Ethiopia: SES and AEB Launch New Satellite Platform in Ethiopia With 33 Channels, 12 of Which Are in HD - Looking for Hybrid Business Models

10 October 2019

London — The launch of the Ethiosat platform is another strong signal that the Ethiopian broadcast market is heading towards full liberalization. Russell Southwood spoke to Clint Brown, VP Sales and Market Development, SES Video Africa about whose on the Ethiosat platform and how it hopes things will develop.

The launch of this new platform by SES in partnership with the Association of Ethiopian Broadcasters (AEB) and the Government's Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) is part of a long established strategy to enter the African market:"No one size fits all so you have to find the most appropriate way to enter specific markets".

In West Africa SES has launched an Free-To-Air (FTA) platform in Ghana with a number of players (including Multi TV) and then went on to launch a Pay TV platform there. In Nigeria, the satellite platform was part of the Digital Switchover Strategy and is focused on FTA channels.

The Ethiopian broadcast market is a bit like North Africa, where even before liberalization, it was dominated by satellite. The orbital slot offered by Arabsat offered a mix of Middle East and Ethiopian channels and more were added by the Eutelsat slot.

"This means broadcasters shared the meagre advertising resources with those bringing international content into the market. We're trying to create a neighborhood for an Ethiopian audience. We opened an office there back in 2014 because we believe in a local presence".

Before liberalization, the market was dominated by the Information Network Security Agency (INSA). In May 2017 it signed a multi-year deal with Eutelsat for capacity at its 7/8° West neighborhood.

In 2019, things began to change as INSA was reformed as part of the Government's overall policy reforms. In June 2019 Acting Communications Director Solomon Tesfaye admitted to The Reporter that there had been a heavy toll from the sudden exodus of key security officials and that the past few months had been unusually tough since the Agency has launched reform initiatives on multiple fronts on top of the need to feel the vacuum left by the loss of human resources. One these reforms was to liberalize platform licensing:"INSA supports the development of the market and slot 57 degrees East is the perfect footprint for Ethiopia. Independent local broadcasters came to the table to talk about setting up the Ethiosat platform".

The new platform offers 37 new channels, 12 of which are in HD. Some of the channels - a mix of local and international - are listed below with the HD channels first:

Afri Health TV (HD)

Ahadu TV (HD)

Asham TV (HD)

Balageru TV (HD)

DW TV (HD)

Fana TV (HD)

EBS (HD)

LTV (HD)

Walta TV (HD)

TV-9 (HD)

ONN TV (HD)

ETV news HD

OBN TV HD

Amhara TV HD

Tigray News TV HD

South TV HD

EBS Musika

DW TV (SD)

EBS Cinema

Fana TV (SD)

France 24 (French, Eng, Arab)

Prayer TV

RT Doc

RT News

SMN TV

ETV News SD

ETV Entertainment SD

ETV Languages SD

OBN TV SD

Amhara TV SD

Amhara Entertainment TV SD

Tigray News TV SD

South TV SD

The introduction of HD is a particularly bold move but one that goes with the grain of market developments. Brown said that when they arrived to launch the platform in Addis Ababa, there was a queue of people at customs, bringing in 55" HD TVs but no-one actually has any data on how many sets are being used:"When we first started doing this 12 months ago, if you'd told me we'd have 12 HD channels, I'm not sure I would have believed you. We're really excited about it as we're bringing new, quality content with the top two channels - EBS and Kana - in HD". Also for SD channels it is offering what Brown says is "enhanced SD quality" for these other channels.

The launch has been supported by marketing across social media, including WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegraph. It has provided support to channels on the platform in terms of making things "as easy as possible." It has also supported a 'train the trainers' programme for dish installers and Brown emphasizes:"It's not just in (the capital) Addis Ababa but right across the country. We're creating a broadcast economy."

To access Ethiosat channels, Ethiopian TV viewers must have their respective local satellite antenna installer change the position of their antenna, repoint it and also rescan their set-up boxes but there is no change of existing customer equipment.

So what's the business model for all these existing and fledgling channels on the platform?:"It's all about the quality and depth of content. We're supporting it by bringing in new and relevant international content: news, sport and entertainment.

"We're already in discussion with a group of religious channels that will bring in an other 22 channels. The channel revenues will come from local advertising by industry verticals. All the different broadcasters are trying to find hybrid and mixed models". He sees the sale of former broadcast spectrum for 4G and 5G as one way of lowering the CAPEX cost of making the digital transition. The biggest lesson from the West African platforms is that "finding the right hybrid model is the key."

The broader Ethiopian privatization programme will in a relatively short period of time create a number of companies (particularly mobile operators) who will have a strong incentive to spend on TV advertising to reach Ethiopian consumers, providing a part of the hybrid model that each channel will need to find.

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