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MultiChoice Africa ups subscriber numbers

MultiChoice Africa's subscriber base has reached 830 000 – marking a 26% increase during the past year.

Eben Greyling, CEO of MultiChoice Africa, attributes the growth to the company's focus on producing local content. “There has been substantial growth in local content across the board. We've also increased our investment in African leagues in Angola, Zambia, Kenya and Ghana.”

He adds that, in the past 18 months, the company has benefited from more liberal regulatory environments than in SA, as well as continued economic growth on the continent.

The company achieved this increase despite growth in competition across the continent. Start-up satellite services such as GTV – with services in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – have provided competition in the satellite TV broadcasting field. With more players in the market, and increased regulation by some African countries, the company now has to contend with the possibility of increased operations and content costs.

“For the future, we are looking at ways of increasing the penetration of pay-TV across the continent,” Greyling says.

He notes there are still challenges, saying: “One of the biggest challenges we face is around infrastructure. Electricity is a problem in some African countries and it's obviously essential for us. Another challenge is piracy. There is a lot of stealing of content and rebroadcasting going on.”

High-definition (HD) is another hurdle the company will soon have to cross, as the service is currently not available outside of Southern Africa. Greyling comments that the service might be available around September next year – once the company has migrated to a new satellite which supports the HD format.

Closer to home

On the local front, MultiChoice is facing an ever more complex market and is looking at various new technologies to enhance the traditional broadcasting model.

Speaking at last week's 2008 MyBroadband Conference, Richard Fyffe, MultiChoice's GM of new media, said traditional broadcasters are being hit with a wave of new media. “Things like YouTube and WebTV are having a large impact on the broadcasting model.”

Fyffe added that high-definition is also having a global impact on television providers. “HD is gaining traction and becoming important. It's like going from black-and-white TV to colour broadcasting. Once you've seen it, you won't go back.”

However, he said the company has a few tricks up its sleeve to combat the emerging online trends. “One new feature that will come out next year will be push video-on-demand (VOD). We will take a TV show and push it to the hard drive on the set-top box,” explained Fyffe.

While the company's VOD service will initially be limited to push from the satellite, it is hoping to make use of increasingly affordable broadband options to link set-top boxes to the Internet and allow subscribers to download TV shows and movies in a pull service.

Allowing the decoders to connect to the Internet, and network to other devices in the home is what Fyffe called “closing the circle on the restrictions that MultiChoice can provide”. Taking advantage of Internet access could allow the company to respond to Internet “fashion trends”, he added.

“People could connect to online personal media content like YouTube and other third-party applications. We can start offering connected gaming and transactional services. Not to mention another advertising platform.”

MultiChoice says these services will make it hard for any local IPTV entrant to make a mark. “These services are being offered online internationally by IPTV providers, but locally you would need fibre to the home for the last mile. We have access to satellite, which makes our last mile a good option.”

The satellite TV provider is in the process of testing TV to the mobile phone, and is also participating in government's digital terrestrial migration trials. It is testing between six and 12 channels on government's trial set-top boxes.

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