In April, Kwese Sports won free-to-air and subscription TV rights for the 2018 Fifa World Cup as they announced themselves an emerging big player in the African sports television market. The rights cost the company around $34m as Fifa pocketed a decent profit after sub-Saharan Africa’s top TV companies splashed big on its flagship product.
Kwese TV and its affiliated sports channels are owned by Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa, a business man who has become a mentor through Facebook to almost three million African entrepreneurs. His posts on social media are widely shared like a modern business manual.
Masiyiwa’s plan is to let more Africans watch the Premier League for free through Kwese Free Sports, and then sell advertising. This is a business model different from the existing expensive cable TV market that has restricted the growth of the industry. His long term strategy would change the face of sports broadcasting on the continent.
Why have you decided to invest in the African cable television market?
There’s always room for other players as long as the existing players do not behave as a monopoly and do not behave in a predatory manner. Africa is a very big market and it needs more than one player. We have a satellite service with 75 channels, seven are sports channels. One of our sports channels is free, in fact, we run the English Premier League on it, we don’t run it not on our paid channels. If somebody buys our decoder, even if they have no money, we have five channels that are always free including the channel that gives the English Premier League.
We have a lot of rights many of which we haven’t published yet because we are waiting for them to kick in. For example, we have the World Cup next year, all the free-to-air broadcasting rights will come only from us and we will broadcast it for free. But most of the games will also be broadcast on our paid channels.
Would you be looking to acquire more access to the English Premier League when the next bidding process comes around?
Yes, we will. But I also believe that it is unfortunate. For example in South Africa, the government has opened an anti-competition inquiry over sports rights, particularly the English Premier League because if you have a dominant monopoly it is preventing the entry of others. So I’m expecting that very soon the Nigerian government would take the same approach to key rights like the English Premier League that they should be opened up and I’m calling for them to be opened up. You cannot have a dominant predatory monopoly. In South Africa, there’s a full inquiry now and we’ve been asked by the government to make a submission as to what we need to open up the sector. HiTV should never have collapsed in Nigeria it was predatory behaviour that prevented HiTV from taking root.
But the cost of sports rights like the English Premier League and the Fifa World Cup is high because they are determined by the rights owner and not HiTV, DSTV or Kwese TV.
If there’s one buyer how does the price go up? Unless the one buyer has the interest to see the price go up. I’m a buyer of sport and I have no problem with buying sport, if the Premier League is available we will bid. But sport is not Premier League, we have other sports on the Kwese Free Sport. How many people in Nigeria actually get to see the EPL given its cost? Less than a million. That’s one of the reasons why we show it for free. When we show the Premier League game on Saturday afternoon we’re reaching more than 100 million people across Africa compared to one or two million that are subscribed. So how do you develop a game if you’re not allowing the masses to see it? That’s why we launched the Kwese Free Sports channel.
The minister of Information of Nigeria recently criticised Nigerian companies’ spending on European football. How do you see African countries developing their sports products and creating as much a following as the English Premier League?
The popularity of the English Premier League was built, we can do the same. When we are broadcasting as Kwese, whatever you are watching here is being watched in the rest of Africa. There are five or six African countries whose football is continental. Zimbabweans will sit to watch Nigeria play because they know it’s one of the top countries in football because they have watched Nigeria at the World Cup. They will watch Cameroon play they will watch Ghana play because these are our top teams. So we are very excited to buy rights for and to invest in those teams. I would rather spend a hundred million a year behind African soccer than behind the Premier League because I have got a long game, I want to look at the future. So where opportunities arise we are absolutely interested in developing African sport. But again we’re not just focused on soccer, the only reason why soccer is so popular is because that’s the only thing people have got to see. Africans want to experience other sports so we want to broaden that interest by buying every type of sport and putting it into our channels. We are in it for the long term.