ADN Set Top Boxes, What Are Their Options In The Market?

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Kenya’s digital migration has not been a smooth sailing pitting the regulator Communication Authority of Kenya and three major media houses. At the height of the tussle which led to a switch off of the three, the companies formed a consortium called the Africa Digital Network. They then applied and were awarded a license to carry their own digital signal. The three, Nation Media Group, Royal Media Services and Standard Group announced they were to launch their set top boxes in three weeks. That was in March and the three weeks is now three months with the set top boxes being a no show. ADN announced then that had ordered 150,000 set top boxes set to retail in the range of  Kshs 2000 and 2500 with no monthly subscription.

During Nation Media Group’s annual General meeting, which took place on June 5th, the management announced start of sale of digital set-top boxes in three weeks’ time (We hope its not three months) at a retail price of  Kshs. 3,500 with no monthly subscription fee. Speaking to shareholders Nation Media Group chairman Wilfred Kiboro noted that out of about 4.5 million TV sets in Kenya, there are an estimated 2.2 to 2.3 million set-top boxes in the country. Meaning an estimated 2 Million households still need set top boxes. This is the number the media house seeks to claim.

Do they really stand a chance?

I think its going to be a tough call. ADN consortium is said to control 87 per cent TV market share and 80 per cent radio audiences but the dynamics are a little different. Unlike the TV and radio space, there are over 60 licensed vendors of set top boxes all fighting for these 2 million customers. Some like StarTimes and GOtv already have pole position in this race thanks to aggressive marketing campaigns and better content propositions. Others are empty box vendors keen on pushing unit numbers with nothing afterwards.

StarTimes standard decoder retails at Kshs. 199 + 1500  in subscription value while the  Free to Air package retails for Kshs. 3299. Startimes users have the option to continue paying for premium TV or go the Free To Air way. They also have some small packages going for as low as Kshs 150 monthy. The GOtv package  costs Kshs 1,399 which includes the decoder and 2 months GOtv Plus subscription. Upon expiry,  subscribers have the option of continuing with either the GOtv Plus or GOtv Value bouquet options and pay a monthly subscription or pay a one off fee of Kshs. 1,800 annual “maintenance fee”, a wrong move we have called them out for. The two have aggressively run campaigns besides offering much more content for their consumers.

Bamba TV is another offering that has extra content on top of the free to air content available to everyone else. The Bamba channels are content arrangements with content channels to have them available free to users. This presents a better product compared to the average free to air set top box.

According to an earlier article by Business Daily, the set top boxes offered by the consortium were internet enabled, not sure whether this means ethernet port or Wifi card on-board. This would have allowed the media houses to earn extra revenue from internet sale. It would also have allowed for efficient and faster delivery of the news. However, this has been implemented by Safaricom with their Safaricom Big Box. The Big Box is a media streaming box which offers over 30 local free-to-air TV channels and access the internet via Wi-Fi, 3G/LTE or a wired connection. It also serves as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 10 users. A partnership between the consortium and Safaricom would have been apt.

This leaves ADN with the option of product differentiation. Increasingly, consumers are becoming aware that content is king and the immense possibilities from digital television. Content development is an area largely unexplored, and would offer longevity in terms of revenue instead of choosing to chase an overcrowded market. I am of the thought that the three need to chase this segment.

The other option is lowering the price. Selling a decoder for Kshs. 3,500 is a rip-off while the consumer can purchase the same for Kshs. 1,200 and get better content or similar product offering. They can also decide to sell the decoders at the current price but complete with a bundle consisting of premium channels as well as free to air channels. ADN is yet to say how and where they intend to sell their decoders meaning they will need to establish a distribution network which may also prove difficult.

Even with aggressive marketing locking 2 million subscribers, at that price and for free to air channels, is some rather rich thinking. Remember, set top boxes are not smartphones where one can use two or three.

IMG Credit: Cusquenian, Flickr

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