Companies

StarTimes offers new digital boxes for free-to-air TV

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StarTimes dealer shop. The pay TV service provider is set to release new set-top-boxes that do not require monthly subscription payments for one to access free-to-air channels. FILE

Summary

  • CCK has directed that pay TV providers provide at least five free channels regardless of whether their customers were up-to-date on their monthly subscription fees or not.

Chinese pay TV provider StarTimes will on Tuesday launch a new model of digital set-top boxes that will give viewers access to free-to-air channels as it moves to meet a fresh regulatory directive.

The Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) last Tuesday ordered that all pay TV providers must give their customers access to at least five free-to-air channels like KBC, NTV, QTV, KTN, Citizen, K24 and Kiss TV regardless of whether they were up-to-date on their monthly subscription fees or not.

The new set-top boxes by StarTimes will address this requirement, but it remained unclear whether the firm will replace the old boxes that denied customers access to all channels once they fell behind in monthly subscriptions.

“The company is diversifying its digital Pay Television offering to provide Kenyans with a free-to-air set top box that will not require monthly subscription payments to access digital television service,” read a statement by the firm.

It promised to provide information Tuesday on how it will handle the CCK directive on free-to-air channels for its old customers. #

(Read: Pay-TV subscribers get free access to public channels)

The set-top boxes will retail at Sh4,999, which is 26 per cent cheaper than the price that other independent vendors in Nairobi sell similar gadgets, but still double the price the government envisaged of Sh2,500.

“With capacity to accommodate both pay television and free to air digital services, customers will have an option of upgrading from free-to-air to pay TV at will and vice versa without the need to purchase another set top box,” added StarTimes.

The high prices of free-to-air set top boxes have locked out majority of Kenyans  who may not want to sign for the pay TV services.

Statistics from CCK indicate that the number of free-to-air set top boxes sold in the country was only 11,000 compared to 224,000 for pay television.

The pay television providers have subsidised the prices of their set-top boxes,  currently selling at between Sh999 to Sh2,500, but the catch is that subscribers  have to pay monthly fees ranging from Sh599 to Sh6,800, which CCK says is not sustainable for the low-income earners.

The CCK demand has prompted MultiChoice Kenya to put an advert on the free-to-air channels available on its GOtv bouquet in the local dailies.

Other than the capability for the consumers to upgrade the free-to-air set-top boxes to be able to receive pay television, StarTimes is also betting on its one-year warranty to consumers to attract buyers.

The demand by CCK that pay television providers ensure access to free-to-air channel is the latest attempt  by the government to ensure  a smooth migration from analogue to digital TV broadcast.

(Read: Digital TV switch set for September 15)

The Regional Radio Communication Conference held in Geneva in 2006 set a 2015 deadline for migration to digital TV, but Kenya has set its migration date beginning this  September when Nairobi and its environs will be switched off, with other towns to follow later.

Other measures in place include a waiver on import tax on set-top boxes in 2012, but which has had a little impact on the set to box pricing.

Apart from larger content generation, the switch is expected to expand opportunities for investors in digital terrestrial TV, broadcast mobile TV and  commercial wireless broadband services. The country has rolled out the digital television infrastructure to 70 per cent of the population.

Digital signals are currently available in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nyeri, Webuye, and Meru.

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