Pay TV spreads in Kenyan villages as costs fall

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On the roof of Joseph Imbare’s semi-permanent house in a village on the outskirts of Kakamega town in Western Kenya, a TV satellite dish conspicuously stands out.

Initially, the dish from a Chinese pay TV company, installed about two years ago was an eye-catcher, but not anymore.

Several others in the village have subscribed to the pay TV service, making it not a preserve of the middle-class anymore.

Imbare attributed his use of the Startimes service to the low subscription charges the company offers.

“If it was not the low subscription charges, then you would not be seeing satellite dishes in the villages in this area. I pay 3 U.S. dollars a month and I am able to watch many channels that include movies, documentaries, international and local news and music,” Imbare, a subordinate staff at the county government, said on Thursday.

His two neighbors, who offer motorbike transport services and have irregular income, also subscribed to the pay TV service, a sign of its affordability and popularity.

Kenya has several pay TV companies, which offer services that range from as low as 0.06 dollars to 2.7 dollars per day.

The companies include AzamTV, StarTimes, Kwese TV, GOtv, DStv and Zuku. StarTimes, GOtv and DStv are the biggest and have in the last years been pushing their services to the public with low monthly charges, a move that is paying off.

The companies’ services are classified as terrestrial, cable and satellite, with the latter being the most expensive.

Many low-income earners have embraced terrestrial subscription, as the numbers of pay TV subscribers grow to about 5 million some three years after Kenya shifted to digital broadcasting.

Latest Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) data indicated that there are about 4.6 million pay TV subscriptions in the East African nation.

Terrestrial subscription broadcasting services have the highest subscriber base, according to CA, standing at 3.53 million. They are followed by satellite at about 990,000, and cable at 128,000 subscribers.

“The faster rise in numbers is attributable to the affordability of terrestrial subscription broadcasting services whose prices range from 2 dollars a month to 15 dollars, compared to cable subscription prices from 10 dollars to 20 dollars and satellite from 3.9 dollars to 80 dollars,” said the CA in its report for the first quarter of 2017/2018 financial year.

Simon Ajwang, a driver with a government department in Busia, said he embraced pay TV as one can pay even for a week only.

“I live in Busia town because of work but my family is in the village in Budalangi, some 40 km away but that is where I have installed my pay TV. Most of the time I subscribe for a week when I go there as I love wildlife documentaries and international news,” he said.

Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT Solutions in Nairobi, noted that pay TV has become popular among low-income citizens due to declined charges and innovative payment solutions.

“The fact that people can pay only when they want to watch makes it affordable and convenient. It becomes like a mobile phone where most people load airtime and use only when in need,” said Mwaso.

Further, convenient payment mostly done via the mobile money, according to him, has made those citizens residing in urban areas and visit their rural homes occasionally install pay TV services there.

“I am one of those who have installed pay TV services at their rural homes and I only subscribe when I am there for a week or two. It is convenient,” he said.

Since 2014 when Kenya shifted to digital broadcasting, there has been an explosion of TV and radio stations. From some five stations in 2014, the East African nation currently has 66 free-to-air local TV channels, 139 commercial stations and 36 community radio channels. Enditem

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