London — Whether it's DTT or satellite, Africa will over the next three years become a multi-channel continent. The number of countries with a single Mr President TV channel with continue to decrease. This week satellite operator SES upped the stakes by launching a new digital TV platform for West Africa in partnership with Computer Warehouse Group in Nigeria.
SES has already been working with Multi TV in Ghana which has a Free-To-Air bouquet of 28 channels: 10 put together by Multi TV and 18 from other sources. With this many households, Multi TV has now got a reach that begins to be comparable to the existing analogue big players. Furthermore, the satellite beam covers 100% of the country, giving coverage to the 70%+ of Ghana's population that has access to electricity.
SES will seek to repeat this success in Nigeria by offering an independent, local platform. Operating from SES's ASTRA 2F satellite at 28.2 degrees East, this TV platform in Nigeria will be the country's first free-to-air (FTA) DTH digital TV platform and provide the opportunity for broadcasters to reach satellite homes across West Africa that have their dishes pointed to 28.2 degrees East.
The platform will provide end-to-end contribution, ground and space services to local, regional, national and international TV broadcasters across West Africa. SES will be providing the space segment and specific ground services, while CWG will be managing the teleport services as an SES partner teleport operator, providing what it says will be high operational standards. The service will start in September 2014.
So what's in it for West Africa broadcasters in general and Nigerian broadcasters in particular? There are cost-savings in terms of satellite contribution: if you're not sending the signal to Europe or the USA then you can use microwave to reach the platform.
As importantly, it offers satellite space that is tailored to how broadcasters want to operate rather than on historic satellite practice. Instead of having to buy a full transponder from SES, you can simply buy as many channels as you need, offering significant cost and bandwidth efficiencies.
The geographic reach of the satellite offers interesting business model opportunities. If you're a Nigerian broadcaster and you want to offer some of your channels across West Africa, this can be easily achieved.
There are already significant numbers of satellite decoders in the market and if these users get better and wider content, their numbers will grow. African consumers faced with the delays and confusions over the digital transition may well find the idea of a one-off payment for satellite channels very attractive.
It will all depend on there being the equivalent of the UK's Freesat or Freeview platform with some significant profile in the market and a critical mass so that people hear their neighbours talking about what they have available.
The danger for the established TV channels (currently on analogue) is that they find themselves caught between aggressive Pay TV operators at the bottom end of the pricing range (like Star Times and DStv's Go TV) and the flood of new niche channels from wannabees once there are enough DTT decoders in the market.
Rwanda has just finished its digital transition with a hard stop (see news below), depriving 51,000 households of a TV signal. Larger countries like Nigeria will not be able to pull off this illusionist's trick. 51,000 TV households without a signal in Rwanda may not lead a consumer revolt but tens of millions treated the same way in Nigeria certainly would. This means that the field of competition between DTT and satellite delivery will remain wide open for several years to come.
Theodore Asampong, Sales Director for the Western African region of SES told us:"We want to extend our channel neighborhood for Nigeria. And we are focused on Free-To-Air TV channels for the moment and will support them - in combination with our operational experiences from Europe - with any ambitions for any types of encrypted services in the future."