Managing Director of StarTimes, Justin Zhang, who was at Vanguard Newspapers for a courtesy visit recently, spoke on various challenges, possibilities and services delivery in the pay-TV industry in Nigeria. Excerpt.
COMPETITION, impact so far
StarTimes has already shown their worth in the past seven years, changing a lot in the pay-television market. For example I can still remember in 2010 when StarTimes just launched in Nigeria, if you want to buy a competitor’s decoder you have to pay N27,000. During this period the exchange rate was just about N120 to one dollar. Today, 2017, seven years later, the exchange rate has gone up to N360.
Now, they reduced their price to N9,900. They did this because of competition.
For StarTimes, at the beginning we did not start directly with satellite technology, we started with digital terrestrial. So, in the beginning we offered laudable products to Nigerians. We forced competition to reduce the price of their decoders, and also their subscription fee.
When StarTimes entered Nigeria, we were charging a maximum of N3,000 as subscription fee, now you can even subscribe with just N400. I think this is a very positive change in the market.
Competition in the market
Also for the content, just like we discussed earlier concerning all the sports content like Bundesliga, Seria A, La liga, StarTimes is ready to share more sports contents on Bundesliga, Seria A and league 1. I think with the competition there will be more changes to your content in future.
Many subscribers are asking for pay–as–you-go, I think we are going to bring it soon. In the future customers will enjoy pay-per-day. So, I think these are the different changes in the market and I think within time subscribers would not say DSTV is monopolistic. With more competition in the market, Nigerians will get more benefits.
Viewership spread and milestone
The viewership spread of StarTimes is 4million plus, I can’t give you the exact figure now. We are doing more to surpass this number. This will be settled when we fully go into digital switchover.
For digital switchover StarTimes is ready, StarTimes is a joint venture between Nigeria Television Authority, NTA and Star Communication in China. We are also in the partnership to help the Nigeria government to achieve the VSO target. NTA has a company called ATS, this is the company doing the VSO and StarTimes is the technical partner to them. So, now in Nigeria we have built 180 stations we have covered all the states, except Yobe and Yola. We have plans to cover Maiduguri this year.
Our Chief Technical Officer is in Maiduguri presently, doing research as we are starting work there in earnest. ATS has StarTimes as a partner which has telecast stations on ground. We are putting efforts to finish construction in this other states as soon as possible.
For example, we are already in Kwara, Osun and Enugu States, we only spent one month to finish the constructions there. So ATS is available in those three States. Once the government gives ATS or StarTimes switchover permission I think we can finish every other thing as soon as possible. So when the digital switchover happens definitely every family will need decoder, the subscriber base will increase fast. If the video subscription on demand VSoD happens, 10million subscribers will not be far away from us.
Switchover /Picture quality
May be we should talk about ATS, not about StarTimes or VSoD, because ATS is the one that is carrying the VSoD. I think, for the content it is not really an issue. I know in Nigeria there are many corporate producers, many channels and most of the local channels are on StarTimes platform already.
So now if they want to transmit in ATS it would not be difficult to transmit these channels to StarTimes from our ATS platform. I think on our ATS we are almost ready, ATS will achieve the target.
Mostly we buy contents. We have Hausa channel for ST Dadinkowa, Yoruba for ST Yoruba. We buy content from the producers. We also have plans to engage Nigeria Nollywood industry to producer content in Nigeria and recently we had a discussion with a film distribution company in China. So we are willing to help export Nigeria movie to China, we want to make Nollywood movie to cover the biggest movie market in the world because China has the most population in the world.
Possibility of Pay-as-you-go model
It depends on how you define pay-as-you-go. For the pay-tv company it is a broadcasting technology, it is a one way communication. It is not like the telecoms company that is a two way.
So if you define it to say you want to watch one hour, and you want to pay for one hour, it is difficult to achieve, because I cannot get information from the decoder and because I cannot get information from the decoder it is impossible.
When we talk of pay-as-you-go, we may be construing it to mean pay-per-day. So, if you want to watch a match today you can pay for one day, or you pay for one week or pay for month for your family.
I think this is another definition for pay-as-you-go. You can pay per day instead of paying per month. We can then say that pay-per-day is the same as pay-as-you-go as misconstrued?
Plans in place for pay-per-day
We have plans. I cannot give you the details. It is not something I can share with the public now.
It is not true that Nigerian employees are not treated well in the company. I can give you some figures so that you can understand. In StarTimes Nigeria, we have about 1,300 staff and the Chinese staff is about 30 plus, that means most of our employees are Nigerians.
Nigeria are also holding high positions. Our Chief Operating Officer, Marketing Director and Human Resources Director are Nigerians. In the Headquarter here in Nigeria, we have seven staff at Directors level, four are Nigerians and three are Chinese. We are a company, sometimes some staff will leave and new ones will come, it is normal. I think it is someone who wants to make stories out of it.
Of course every year our graph is going up, for example in our first year we covered four states. In the second year we covered eight states. In the third year we covered 16 cities. In the fourth year we covered more than 30 cities, our subscriber base was zero in 2010 and today it is over four million. It is a very significant improvement.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Recently in August we had a project in Abuja. We are going to work with the Nigerian and Chinese governments to support the villages in Nigeria. What we are doing for children is going to save-our-soul (SOS) villages to give support and in the future we will be doing more for the low level communities.
We focus on children because they are the most vulnerable in the society, like children suffering from rare diseases and we do this in all of the 36 states. Last two weeks we visited two homes in Lagos, one is the Down syndrome home and the other is the mother Theresa Foundation. Next month we are to stick to zonal directors to identify homes across the states, probably next month we shall go to Kaduna, Kano, particularly children suffering from rare diseases, that is our CSR focus.
This is still in its early stages, but I can give you a little information on that. We are currently about to enter into a partnership with major international Non-governmental organisation, NGO, international I terms of pan Africa, almost in the same level with UNICEF. I do not want to mention names here so that it does not jeopardize the plans. What we have agreed with them is to empower 1,000 youths, We provide direct employment to about 1,300 staff and indirect employment for 3,000 Nigerians through our trainings.
So what we want to do with these 1,000 youths is to actually place them in strategic departments, either technical, Human Resources, Public Relations, marketing, sales, advertisement as long as it s related to the course they studied. That partnership should be signed this month, precisely mid October.