How Kenyans are addicted to multiple pay-TV


A man watching TV. FILE PHOTO | NMG

How many pay-television, streaming services and Internet service subscriptions do you have? For decades, watching TV did not come with extra costs and Kenyans were content with few channels and even fewer entertainment shows. But now with options to enjoy diverse TV entertainment landscape, one household can have up to six subscriptions.

Families want to watch hundreds of different things, either from their TVs, smartphones or computers.

Eugene Otieno, a financial expert in Nairobi is one of them. He has four active subscriptions: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, ShowMax and Zuku. Like many Kenyans with similar subscriptions, they each serve a unique purpose; the first three for films and the fourth for a stable Internet connection, plus access to old-school media, which is free-to-air television channels.

Eugene tells BDLife that he is into sports. MultiChoice, with its DSTv and GOTv services, have an upper hand in his home because of its full control of screening rights to both the UEFA Champions League and English Premier League games.

But he also has Zuku, because of sports channels and home Internet connection.

“I switched to Zuku after DSTv booted basketball from the package I subscribed to,” he says.

In his house, he has two decoders. He pays Sh5,500 for Netflix, ShowMax, Amazon Prime and the sports streams per month, For home Internet, he pays Sh7,000 every month.

He is not alone. Joshua Barasa has three decoders. He pays for monthly subscriptions of five streaming and Internet service providers.

Some, especially the hardware, were one-off payments. He has Amazon, Apple TV, which have hundreds of streaming channels such as Showtime, Pluto TV, Netflix, Hulu and others.

He also has DSTv, Safaricom home fibre and TP Link which allows him to connect to American subscription networks.

Streaming service

“In a month, I spend about Sh15,000 on entertainment TV. I pay more because my Netflix is not like what many Kenyans have in their homes. I want variety in entertainment channels and to watch live matches,” says the 36-year-old, who shares the many channels with just his wife.

Streaming service providers are becoming TV alternatives, especially at a time that few care about live programming. Also, families do not want one-size-fits-all programming. One person wants to wake at 4am and watch sports as another binges on a new episode of Homeland series.

“When American basketball is in season, I wake up at about 3.30am to catch a game before work,” Eugene says.

With many options available in the market, subscribers are also not loyal. Eugene says that he switched from one Internet service provider to another after he started experiencing an increase in downtime. The alternative was not cheap but it allows him to use home Internet comfortably.

Others home users switch as prices fall. For instance, Safaricom’s Bronze package, which offers five megabits per second for Sh2,900 per month is now popular.

“Demand for this service has spread countrywide, with the highest being in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret. A majority of our customers are exploring the service for the first time, before then choosing the 10 Mbps Silver or 20 Mbps Gold package based on their needs,” says Sylvia Mulinge, Safaricom’s chief customer officer.

Fixed data subscriptions (home Internet users) have risen from 759,868 in the nine months of 2018 to over one million users last year, according to data from Communications Authority of Kenya.

The transition from analogue to digital television signals in 2015 paved the way for Kenya to become a pay-TV nation, making it only a matter of time before video-on-demand (VOD) services like Netflix and ShowMax had their time in the sun.

Netflix was the first to penetrate the Kenyan market in 2016, offering a select array of content at then-competitive prices. At $11.99 (Sh1,227) for the Premium Plan, viewers could access this content on up to four screens at a time.

However, Netflix’s only content servers were in Nigeria at the time, and when Showmax announced that it would host their caching servers in Nairobi in January 2017, a Game of Thrones ensued.

Showmax, MultiChoice’s supply to the video-on-demand craze, offered access to popular channels like HBO and premium international and local content at the low price of Sh250, a price that was then reviewed to Sh330 for the Select option and Sh880 for premium.

Now neck-and-neck with MultiChoice, Netflix played the diversity card in December 2018 and sought to invest in more African content. They began by zeroing in on Nollywood, one of the world’s largest movie industries by volume, by purchasing the rights to the original film Lionheart.

Then, to up the ante, November 2019 saw Showmax announce that it would further curate content for its African audience, where they would feature even more African content and live sport as well as TV series, movies and kids’ shows. Then, on February 28 2020, Africa’s first Netflix original series, South Africa’s Queen Sono, premiered on the platform.

According to Netflix’s figures, the streaming provider has over 167 million subscribers worldwide, and analysts estimate that there are fewer than 1.5 million in sub-Saharan Africa.

Customers like Eugene have the most to gain from expansion of streaming services. For Netflix, he subscribes to the Premium Plan, which allows up to four friends and family access to the account as well.

Another interesting reason these streaming platforms are important is their educational value for children. Eugene has a three-year-old daughter, with a restriction of up to two hours of screen time per day, with school and other activities keeping her otherwise occupied.

“Netflix Kids and YouTube have shows that are both educational for and entertaining for all of us,” he says.

“Shows like Blippy on YouTube taught her how to count from one to 40, then there’s Peppa Pig and PJ Masks which we all enjoy,” he explains.

The value added is indisputable, in his opinion.

As for Amazon Prime Video, Eugene says it offers “a sense of nostalgia” given the shows one can access, like the popular American sitcom Friends. In December 2016, Amazon decided to penetrate the global market by expanding their reach to 200 countries. In Kenya, however, it has not been marketed as aggressively as Showmax and Netflix have.

These subscriptions have made life easier compared to going to movie-theatres for Sh300 to Sh800 or buying movies, mostly pirated and not clear.