Most of you reading this have probably never heard of StarTimes. Understandably so. The pay-TV giant we know in Zimbabwe is DStv. In fact TV in Zimbabwe is either DStv or the government controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation which has been in intensive care for the past 20 years or so and isn’t showing any signs of coming back to life.
In West and East Africa DStv doesn’t have the TV entertainment monopoly hold it has here. In fact in Nigeria, African’s most populous country, Multichoice lost the top spot to StarTimes, a Chinese company that launched around the beginning of this decade. The company got into a joint venture with the Nigerian government in 2013 securing its place as the biggest provider.
StarTimes is also big in East Africa where it’s market is almost equal to Multichoice’s. The company is operational in 16 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, with offices in 29 countries and has claimed that it now has 8 million subscribers across the continent.
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And now they have come to Zimbabwe using the brand StarSat.
We spoke to Brenda Matshazi the representative of the company in Zimbabwe and she told us they are in the process of setting up operations
but that they have already secured a license for Direct To Home (DTH) satellite TV in January (see update below). It’s not clear if they have partnered a local company or the government in this venture. Not likely the government seeing it’s running with its own Digital Terrestrial TV projects and already has 2 TV broadcasting companies of its own.
The StarSat decoder is going for US $36. In terms of monthly subscriptions StarSat is currently offering 5 monthly subscription packages:
- Starsat Special $10
- Starsat Super $19
- Starsat Sport $ 9
- Starsat Chinese $19
- Starsat Indian $10
The content on these options varies but Matshazi said amoung other channels, they have: Some English Premier League matches, Bundesliga, La Liga, Chinese Movies, Indian Movies, African Movies (iRoko), AMC Series, Fox Lie, Discovery, SABC 1, SABC 2, SABC 2, Nat Geo & Wild, StarSat Sports, Discovery Science, BBC World News, Bloomberg TV, MSNBC, God TV, ZEE CINEMA, CCTV, NDTV, KISS TV and others.
In the markets that StarTimes has been, it’s strategy has been to be an ultra cheap alternative to Multichoice. This has in turn sparked a price war in in some countries after Multichoice was forced to to adjust its prices downwards to stay competitive. But you can only go down so far, StarTimes has aggressively gone after the mass market which Multichoice has not traditionally focused on. It has ultimately been difficult for Multichoice to keep up and it has had to concede significant market share.
Still it’s hard to say just how much resources StarTimes is putting behind the Zimbabwean operation. The hopes are that it’s not just an agent relationship where they don’t allocate resources aggressively as they have done elsewhere.
Depending on how resourced the operation in Zimbabwe is, the TV space will be very interesting to watch in the next couple of months. All this said, MultiChoice still owns the rights to lucrative premium content such as English soccer’s Premier League and for viewers looking for such content, it may still be the only option.
In our excitement on the launch of StarTimes in Zimbabwe, I was reckless in not ensuring that I did not verify with the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe on the issue of the license after speaking to the StarSat representative. BAZ has since issued a statement to the effect that they actually haven’t issued a license to StarSat as claimed by the representative.
We also spoke to other higher-ups at StarSat who have said that this claimed position isn’t even the position at StarSat. They have promised to “explain everything” to us once they get the opportunity and we’ll update as soon as that happens.
I’m very sorry for this recklessness and assure you that we’ll work harder to verify things we’re told in the future.