The Safaricom big box – Should it bother you?

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  • 6 years ago
  • Posted: May 5, 2015 at 11:45 am

This box will change the way you view things…no kidding!

Posted by Safaricom Kenya Official Page on Monday, 4 May 2015

If you go to thebigbox page in Safaricom website above, right now, you’ll meet a count down timer asking you to wait for hours, minutes and seconds before you can know what’s inside the big box. Is it some big invention by Safaricom? No it’s not.

The tag, “this box will change the way you view things” gives it away. It’s all about viewing – things – no kidding! The object inside the big box is an Internet powered Android run television decoder for your digital television and Video on Demand experience.

The Safaricom decoders that are already in the country are set to launch officially on Friday May 8th 2015. Little is known about the decoders except that they are 4G enabled with SIM card slots, can act as Wi-Fi hotspot, offer FTA services, and probably can allow Internet access via Wi-Fi. At launch, the decoders should allow subscribers to access Free To Air channels, access video on demand services, and be able to download content from online sources. It is not yet certain how much the decoders will retail for but our friends from the other side have already hinted that they will be sold for Shs 3,500.

Video on demand

The core function of the Safaricom big box will be to offer video on demand services. Video on demand is the online TV provision where viewers can access whatever they want at whatever time they want it – for example, if you felt like watching Churchil Show right now, you would just watch it – no need to wait until Sunday 8 pm for NTV to air it (of course it must be available on video on demand platform). YouTube, for example, is a video on demand service.

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Safaricom is not the first guy in Kenya who has thought about video on demand service. The venders of Coship Smart Beaver Set Top Boxes and a number of other Set Top Box dealers have thought about this model of Pay TV provision, but the greatest hurdle they face is the cost of Internet.

Although Kenya is said to be among the countries that provide Internet services at low cost, the model of Internet provision does not allow for consumption of heavy data. Most Kenyans subscribed to the Internet are subscribed via their mobile phones, thus can only access the bundled data that may seem cheap but still way too expensive for gaming, video downloads and video viewing. For a service like video on demand to work seamlessly, then viewers must have access to unlimited Internet.

Smart Beaver and the other STB dealers are not ISPs and that’s the main reason that held them back from venturing into video on demand TV market, but Safaricom is an ISP. It is not yet clear whether Safaricom will bundle Internet together with content provision via the Safaricom big box or the two services will be sold separately. The shs 500 monthly subscription fee for content appears to be too low to include the cost of Internet, but we cannot rule out the possibility of Safaricom providing “free Internet” to content subscribers.

Safaricom Unlimited Internet

What is needed for “freedom of access” to the video on demand services that Safaricom big box wants to offer is unlimited access to the Internet. Once upon a time Safaricom provided unlimited Internet for Shs 3,000 a month, but by that time Safaricom did not have adequate bandwidth to cater for constant high demand, so they had to discontinue the service. Today, Safaricom is rolling its 4G LTE Internet service – meaning bandwidth is expanding considerably.

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Since the video on demand cannot work within the current data structure (For example having to part with Shs 6750 for 50 GB data), Safaricom must either provide free Internet access to video on demand subscribers or reintroduce unlimited Internet access. Zuku via their Zuku fiber service offerings are already doing a good job where for Shs 4200 each month a subscriber can access unlimited TV streaming and unlimited 10 Mbps Internet. If Safaricom comes into the TV market with any expensive option, then don’t expect it to excel.

Should you be excited about Safaricom big box?

My biggest problem with the current Pay TV service provision is the bundled up channel bouquets. In this article written two years ago I outlined reasons why Pay TV providers out to charge viewers per channel. Since the Pay TV guys have declined to bow down to popular global demand, the savior in other parts of the world has been video on demand services by guys like Netflix.

Even though pay per channel would be a huge breather to viewers, a favorite channel still has a lot of unfavorable programs you wouldn’t want to view. Video on demand on the other hand gives you the choice of watching that particular favorite program at the time you want to watch it.

Thus, if Safaricom big box is going to offer variety of programs already favored by Kenyans under the Video on Demand option, and at the same time allow for their access at no extra cost, then you should be very excited. BUT if Safaricom is planning to charge extra for Internet access and at the same time they have’nt worked out content variety, then their TV provision business is doomed to fail.

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