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Wednesday, December 31, 2014


From (l to r) Information CS Matiang'i, CAK's Mutua Muthusi, and CAL lawyer Wambua Kilonzo

Analogue TV signals in Nairobi and its environs will be switched off tonight at 11:59PM or after the Presidential New Year address industry regulator Communications Authority has vowed.

This is despite a court application by the three media houses of Royal Media (Citizen), NMG (NTV) and Standard Group (KTN) to allow them to keep broadcasting in analogue until they have their infrastructure in place.

But tough talking Ministry of Information and CAK officials said in a press conference that the switch off timetable as issued in a gazette notice by Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i, remains in place.

Despite obtaining orders from the Supreme Court Vice President Kalpana Rawal certifying their application as urgent and maintaining status quo until the hearing set for January 5, Lawyer Wambua Kilonzo acting for CAK and Mr. Mwangi from the Attorney General's office, said their interpretation of the court orders was that the digital migration process was not stopped.

"I have advised CAK not to cancel the licenses of the media owners but this does not stop the digital migration process from going on," Kilonzo said.

Kilonzo in a position supported by the AG's counsel, said the Supreme Court did not grant orders to prayer number 2 of the media houses for the digital migration process to be stopped in the meantime.

According to CAK Consumer and Public Affairs director Mutua Muthusi, the channels set for switch off tonight include:

Citizen (Channels 34, 39)
KTN 59
KBC 23
K24 26
GBS 47
NTV 42
QTV 12
Family 9
ETV 62
KIss TV (Channel 55)

Muthusi said Kenyans are ready to migrate and cited sales figures of set top boxes which have ballooned in the last month.

Members of the independent STB vendors association listen in during the press conference.
"STB sales have more than doubled in the month of December," he said adding that this trend was taking place even outside Nairobi.


Customers mill around the GOTV tent near National Archives.

A final notice has been issued by the Communications Authority of Kenya for Nairobi residents regarding digital migration signalling that the switch over will not be delayed again.

Digital KE - Digital migration. Analogue switch off for Nairobi and its environs is on December 31st 2014. From Communication Authority of Kenya.

That is the message sent by the industry regulator.

CAK Director General Francis Wangusi was not immediately reachable for comment as his phone was switched off.

But a press conference held earlier today at the Information Ministry offices reiterated that the switch off of analogue signals would go on as planned tonight at 11:59 PM.

A spot check at sales points in the Nairobi CBD found vendors busy selling boxes to customers.

We took a couple of shots of the action between Moi and Tom Mboya Street around National Archives and Standard Chartered area.

The Star Times tent near Stanchart


Takes place tonight. Will affect Nairobi and its environs.


Will take place on 2nd Feb. Will cover - Mombasa, Malindi, Nyeri, Meru, Kisumu, Webuye, Kakamega, Kisii, Nakuru, Eldoret, Nyahururu, Machakos, Narok and Londiani.


Set for March 30th.

Garissa, Kitui, Lodwar, Lokichoggio, Kapenguria, Kabarnet, Migori, Voi, Mbwinzau/Kibwezi, Namanga and all other remaining sites.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


GOTV has lowered the cost of its decoders to Sh99 by including two months free subscription with its boxes and launched a Free to Air lifetime option for consumers in its latest push for market leadership.

The move underscores the high stakes battle for the digital TV market with 3 days to go before switch off of analogue TV signals in Nairobi.

The company is locked in grim battle for control of the over 1million TV sets market in Nairobi with rival Startimes and other independent set top box vendors.
At an average cost of Sh500 per subscription, the Nairobi market alone could be worth Sh500 million monthly or US$5.52m.

With a payment of Sh1700 or equivalent to two months subscription to GOTV plus one gets the GOTV set top box with the option to begin paying monthly subscriptions after two months.

"We are offering affordable family entertainment, a new mass market product (free to air boxes) and clear digital quality and sound," a GOTV spokesperson said.

"This is a 2-in-1 option. There is the free to air option and there is the pay TV option."

The free to air option will see the consumer pay a Sh2600 administration fee at the end of two months to convert it to an FTA box. The admin fee will enable such a customer to continue using GOTV after sales service if for example they wish to come back.

Also, when the set top boxes are upgraded, the FTA decoders will also be automatically upgraded.

In the FTA field the company will compete with 61 authorized vendors of STBs who are operating under the independent set top box distributors association of Kenya banner.

The pay TV provider who runs on the SIGNET signal distribution platform says monthly fees for normal GOTV will be Sh499 while for GOTV plus will be Sh799.

Content has been targeted with offering for kids such as Disneyland to movies and documentary channels for adults.

*A review of the content offering will be forthcoming on this blog.

After pricing, content could be the next battlefront particularly as government moves to institute the local content rule requiring a certain amount of programming be devoted to local content.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


They say imitation is the best form of flattery but GOTV marketers and activators are not feeling too flattered by their rival Startimes, more like irritated.

In the CBD and its environs, you may have seen GOTV selling point tents standing side by side with those of Startimes on nearly every street you turn into.

This is not as a result of the city fathers planning ahead and allocating space for this, it is, according to Multichoice insiders, as a result of copy cat tactics from the Chinese outfit.

"These guys are waiting for us to go through the whole process, secure approvals and pay for the permits, then they go to City Hall and ask them, what did GOTV do to get that spot?"

Multichoice's long understanding of the local market and its level of investment may have played a role but the sheer scale of the marketing operation it unleashed with the deadline for digital migration in the next 10 days appear to have shaken the market with rivals now seeming to be reacting rather than playing to their own script.

Besides sales points, rivals are also being accused of copying GOTV ads on TV and print.

Multichoice however is riding on several advantages.

Besides the fact that it has the longest history in the country amongst current players in the pay TV market, it is a keen follower of evolutions in regulations.

Long before GOTV was launched, the company had converged IT journalists from across the continent to its Jo'Burg headquarters to take them through the meaning of digital terrestrial transmission, South Africa's experience with digital migration and likely plans for DTT on the African continent.

It has also invested in local content with Africa Magic and other content  development shows, sports and so on that it can offer on its platform exclusively.

So the home stretch in this whole process was not a starting point for the company but part of its action plan.

It will be interesting to watch how rivals react over the Christmas period.


After issuing Safaricom a Long Term Evolution (LTE) license to roll out 4G services, Kenya's industry regulator Communication Communication of Kenya has ruled out issuing new LTE licenses until after June 2015.

With digital migration and freeing up of analogue TV frequencies, it is expected that these will be available for LTE.

But CAK Director General Francis Wangusi, now says until after the World Radiocommunication Conference which will determine the optimal allocation of these frequencies no new licenses will be issued.

The WRC to be held in November 2015.

According to Wangusi, the meeting will determine whether to issue 2x45 MHz or 2x20Mhz licenses.

If it issues 2x45MHz, it will only be able to license two players, in addition to the Safaricom license, Wangusi said.

For 2x20Mhz, CAK will be able to issue licenses to about 6 players.

However, devices on the 2x45Mhz end up being cheaper than on the alternative.

Safaricom has said it expects to see a sub-$100 LTE smartphone in the Kenyan market by February 2015.


Radio Africa Group, associated with CEO Patrick Quarcoo has made a bold entry into the digital terrestrial TV field with a free to view box selling for Sh3,300 but no monthly subscription fees.

Bamba TV set top box will carry 50 channels half of them international and the rest local free to air channels like local broadcasters.

A review of the content for this product will be forthcoming soon.

Bamba TV will replace the company's KISS TV and also offer more channels under its digital and bamba division.

With 50 free to view channels, Bamba will seek to make money off advertisements on the different channels.

Danny Mucira is the GM for the data and bamba division. He previously worked as the GM Multichoice Kenya and has previously worked with Old Mutual and Shell Kenya.

The digital division is ran by Lancia Digital a DTT company owned by Radio Africa Group.

Times Media of SA earlier in the year bought a 49 per cent stake in RAG for $18m and promised to help in the roll out of the DTT offering.

Valued at Sh3billion plus, this is RAG's latest bet as the country migrates from analogue to digital TV transmission.

Times Media, Patrick Quarcoo and William Pike are the main shareholders of RAG. Smaller shareholders sold off significant part of their shareholding in the transaction with the SA group.

These included Sirwo enterprises of William Chesire and Kiprono Kittony, Sudhil Vidyardhi, Longhorn Enterprises, Xynergy, Kitambo Limited etc.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Digital Migration Must Not Be Delayed Any Longer

The real analogue-to-digital switch over is set to take place in Nairobi at the end of this month. Broadcast transmission will shift to digital signals.
It is a transition that is expected to have a significant impact on the way we receive information, as anyone in Nairobi without a digital set-top box will not access television channels.
This process is coming more than a year later after court cases kept delaying the move from the initial date of June 2013. Digital migration must not be delayed further.
Some litigants, notably the owners of some of the big TV stations in the country, have threatened to go to court again, or to pull their signals off air, rather than transmit them on the two digital distribution platforms licensed earlier: state-owned Signet [through the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation] and Pan African Network Group, a Chinese firm. The TV owners have been granted a licence to distribute signals as well.
It is easy to see why they have kept delaying this process.
For starters, they have enjoyed an almost cartel-like environment for broadcasting and have had the muscle to roll out coverage across the country. For this, they have been charging high advertising rates, while stating audience numbers that few advertisers can ascertain.
It has also helped that analogue TV frequencies have been limited, so the threat of competition has been minimal.
With digital migration this landscape shifts dramatically. To begin with, the migration separates signal distributors from content providers.
Secondly, each analogue frequency yields about 18 digital frequencies, dramatically opening the field and lowering the entry bar for competition.
Third, digital platforms mean advertisers can better track the actual number of viewers on each channel, hence make more reliable investments in media buying.
That this process has taken this long to implement is testament to the business-unfriendly environment brought about by litigant-friendly courts in the country. While it is understandable that broadcast TV station owners needed a bit of time to assess the changing business environment, it is criminal to hold development hostage for that long in their interests.
The country has lost a lot by delaying the migration process, particularly in terms of new investments, denying young creative minds outlets for their content, and digital dividends that we expect to result from frequencies that are freed up after the switch-off.
These are frequencies that can be used to increase mobile technology and penetration to remote areas, boost internet access and so on.
Further, there are investors who actually sunk in money with business projections pegged on the original deadlines set by the regulator, but have now had to revise these because of endless delays in the process.
Multichoice Kenya and StarTimes Media not only spent money acquiring expensive content, but also in importing affordable digital set-top boxes and millions of shillings more in marketing and activating these products.
Multichoice has, for example, invested heavily in Africa Magic channels, developing content tailored to the local market and making use of local talent. However, until migration is effected, the larger pool of audience it had in mind will not materialise.
Lastly, with new technology, you never know what innovations will come up and, maybe, we have denied a lot of talent take off.
Shows like Churchill Live give a platform to new and upcoming comedians. Who knows, with more channels available, the show could be the basis of our own Comedy Channel featuring all these artists in full version instead of cramming them in a 45-minute slot.
Another reason that the migration should not be delayed further is that TV owners took part in the original bidding for a signal distribution licence. According to the Communications Authority officials, the bid they put in was shoddy and they lost.
Should projects be delayed because a losing bidder demands that they must be part of it even when they show lack of technical capacity?
They have now been granted a licence. However, how long will it be before they roll out services? First, they need to bring in the technical expertise. Then, they need billions of shillings to roll out national infrastructure like Multichoice and Startimes have done.
They will also need to buy competitive content to get people on their platforms. How long will this take and should we wait for them to get their network running before Kenyans can be allowed to migrate?
What TV stations should concentrate on is getting the right content. Investing in this, rather than seeking to control infrastructure, is inherently more central to their core business and will likely bear them higher profits.
TV stations in the US such as CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC make their bread and butter from commissioning cutting edge TV shows which Kenyans buy off the streets as ‘movie series’ or in broadcasting rights for popular sports like NFL, NBA and so on. Others like
Showtime and HBO are pay-channels, which carry exclusive material and have no adverts.
Whichever model our TV stations choose, they should do so as we migrate on December 31, not delay the switch-off.
- See more at:

[This article first ran in The Star.]


Fred Matiang'i, the Cabinet Secretary for ICT, sat on the government table during the launch of the consumer education campaign for TV digital migration being carried out by the Communications Authority of Kenya.

But he might as well have been sitting on the "stakeholders" table where media owners' interests sat.

Giving the keynote speech while observing the challenges that have faced the migration process which was meant to take place exactly one year ago, the CS attacked the regulator for being insensitive to the needs of stakeholders.

He said everyone's interests must be looked at in future when making policy to avoid confrontations and emphasized that we must support the local broadcasting industry.

From Rose Kimotho to Faridah Karoney and all the other media interests in the room, this must have sounded like music.

After all, aren't these the same media interests that held up the process of migration by rushing to court last year when Justice David Majanja ruled to halt the process?

The CS is right that the interests of stakeholders should be looked into but exactly which stakeholders?

Sitting on their own, was a group of men led by a bespectacled elderly fellow who it turned out are the "jua kali" sector....the independent set top box vendors. These guys import their own set top boxes which are free to air.

They have been burnt seriously with all the back and forth of court cases, reversal of decisions by government when they had already sunk money into production of boxes only for the government to say it had decided to use a different format and so on.

Between them, one fellow confided, they had spent about Sh200million and a lot of it was unrecoverable.

But despite their pleas to be given some consideration after such losses the CS offered little beyond saying those selling uncertified boxes would be arrested.

The other investors are the content providers such as Multichoice and Startimes. They also have spent millions preparing for launch, acquiring content and so on and had factored in a whole year of recruiting subscribers but were caught up in the delays occasioned by the case.

The CS did not mention them,

In the meantime, the media owners did not lose a cent in revenues as the case dragged on, but continued to mint their advertising dollars on analogue signals.

To aggravate matters further, while holding the rest of the country hostage, they have been accused of refusing to carry consumer education information on the digital migration, an issue that should have been raised during the court case to demonstrate their lack of good faith.

So it was quite surprising to hear the CS talk literally like the media owners are the ones who had been wronged when they have cost so many investors a lot of money.