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

   

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.

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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.

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?


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