London — Kenyans in rural areas are increasingly looking to buy solar TVs. Rising expectations mean that they want something similar to a Kenyan living in the city, not a downscaled product with less content and a smaller screen. Azuri Technologies is seeking to meet this need with an alliance with pay TV provider Zuku. Russell Southwood spoke to its CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth about its ambitions.
Azuri Technologies' Bransfield-Garth has seen a major shift in the rural areas of Kenya:"We went to Kenya in 2011 and everybody was buying a little solar light. That was the big thing they wanted. Things have now moved way beyond that. They now want a reasonable approximation to mains electricity. It's moved to a need phone charging and wanting a TV."
"It's a bit like PC buying in the 1980s in the UK. You had to put everything together. It's the same for a solar powered TV. You can get the TV but you're not sure what channels you can get. What we wanted to offer was an integrated solution and we've done that through a partnership with Zuku."
The integrated solution includes a satellite dish, a decoder and solar power plus a content package. The Zuku Smart+ entertainment package gives the user 48 TV and 21 radio channels:"It's got all the national channels plus a bunch of international channels including BBC World. There are Zuku specific channels including Zuku Sports, Zuku Swahili, Zuku Kids, Zuku Life Glam and Zuku Nolly:" The TV is something that would not look out of place in the developed world and we're offering it on a Pay-As-You-Go basis."
Priced at Kshs 149 ($1.50) per day, users can get a complete home power package including a 24-inch television (designed to work on low power and made in China) with built in Satellite TV service providing up to 5 hours of normal viewing per day, four room lights, mobile phone charging and a rechargeable portable radio:"We're bringing TV to people who've never had it before. It's a future market."
Users make payment using mobile money. Once payment has been made to Azuri Technologies, the user gets a text message to his or her mobile phone. This gives them a code number that they type into the unit and this provides them with the amount of credit they've paid for. When the system runs out of credit, it locks the user out. Payment can be made for as little as a week.
Only launched in December last year, it has so far - not surprisingly - only sold in the hundreds:"There are 12 million household and only 5 million have TVs. Most of them in rural and peri-urban areas don't have a TV. Our traditional markets are in rural areas and the Government is keen to get TV-take-up.
Although there is no data yet, Bransfield-Garth estimates that there are between 0.5 million and 1 million households have solar lighting systems. Solar TVs of this sort will probably be smaller in number but around the hundreds of thousands.
This package is the first of what is designed to become a family of products with different content and partnerships and even larger TVs:"We wanted to set a baseline and to offer a product that's not at the bottom of the range. It's not a case of 'it's better than nothing'." This is fighting talk and obviously aimed at the much smaller screen m-Kopa product that we covered last year:
Azuri Technologies sells its other solar products in 12 countries including Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Togo, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Angola:"There's potential to roll-out in the balance of countries we operate in. We need to find the right content partnerships."
What do you think the most promising out of these countries will be?:"There are real opportunities in all of them"
Zuku Satellite TV CEO Jay Chudasama said: "This is a very exciting opportunity we are giving our customers and viewers to have more choices and enjoy the experience to watch over 40 Zuku TV channels that offers high-quality and affordable family entertainment with emphasis on the local content".
Customers can enjoy local free-to-air channels, international channels and Zuku branded channels including Zuku Sports, Zuku Swahili, Zuku Kids, Zuku Life Glam and Zuku Nolly.
Customers pay the top-up rate via mobile money, allowing customers to use the system as much as they want for the credit period. After as little as 2 years of payments, customers will own the equipment and continue to pay only for the satellite service. The service is initially available in selected regions of Central Kenya and will be rolled out progressively nationwide in 2017.