Startimes: Sharing Digital TV with Africa
Among Chinese businesses engaged in spreading Chinese culture and providing cultural content to local communities, Startimes stands out in Africa, offering affordable TV shows for 9 million African families.
The implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative has not only accelerated infrastructure of countries along the Belt and Road, but also strengthened local trade with China. At the same time, frequent cultural exchanges have deepened identity between countries, laying a solid foundation for cooperation in various aspects. Among the Chinese businesses engaging in spreading Chinese culture and providing rich cultural contents to the local communities, Startimes stands out like a bright star that shines across Africa, offering affordable TV programmes for 9 million African families 24 hours a day. Through the screens it has expanded the window for more Africans to understand the world and turned itself into an envoy for
deepening cultural exchanges and friendship between China and African countries along the Belt and Road.
Making Affordable TV Programmes
For Chinese, watching TV is among the most common forms of entertainment. However, in Africa, with economic backwardness and industrial monopolies, subscription fees for digital TV programmes are steep. The vast majority of families can't afford to watch them and are denied the most basic familial entertainment.
Even now, Guo Ziqi, vice president of Startimes, still clearly recalls his mixed feelings during his first visit to Tanzanian National Television Stations years ago. Back then, many national television stations in Africa were broadcast in only one or two channels. Low coverage, high replay rates and poor signals were commonplace.
According to the requirements of the International Telecommunication Union, all member states should complete transformation of radio and television from analog to digital signals by June 21, 2015, and the deadline for African countries might be extended to 2020. However, even the extension seemed to be beyond the reach for most African countries.
With a growing desire to understand the world, watching TV was almost an impossible dream for ordinary Africans. Startimes came to their help when it learnt about African people's longing for television as a form of underlying cultural life.
In 2003, Startimes drew on its domestic development in over a decade and began to plan its business in Africa. It established a mode of integrating investment, construction and operation and a goal of “extending affordable digital TV to each African family.” Its first branch was set up in Rwanda in 2007, and was commissioned the following year. So far, Startimes has established companies in over 30 African countries, including Nigeria, Guinea, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Mozambique and Ghana, and its business has been extended to 18 countries. In less than a decade, it has become the fastest growing and most influential digital TV operator in Africa, with nine million African subscribers.
The fast development and broad coverage are both attributable to the project objectives established by Startimes on the eve of “going global.” According to Guo Ziqi, the relatively low subscription fees have narrowed the distance between digital TV and the African audience, and helped the company earn the recognition of various sectors of African countries. “Whenever I see the excitement and curiosity flash in the eyes of Africans, especially the children, as they first lay eyes on TV, I cannot help but get touched.” Guo was quoted as so saying.
Opening a Cultural Window
Making TV programmes affordable for Africans is only a start, as Startimes is committed to turning itself into a media platform for cultural exchanges between China and Africa, so as to improve their viewing experience. It has created a unique content platform with over 480 channels, including internationallyrenowned channels, local African channels and mainstream Chinese media channels represented by CGTN, CCTV-4, CCTV-F, CNC and the Great Wall Platform, as well as 38 channels operated by Startimes. Programmes cover news, general issues, films and TV shows, sports, entertainment, kids shows, music, fashion and religion in English, French, Portuguese, Chinese and native African languages. At the headquarters of the Startimes Group back in Yizhuang, Beijing, the staff closely monitor a huge screen of the Broadcast Centre on a daily basis, ensuring that images of every programme broadcast to African countries are clear.
Among a multitude of channels and programmes, “Chinese Films and Televisions” and “Chinese Kung Fu” and others independently run by Startimes are highly popular among African audiences. Initially intended for employees of Chinese-funded enterprises and Chinese living there, they have unexpectedly won the favour of African viewers. In order to meet the needs of local people, Startimes established in 2011 a translation centre, and began to add English or French subtitles to Chinese films and TV shows. However, audience feedback indicated subtitles as too inconvenient. So Startimes started to dub them. However, due to the low level of literacy, many local people could only understand local languages. With this in mind, Startimes dubbed these popular dramas with Swahili, Hausa, and other local languages, and its ratings hiked in a short period of time.
In March 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tanzania and gave a speech at the Nyerere International Conference Center in its capital of Dar es Salaam. He talked about the deep friendship between the peoples of Central Africa and China, and about their emphasis on cultural exchange. In particular, he mentioned A Beautiful Daughter-in-law Era, a TV series that had become a local hit, saying that it had acquainted African audiences with family life of Chinese people. And that
TV series were being broadcast through the Startimes TV Channel.
In the four years since then, Startimes has introduced more interesting characters of Chinese films and TV series for African audiences, aside from “Mao Doudou” of A Beautiful Daughter-in-law Era. So far, it has completed translation and dubbing of 7,500 hours of TV series, movies and documentaries under 240 titles, including Struggle, My Youthfulness, Journey to the West, The Legend of the Condor Heroes, We Get Married, The Young Doctor, and The Ordinary World. After commissioning its new translation dubbing centre at the headquarters, its annual capacity for translated titles can reach up to 10,000 hours.
As Chinese films and TV series grow more influential in Africa, seeking dubbing talents well versed in local languages has become a new demand. In September 2016, Startimes launched a Swahili dubbing contest in three Tanzanian cities simultaneously. According to Guo, thousands of contestants participated in the event, ranging from 16 to 70 years old. A survey of 140 respondents found that 137 have watched Chinese films or television series, with certain shows to their liking. The questionnaire also indicated that they had watched 73 TV series in total. The 10 candidates would be given the chance to visit Beijing and work at the headquarters of Startimes for one year.
Through these programmes, tailored to the interests of locals, Startimes have helped in extending Sino-african cultural exchanges from an official to popular level, bringing them closer to life. It has opened a window of culture for locals, enabling them to better understand China and the world. Startimes is not merely a digital TV operator for many African countries, but also a close friend for Africans in life, entertainment, and learning.
Developing the Digital TV Industry
Digital television has become a result in the progress of human civilisation, as well as a huge technological revolution in the radio and television industry. As a private enterprise, Startimes has crossed the vast ocean and braved
unimaginable difficulties to the outside world, bringing the most advanced digital television technology into Africa, and change a backward infrastructure for local radio, television and information technology. It has enabled African countries to bypass an analog era and enter the digital era, playing a positive role in promoting local social progress and the quality of its people, while enriching local cultural life.
At present, the business scope of Startimes covers large-scale radio and television integration, network investment and operation, programme integration, translation and production. In technology, it has established an enormous network system capable of supporting tens of millions of users, and three platforms for programme relay, direct broadcast satellite and terrestrial digital TV respectively. With full signal coverage for all of Africa, it has become an important network platform for local media and the landing platform for mainstream Chinese media. It has established a marketing system integrating business halls and channel operators and an operational system guaranteed by a new generation of multiservice support. Meanwhile, it has also set up call centres in host countries for uninterrupted service throughout the day. In addition, 90 percent of its project staff in Africa consists of local employees, who are found in administration, business, legal, marketing and other positions. The localisation in personnel training has laid a solid foundation for promoting the development of digital television and the radio and television industry in Africa.
To better lead development of digital television in Africa, Startimes launched the “Forum on Digital TV Development in Africa” in 2011. By now, six sessions have been held, with an increasingly elevated scale and influence. Attended by ministerial officials from over 40 African countries, it has become one of the most important forums in the African media industry.
Widespread praise in Africa has given Startimes more confidence. In December 2015, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of Summit of the Forum on China-africa Cooperation in Johannesburg, saying that China would implement the “Ten Cooperation Plans” together with Africa in the next three years, in order to promote a comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Africa. Among them, the China-africa Cultural and People-to-people Plan includes enabling access to satellite television programmes for 10,000 African villages. Startimes has drawn on its advantages in active participation, and currently, all tasks are steadily advanced.
With in-depth implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, Startimes has been constantly improving its digital TV services in Africa, and expecting to share the technology together with African countries along the Belt and Road. In November 2016, it won the DTH license in Pakistan after 15 hours of intense bidding against multiple competitors around the world. The license was the first of its kind ever issued by the Pakistani government. In addition, Startimes has also established representative offices in Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and other Asian countries.
Whether in Africa or Asia, Startimes has promised to forge a close link between digital TV and local life, in hopes of helping locals establish channels for access. It has made a point of disseminating Chinese and world cultures, while seeking exchanges and integrating with local cultures.
Digital TV signals are transmitted to hundreds of thousands of households through Startimes' Broadcast Centre in Beijng.
Local residents make enquiries at the Startimes Business Hall.
Local African workers account for 90 percent of staff among at Startimes' local projects.