StarTimes sees huge growth in Africa

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Private media group StarTimes is looking to have a subscriber base of 20 million for its digital TV programs in Africa in the next five years, a top company official said on Thursday.

"We are confident on growth as several African nations are planning to shift from analog to digital TV signals. We plan to roll out our digital TV programs to 30 African nations in the next five years," said Chief Executive Pang Xinxing, ruling out reports that the company was facing financial problems.

The Export-Import Bank of China has provided a loan of 1 billion yuan ($163 million) to help the firm expand its presence in African broadcasting and radio sectors from 2012 to date, and the bank has approved another $60 million loan recently for further expansion, according to Ma Yan, deputy governor of the Beijing branch of the bank.

The Beijing-headquartered StarTimes has businesses in 23 countries in Africa, including a digital TV network and television programs in 12 African countries, covering 4 million subscribers.

Chi Jianxin, president of the China-Africa Development Fund, the firm's second-largest stockholder, said, the fund has extended $220 million to the firm.

"The China Development Bank, the parent of the fund, promised to provide a combined loan of $40 million early two years ago and is exploring fresh funding options," he said.

Pang said adequate funding options would help StarTimes to provide adequate digital television content for African nations.

"African countries should not lag behind in its foray into the digital TV era and should eliminate analog TV by June 2015, a timetable set by the International Telecom Union for countries throughout the world," said Martine Conde, president of the National Communications Council of the Republic of Guinea.

StarTimes' business activities in Africa are directly related to the ITU's call and to help African people watch more colorful TV programs, Pang said.

The CEO also anticipates that African nations would announce several preferential policies to further upgrade the sector.

"Some African countries still have legal hurdles that hinder the sector's growth," he said.

The company will also seek to form more joint ventures with national TV stations in Africa, along the lines of the alliance it has in Nigeria, Tanzania and Burundi, where the TV stations boost advertisement revenue by broadcasting the TV programs.

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