One million Kenyan households in TV blackout, says survey


The CA estimates that about 3.5 million Kenyan households own TV sets. PHOTO | FILE

About one million Kenyan households remain in television blackout nine months after the country switched from analogue to digital broadcasts, a new survey by Geopoll has indicated.

Only 71 per cent of Kenyan TV owners had bought set top boxes (STBs) by last month, translating into about 2.5 million as per the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) numbers, the survey shows.

The CA estimates that about 3.5 million Kenyan households own TV sets, meaning that about one million are yet to buy the gadgets without which they cannot access any television broadcasts.

The number of those who have remained in television blackout has however declined by almost 300,000 from March last year when the country switched off analogue television signals.

Geopoll, a mobile phone based pollster, said the study showed that 29 per cent of the 1,000 respondents interviewed reported that they had not acquired the gadgets either because they are expensive, not available within their locality or they did not consider them priority.

“In December, 45 per cent of those who had not yet switched to digital signals indicated they had not made the switch because it was too expensive. This percentage has declined since March, possibly due to increasingly affordable set top boxes.”

According to the survey, 30 per cent of the households that own set top boxes opted for free-to-air broadcasts while 70 per cent chose pay TV broadcasters.

Pay TV providers are selling multi-channel decoders for between Sh1,999 and Sh2,500 while free-to-air set-top boxes cost between Sh3,300 and Sh6,500. Pay TV subscribers, however, have to pay monthly fees of between Sh499 and Sh10,000.

Many countries around the world, including the US and South Africa, recognised the cost of set-top boxes as a major obstacle to the migration of poor households to digital TV and offered them a subsidy to help them acquire the gadgets.

READ: South Africa to spend Sh23bn on set top boxes for the poor

According to the Geopoll survey, GOTV was the most preferred set top box with 41 per cent of the respondents indicating ownership followed by StarTimes with 24 per cent.

With regards to viewing habits, 45 per cent of set top box owners are only viewing their favourite channels while 55 per cent are exploring new channels on their gadgets.

As at November 2015, top TV stations in Kenya were Citizen TV, KTN and NTV which jointly command a market share of 73 per cent.

The Regional Radio Communication Conference held in Geneva in 2006 set a June 17, 2015 deadline for migration to digital TV which passed six months ago.

Kenya, however, set its own deadline for December 2012, sparking an epic court battle with media owners who argued that the country was not ready for the migration and sought more time.

The regulator and the ICT ministry won the court cases and immediately began switching off analogue signals beginning with Nairobi in February last year. The final analogue switch-off was done on March 31.

In addition to larger content generation, the switch is expected to expand opportunities for investors in digital terrestrial TV, broadcast mobile TV and commercial wireless broadband services, and to support disaster relief.

Consumers who have bought the set top boxes are benefiting from clearer pictures, while increased competition among service providers is set to lead to better quality of programmes.

According to the ICT ministry the television blackout is mainly affecting those living in areas such as Kitui, Lamu, Lodwar, Lokichogio, Maralal, Marsabit, Mbui Nzau, Wajir, Kabarnet and Garsen that previously did not have television coverage and are yet to get the digital television signal coverage.