Yet-to-launch operator Viva Mobile introduces new VOD service, fights for visibility with diverse content & free access

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It’s been a month since word got out that Zimbabwe’s first mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Viva Mobile would be launching in March 2016.

Well, March is almost over and there still hasn’t been any launch, something that has created a lot of anticipation in the market and as expected, a sense of skepticism.

We recently caught up with Dzidzai Chidumba, the founder of Viva Mobile, and according to him, all the necessary preparations are in place. Their network is ready to go live but has currently been held back by POTRAZ, the telecoms regulator, which is yet to grant the final approval.

In the meantime, Viva Mobile has introduced its subscription-based video on demand TV service known as Uhuru TV (stylised as uHuru TV) with a pre-launch campaign that is offering early signups a free 7-day trial.

Anyone accessing the uHuru site (www.uhurutv.net) can create an account and start viewing content from the pay TV service for free over a 7 day period. It’s the same strategy that’s common among Video On Demand services like Netflix, Showmax, and Liquid Telecom’s ipidi TV.

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What is uHuru TV offering?

Viva Mobile, VOD Services

uHuru TV is also offering international sports coverage

The focus is clearly on international content and uHuru TV has lined up programming from familiar television entertainment brands that include Disney and Disney XD, HBO, Fox, Comedy Central, National Geographic, ITV and Sky TV.

Part of its programming includes news channels (Bloomberg, Sky Sports, BBC World and CNN) and sports entertainment (courtesy of a BT Sports and SkySports buffet).

All in all, there are 43 channels, including two for HD viewing (HBO HD and Cinemax HD) and if things go their way, the uHuru TV team wants to grow this to a total of 100 channels by December 2016.

uHuru TV has three subscription options – A one-day subscription pegged at 99 cents (for single viewer access); a monthly choice for $9.99 that provides SD channels (up to 5 devices can access a single subscription) and an HD Extra alternative that will set you back $14.99 a month with up to 7 devices having access to a single subscription.

Since this is Viva Mobile service, once the operator goes live, its subscribers will also have access to the uHuru TV monthly choice at a discounted price of $2.99 a month.

The variety of content that’s been packed into uHuru TV is definitely going to draw attention for anyone willing to add options for entertainment. uHuru TV has a mix of sports, news and regular entertainment which seems like the right sort of cocktail to convince people to pay for TV.

According to Chidumba, by entering into a partnership with a third party provider, uHuru TV has managed to acquire the rights to flight specific channels that already have licensing arrangements with producers and in the process, limited the burden of individual licensing agreements.

The end result – uHuru TV presents itself as a platform with diverse content that would have been expensive to secure and at the same time isn’t provided by its competitors in the video on demand space.

An example of this has been the access to content like news coverage as well as sports which also includes some coverage of European football like the English premier League, La Liga, French League, English championship, UEFA Champions League and the Europa league.

What sort of challenges does it face?

Not everything from uHuru TV deserves a thumbs-up and it’s clear that there are some issues both minor and major that still need to be ironed out as the service gathers feedback from early users.

Some minor aspects that anyone familiar with VOD services will notice straight away is the far from perfect user experience and a user interface that isn’t as engaging.

Signing up and creating an account to use the service for the first time as well as navigation from one title to another isn’t as smooth as is the case with its competitors like Netflix.

It seems like an unfair comparison. Services like Netflix, ONTAPtv, Showmax Econet’s Kwese TV and even ipidi TV have significant resources for improving these features while uHuru TV falls firmly in the underdog VOD startup category. But then again, this is the internet, and startups like uHuru TV already know that you are going to be compared with the next service available, especially if your prices are almost the same.

But then again, this is the internet, and startups like uHuru TV already know that they are going to be compared with the next service available, especially if their prices are almost the same as the shop next door.

On the subject of money, uHuru TV uses Paypal as the only means of payment for the service. It’s not that much of a big deal for users that are comfortable with online payments and have used PayPal before.

However, that is a niche segment and not a realistic target group for a mass market, Zimbabwean service. The majority of users are people who weren’t open to the service until a few years ago, something that could deter first-time users.

It would have been worth considering a mobile money option, or even just MasterCard and VISA alternatives which are becoming more accessible and easier to use for most Zimbabweans.

Another challenge is the broadband reality. Like every other VOD service, uHuru is introducing a product that relies on very reliable data connections which you are certain to get for fibre, high-speed ADSL and LTE internet but are not always guaranteed for 3G connections and certainly not for 2G speeds.

According to uHuru TV, you can start streaming at 700 kbps, though the recommended speed is 1.5 Mbps for SD quality and 5 Mbps for HD quality.

In Zimbabwe, more than 95% of internet connections are still made via mobile devices, specifically through 2G and 3G connections. The superfast internet alternatives are becoming increasingly popular, but they still form just a niche market of internet users, a reality that limits uHuru TV’s potential market. So the speeds suggested as a standard by uHuru TV might not always be accessible in every part of Zimbabwe.

Also rearing its head as a drawback is how uHuru TV content is hosted on servers in Europe and doesn’t have any peering arrangement with local internet providers, something that its biggest competitor in VOD services, Netflix, was quick to secure because of the huge significance it has on service delivery.

So does it stand a chance? -The market will decide

The best sort of feedback for any new service comes from the market and over the next few months that jury will determine just how great uHuru TV is as an alternative to Kwese TV, Netflix, street-side DVDs or even DStv.

For Viva Mobile, there’s a lot riding on this determination. uHuru TV is more than just another VOD service. As one of the Value Added Services lined up by Viva Mobile it’s meant to act as its point of difference from other operators. Rather than just push primary communication services, the Viva Mobile team is eyeing the significant potential that lies in being a triple play services provider.

uHuru TV could do that. Its approach to curating diverse content plus its price-focused market entry strategy has the potential to sway the right number of users and generate the right sort of market buzz.

It’s all very optimistic, simplistic even. Which is where it’s worrying. The reality is it takes a lot more to get a pay TV service off the ground. You only need to look as far as the casualties list in the African VOD space. All these ambitious and energetic startups were affected by an inclination to bet on very few positives and overlook details that turn out to be major at the end of the day.

uHuru TV has its own set of “minor and major” details that could prevent its takeoff but it’s hard to say whether that will happen. Perhaps the team there has considered other factors that are not immediately evident to us. Perhaps they will be able to address all the concerns raised by the early adopters.  In any case, we’ll find out soon enough.

What are your own thoughts about uHuru TV?

28 Comments

  1. G says:

    they need to at least fix the payment issue and use paynow so that they can accept mobile money payments, their website is below par like really bad

    1. uHuru team says:

      Hi we also accept cash, paynow will be available soon….watch this space for more options.

  2. macd chip says:

    Chidumba is not addressing the core issue here! How do you address the limited internet speed which is common here. If his company is recommending a minimun of 700kbps internet speed for tv access, what is the average internet speed for users regardless of their service provider

    How do you address the shortfall in speed? From my experience with different affordable ISPs, the average speed is 150kbps both on Wifi and adsl. If you are on a mobile phone, l doubt if it goes beyond 30Kbps in and around Harare.

    I think he is building his business on speculation. No hard ground work seem to have been done here!

    1. uHuru team says:

      Just an Example. Buy an Econet 1GB daily bundle on Sunday. Get you bonus data. Activate your LTE. Next problem…

  3. kaykay says:

    Am happy for such novel ideas by Viva.Only armchair critics look at the impossibilities.

    1. macd chip says:

      lm one of the critics who deals with reality! Critism brings the best out of a person or company, but here in Zim, no, when you criticise you are called all sorts of things which exactly shows where our country is today. Everyone is allegic to criticism, its all see no evil, here no evil.

    2. uHuru team says:

      Thank you Kaykay

  4. Bigest says:

    Help me guys i’m lost in this VOD business.

    Do I pay for the subscription and also pay for the data bundles.

    It might turn out to be the most expensive thing in Zim?

    1. uHuru team says:

      Hi Bigest. Yes you need to pay for the subscription. When on Viva Mobile you will not need a data bundle if we get our way. Keep checking for more updates…..

      1. macd chip says:

        UHuru Team, what do you mean when you say “… if we get our way..”

  5. Tip says:

    Zim regulators need to be up-to-date with international practice. It seems that they rather let the industry players tell them what’s new. They should be drivers of international practice but it seems they are comfortable with their “sleepy” role. Zimselector, Ecocash, Viva Mobile! Who is next?

  6. Opolopo says:

    Chidumba is not addressing the core issue here! How do you address the limited internet speed which is common here. If his company is recommending a minimun of 700kbps internet speed for tv access, what is the average internet speed for users regardless of their service provider
    How do you address the shortfall in speed? From my experience with different affordable ISPs, the average speed is 150kbps both on Wifi and adsl. If you are on a mobile phone, l doubt if it goes beyond 30Kbps in and around Harare.
    I think he is building his business on speculation. No hard ground work seem to have been done here

    this comment is 100% on point, speed determines everything

  7. TheKing says:

    Just checked out the service. Seems great. I welcome uHuru. It’s going to give Kwese and Netflix healthy competition

  8. Macd Chip says:

    Since speculation is the game here, l did a little dig to try and find out if this uhuru tv have any presents in Zim in terms of servers.

    From command prompt, l did a nslookup, or simply do a whois on the web. The ip address l got is 143.95.253.119 , next geo location of the ip address says its in Los Angels, ISP : Athenix and its a colo site.

    I signed for the service and according to terms and conditions 4.3, service and tv programs are location based from where you signed from!

    Why all this trouble for me?

    Because l wanted to find out if they have any servers or services based here in Zim. It does look like they have none.
    If you are designing a bandwidth hungry network like video streaming, to minimise delay and improve user experience, you locate your streaming servers as close to the client as possible. In this case, l would expect the streaming servers to be here in zim at least to compensate for the slow connection and unstable internet we have.

  9. Mike Hamilton says:

    ‘Almost’ the best PR piece I’ve seen on Techzim in a long time. Thought the standard was to clearly mark it as ‘PR’, which I see you no longer do…

  10. Gary says:

    With the channels I have seen, I wud rather have this than DSTV, even though you would need to live where there is Fibre and have a smart TV to make it real. Would you be able to stream this via a Smart TV?

    1. uHuru team says:

      Hi Gary, good question. You can stream via an App for LG Smart TVs and Samsung Smart TVs. NB. The Samsung Smart TV app supports only the 2013 (F series) and 2014 (HU series) year models. For other TV brands we are compatible with the Mag 250/254 and Dune HD Set To Boxes that you can purchase from us or privately.

      1. Gary says:

        Ok thx. I have a adsl speed of around 1.80… The player seems to take a while to load ( might be my laptop ) when I press to play a tv station … say Nat Wild, it plays for 2 seconds then the picture goes off as in a white screen then comes on for about 2 secs and so on.

  11. Ngoni says:

    I am having problems signing up using the android application

    1. uHuru team says:

      Hi Ngoni, please can you send your detail to sales@uhurutv.net we need your email address, full name, and address. I will reply with your login detail. Thanks

  12. Macd Chip says:

    My thoughts now are that these guys have nothing original, they are getting free advertising for their product to try and corner Zim market from other competitors.

    Until they launch a real product based in Zim, l do not see why Techzim should continue entertaining their yet to launch rubbish.

    This uhuru team advertiser is choosing which questions to reply to and the ones he answered clearly shows they do not have any product beyong streaming copycats

    1. uHuru team says:

      We accept constructive criticism and you are entitled to your opinion.

      Thank you for your input. – Dzidzai

    2. Gary says:

      Why are you so up tight? I gather you do not have DSTV as it is not a Zimbabwean product and watch ZTV or pirated DVD’s for Entertainment?

  13. Gary says:

    I bet all South African’s who have cancelled and are anti DSTV would do any thing to sign up for this and be able to watch Sky channels, sports and all the rest!!!!!

  14. Llodza says:

    We don’t have enough bandwidth Macd Chip and people must not hail something which hasn’t launched. Worse, something that’s trying to ride on half-backed products (throttled bandwidth).
    If they are planning to ride on fibre then it mustn’t be touted as a game changer when it caters for a few people who cannot be presented as a fraction of the population. It’s like saying Zimbabwean have Bugattis when just one person imports it!

    1. uHuru team says:

      Hi Llodza. Our platform has launched, you can try it out. We don’t fully agree that it’s for the elite. For example, we have a package for a dollar a day. Anyone with access to internet can watch all channels unlimited. We have noticed some of our users especially sports fans buying Daily mobile bundles and watching our service over 3G and LTE, with good results i might add. On “throttled bandwidth”, demand better from your ISP, you have the power!

  15. Daniel says:

    I’m in 100% support of this uhuru idea
    And im sure the uhuru guys will come up with better and faster internet connectivity as time goes on
    The beginning of anything is not always best 👌

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