Chinese company revolutionizes digital TV service in Africa, bringing once-elite product to the masses

Source:Xinhua Published: 2018/9/3 18:48:39

A scene at StarTimes headquarters, Beijing Photo: IC

Cameroonian Francis Tchiegue's Beijing life is becoming even busier, due to what he calls his "mission."

As well as filming TV shows such as Francis Tells Tales and Francis' Tricks for Chinese at StarTimes headquarters in the city, Tchiegue also revises multilingual scripts and drafts.

Tchiegue has lived in China for more than a decade. In 2003, he won a scholarship to pursue his PhD degree in Beijing in an exchange program sponsored by China and Cameroon.

As a huge fan of Chinese culture, he speaks Chinese fluently and has become a TV celebrity adored by Chinese audiences.

Six months ago, Tchiegue started to work full-time as a host and consultant in StarTimes, one of the largest TV service providers in Africa, which is based in Beijing.

"I came to China to see what I can do for media and cultural exchanges between China and Africa, and StarTimes has been dedicated to this kind of work for years and years. That is why I chose to work here," said Tchiegue. "It is my mission."

"To provide affordable and excellent digital TV services for every African family" - this is the goal that StarTimes set in 2002, which distinguished it from any other television operators in Africa back then.

Now this goal has taken its root in the continent and won broad recognition from the public and various governments. So far, StarTimes has registered and set up subsidiaries to provide digital TV services for nearly 20 million users in over 30 African countries, including Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa.

China changes the game

In 2002, when Pang Xinxing, founder of StarTimes, and his team traveled to Africa to assess the market, they were surprised to find that opportunities there were even larger than those in European and American markets.

After consideration, they decided to compete in the digital TV market.

"At that time, digital TV services were a luxury enjoyed by only a small group of people," said Pang.

The initial installation fee in many African countries was as high as $200 and service cost over $50 per month.

The root cause was monopoly. Big corporations divided and dominated the African market, crushing those who challenged them.

However, when StarTimes arrived it changed the game. Acting on the philosophy of serving the people through business, StarTimes' service price was reasonable for most ordinary families. The initial installation cost $10 and the minimum TV package with over 10 channels was $1 per month.

StarTimes' TV service now covers the entire African continent. Over 480 programs in 11 languages from local stations to China's mainstream media, world-famous channels and StarTimes originals are broadcast via the platform, with topics ranging from news, sports, and movies to fashion shows.

Joseph Runyenje Lopeyok, an ardent soccer fan, lives in Likii village in the central Kenyan county of Laikipia. He was able to watch the World Cup tournament this year thanks to clear signals guaranteed by the StarTimes decoder installed in his backyard.

"Even my wife and daughters who are not normally soccer fans are now enticed by the game," Lopeyok said.

'Natural connection'

The first time he traveled to Africa, Pang felt a kind of "natural connection between himself and the African people."

"Once I asked an African leader what the most complex human relationship in the world was, he said without a second thought: that between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law," Pang said, which is an answer echoed in Chinese culture and countless TV shows.

That is also part of the reason why African voice actors and actresses have few cultural barriers in dubbing Chinese TV serials, especially family dramas.

The connection between Chinese and Africans inspires StarTimes to move forward. On its 43 original channels, self-made dramas, kung fu shows, and dubbing competitions have all been popular among African audience.

StarTimes is expanding and pacing up its localization year by year. So far there are over 4,000 employees in Africa, with local employees making up more than 95 percent of the staff.

Newspaper headline: Red star rising

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