Kenya’s digital TV battle hots up

By James Ratemo, Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya’s journey to Digital TV broadcasting took a new turn this week, when  the Communication Authority of Kenya (CAK) accused three local media firms of intent to disrupt the process.

As prove that the war is far from over, CAK has withdrawn the temporary authorization granted to the consortium by the three media houses (under the consortium identified as Africa Digital Network).

CAK was responding to an ongoing squabble between the media firms and two pay TV companies which came out through a TV infomercial.

“The said advertisement alleges that Startimes and GOtv are illegally carrying their content thereby infringing on copyright and neighbouring" rights. The advertisement goes farther to instruct consumers not to purchase Startimes and GOtv pay-tv set-top boxes to watch CITIZEN Television, NTV, KTN and QTV,” said CAK Director General Francis Wangusi on Wednesday.

The three media firms; Standard Media Group (Owner of Kenya Television Network –KTN, and Radio Maisha FM), Royal Media Services (Owner of Citizen TV and horde of radio stations) and Nation Media Group (Owner of NTV, QTV, QFM and Nation FM) claimed that two pay TV firms, StarTimes and GoTv are broadcasting their free-to-air content without consent.

CAK faulted the media firms for a ‘misleading advertisement on Television and Radio since Friday 16 January 2015’ against GOtv and StarTimes pay TV companies.

“Subsequently the Authority shall reposes the frequency spectrum resources allocated with immediate effect,” said Wangusi.

Wangusi said the withdrawal of the temporary self-provisioning authorization granted to the consortium and the repossession of the allocated resources does not in any way prejudice the availability of the services of the three broadcasters. 

“The broadcasters are at liberty to avail their content on the digital platform through the existing licensed Broadcast Signal Distributors,” said Wangusi.

The TV advert says that the three media houses will soon launch own Free-To-Air (FTA) set-top-boxes that can enable the public to view their channels hence GOtv and StarTimes ‘should stop duping Kenyans’.

“The tone of the advertisement, its content and timing is intended to cause confusion and disrupt the digital migration programme,” decried Wangusi.

According to Wangusi, the digital migration framework allows for the distribution of the ‘Free-to-Air’  signals on the digital platform under the  “must-carry principle and this was supported by the ruling of the Supreme Court of Kenya in September 2014 .

The said Supreme Court ruling allowed for the availability of Free-to-Air channels to the public through all set-top-boxes (FTA and Pay TV).

“The advertisement dissuading consumers from purchasing set-top-boxes from other suppliers approved by the Authority is therefore misleading to the public and portrays anti-competitive conduct by the three media houses.  Consumers need not be constrained to purchase a specific set top box to view the content of the three broadcasters whose content is Free-to Air,” added Wangusi.

This comes as a reprieve for GoTV and StarTimes who are currently on a marketing frenzy to attract viewers to purchase their digital TV decoders.

In fact GOtv had already said  it is operating within the confines of the laws of Kenya and would sue the trio for defamation.

Wangusi said the regulator has type-approved more than 65 set top boxes which are available in the market today and GOTV and Startimes set top boxes are duly type-approved and authentic decoders in the local market authorized to carry the Free-to-Air Channels of the three media houses under the auspices of  the “Must Carry Principle”.

Advising consumers to ignore the advertisent. Wangusi said consumers can purchase type approved set top boxes from any vendor registered by the Authority and listed on its website.

“The Authority has neither received any application nor granted any type-approval of any set top box model from the three broadcasters, individually or collectively, for sale in Kenya. It is therefore illegal to purport to advertise set-top-boxes that have not been type-approved by the Authority, decried Wangusi.

CAK has also received a formal complaint from Gotv and Startimes that the three media houses have refused to Air their digital-migration related advertisements which, according to Wangusi, is potentially an anti-competitive conduct prohibited by law.

“While this complaint has not been investigated, the Authority notes with concern that it has itself been a victim of such refusal to carry advertisements both in the electronic and print media owned by the three media houses, yet the advertisements are aimed at educating the public on digital migration,” Wangusi told journalists.

The Authority now intends to liaise with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KeBS) to bar the importation of set top boxes by the three media houses considering the purported set top boxes are not type-approved by the Authority.

Wangusi also said the Authority has invited the Competition Authority of Kenya to investigate the 'cartel-like behavior' and 'anti-competitive conduct' of the three media firms and take appropriate regulatory remedies.

More than 1.2 million set top boxes have been purchased since migration in Kenya began.  The market has more than 1.5 million set top boxes in stock.  

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