Star­times: Shar­ing Dig­i­tal TV with Africa

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Qian Chui­jun, pol­ished by Mark Zuiderveld

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.

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