Senegal deal shows StarTimes pursuing local content, but telco an obstacle
By Simon Ward
StarTimes, a prominent pay-television broadcaster in sub-Saharan Africa, is further demonstrating its desire for local content within countries in the region having concluded a long-term rights deal for Senegal’s top soccer league, but is facing a legal challenge from a local telecoms company.
The domestic Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons kicked off at the weekend with live coverage of games on StarTimes under a 10-year agreement worth 6.3 billion CFA francs ($11 million).
The 10-year deal with the LSFP, the Senegalese professional league, was first reported last month and allows for two live matches per round on the Life TV channel, adding up to 52 across the season, to be produced by public-service broadcaster RTS, plus magazine programming.
This represents a significant increase in coverage, with Mathieu Chupin, the president of Ligue 1 club Dakar Sacré-Coeur, telling Jeune Afrique: “Previously, some matches were broadcast occasionally, and rarely live.”
The deal builds on existing long-term rights deals China-based StarTimes has with the top leagues in Ghana and Uganda, and shows its intention to acquire attractive local content to drive subscriptions.
However, there is opposition in the shape of Senegalese telecoms firm Excaf, which argues that StarTimes does not have the legal right to broadcast in Senegal.
In a letter sent to the CNRA, the West African country’s audiovisual regulator, on Monday, Excaf stated that a law of July 2017 “identifies three categories of players of the value chain of the audiovisual sector, namely service publishers, broadcast operators and service distributors.”
Excaf added: “StarTimes thinks it’s like a distributor of audiovisual services, in violation of all law.”
The telecoms company has also called on the regulator to ban providers of audiovisual services from broadcasting adverts for StarTimes.
The LSFP and StarTimes have yet to respond to the legal challenge.
It was reported last month that the CNRA had ruled that StarTimes did not have a broadcasting licence in Senegal, having only entered the country in 2015 under a Chinese-led programme to give 10,000 African villages access to digital satellite TV.
The ruling was said to have been a response to a complaint from Excaf, which offers digital terrestrial TV services in Senegal, that StarTimes had overstepped an agreement with the government allowing it to provide TV services to 300 villages in the country.
While it did show this year’s World Cup across sub-Saharan Africa, and holds pan-regional rights to the Uefa Europa League, the deal with the LSFP is a further indication of StarTimes’ targeting of top leagues in leading African soccer markets, often in partnership with state broadcasters overseeing the digital migration process.
At last week’s signing ceremony, Saer Seck, the president of the LSFP, claimed that the deal had taken two years to negotiate, but would prove valuable, saying: “We have signed a 10-year partnership with StarTimes, which will increase the visibility of our championship and provide us with significant financial resources.”
There is also a goodwill and grassroots element, with StarTimes pledging to provide 10 synthetic turf pitches in Senegal over the course of the contract. The country appeared at only its second World Cup in Russia this year.
In 2016, StarTimes acquired domestic rights to the Ghana Premier League in a 10-year agreement worth nearly $18 million, and this September concluded a similar-length broadcasting and sponsorship deal with FUFA, the Ugandan football federation, covering the top two leagues in that country.
Subject to the Excaf challenge, the rights to the Senegalese leagues will aid StarTimes in its bid to compete with other sub-Saharan broadcasters such as South Africa-based SuperSport, Econet Media and the French-language Canal Plus.
It will also hope to avoid some ofthe pitfalls encountered by Econet, which last week took the decision to shut down the pay-TV channels of Kwesé TV in order to focus on its free-to-air service Kwesé Free Sports, following a near-18-month struggle to meet contracted rights payments.
Econet has faced criticism from some observers for spreading itself too thin in investing heavily on rights to international sports events of limited interest to African audiences as opposed to popular local content.
Image courtesy of LSFP