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China's StarTimes Is Now One of Africa's Most Important Media Companies

The Beijing-based StarTimes Group is now one of Africa’s most important media companies with 10 million subscribers across 30 countries. The pay TV company is leading the continent’s transition from analog to digital television with some of the world’s most affordable cable/satellite TV packages priced as low as $4 per month.

In the burgeoning Digital TV sector, StarTime is far and away the market leader. The company’s reach covers 90 of the continent’s population powered by 5,000 distributions and 3,000 convenience shops where consumers buy their services and pay monthly bills.

Unlike standard cable and satellite TV bundles in other regions of the world, you won’t find CNN or other major Western channels on StarTimes’ platform. In addition to dozens of local African channels, there is a wide selection of Chinese news, entertainment and sports programming.
Although StarTimes is technically a private company with no official government affiliation, the pay TV operator is playing a vital role in China’s soft power diplomacy agenda in Africa. “There’s a huge ideological element” to StarTimes’ African operations, said Dani Madrid-Morales, a doctoral fellow at the City University of Hong Kong who has researched the company. “It’s a huge effort to get Africans to understand China. Even the selection of TV shows is very carefully done. It’s very specific shows that showcase an urban China, a growing China, a noncontroversial view of China.”

In addition to broadcasting Chinese and African national channels, StarTimes is also producing more of its own content in local languages, including Swahili, from its new production facility in Nairobi.
Dani joins Eric & Cobus to discuss what’s behind StarTimes’ aggressive expansion in Africa and how the company plays a critical role in China’s broader effort to influence African ‘hearts & minds.’

About Dani Madrid-Morales:
Dani Madrid-Morales is currently a PhD Fellow at City University of Hong Kong. He previously worked for almost a decade as a scriptwriter, reporter and editor at Televisió de Catalunya. He also taught media-related and East Asia-related courses at City University of Hong Kong, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

His academic interests lay at the crosspoint of communications, politics and popular culture. Geographically, Dani’s work focuses on East Asia, where he’s lived and studied for several years. Thematically, Dani’s research crosses different areas, including international communication, popular culture in East Asia, media representations and portrayals of contemporary Asia, as well as computational social sciences.

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