the content producers, the free to air TV stations, with no discrimination. We also must ensure that we provide very professional and high quality, safe platform for the Nigerian local content broadcasters.
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About Abula Gist

'Tunde Ojedokun is an Editor working for Lappyphone, he loves technology. You can't see him without a gadget. .


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