AfricaXP's Premiumfree TV Bids to Become a Continent-Wide FTA Satellite Bouquet That Offers a Pay-TV-Like Experience

London — Given the continuing slow transition to terrestrial DTT in many countries, international satellite operators like Intelsat and SES are trying to change the broadcast landscape by offering African viewers bouquets with content they want to watch. This week Russell Southwood spoke to AfricaXP's CEO Craig Kelly and Intelsat's Senior Account Director Christell Meyer about what's planned.

PremiumFree TV was launched in late 2018 but by 2019 were already registering on Nigerian consumer broadcast research. This 13-channel bouquet was free and transmitted unencrypted. As an FTA bouquet, several of its channels outperform those on DStv: for example, its film channel Limelight out-performs some of Pay TV operators DStv's film channels.

From the 1st May this year, it will be available on Intelsat's IS-20 satellite platform that claims to be able to reach 40 million households (based on a Geopoll survey in 2019) covering 5 key Anglophone markets (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania). AfricaXP has taken a full transponder on the platform, giving it space to offer a 25 channel bouquet: the test is currently running with 18-20 channels. According to Kelly:"We're going for the maximum number of viewers. In terms of set-top boxes, an FTA universal set-top box is able to tune into any unencrypted channels. It's all about instant reach for us and about no extra equipment or cost for the viewer. It's Pay-TV quality with a multi-channel bouquet."

In eliminating the need for a service specific decoder, marketing and distributing the PremiumFree model seeks to emulate MBC, who pioneered free to air DTH TV in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the late 90s. Now well over 90% of TV homes in MENA have access to free to air satellite TV. Kelly believes:"DTT has been a miserable failure. FTA has to be on satellite as the countries to be covered are too big and the population densities too low."

Channels include: Afriwood Blockbuster, Afriwood Series, Bongo TV, Pulse, Cinema Hausa, Diva, Fight Night, Sports Connect, Fresh, Gospel Life, Kiddiwinks, True African, Life TV, Limelight, LOL Africa, Romanza Africa, Passion, Riverwood, Synapse and Trigger.

Intelsat already has 195 FTA faith-based channels on ISO-20 but PremiumFree TV represents a move to offer entertainment to new viewers. As Meyer told me:"The potential viewers are living on US$10-20 and there's no money for OTT content. They're looking for a diverse, rich selection of education, entertainment and sport. AfricaXP has the relationships with African producers so there's lots of local content and we're super-excited by that. TV households will increase in the next five years and we want to be in the frontline of acquiring those audiences." Over the next 3-5 years it wants to reach more households in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly outside of the Southern African region, which is its current strength.

As a Free-To-Air bouquet, its success will lie in its ability to attract paid advertising. Kelly points to the US$375 million in advertising that DStv already attracts as an indication of what's out there:"We should be laying a claim to some amount of that advertising.

PremiumFree TV has its own ad sales company, AdNet Media but the build-up of sales has been hit by the Covid-19 year. It has had Nestle advertising Maggi cubes and a drinks advertiser who pulled as Covid-19 started to get into its stride:"There was absolutely nothing in 2020 but we are now busy booking campaigns."

So how will AfricaXP reach those 40 million households?:"We have a product called Chameleon and we supply content to African FTA's on a barter basis. That gives us advertising inventory with these broadcasters. We are also doing deals with radio and print media companies and have a social media presence. In addition, we're launching an OTT app and closing deals with most of the mobile networks who have a continental presence."

In Brief

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