A leading broadcaster of African television over broadband internet has noticed a surge in the number of Kenyan viewers and others around the world avidly following disturbing political developments in Kenya. Africast-TV streams real-time and archived programming over the internet from more than 40 public and independent channels in 25 African countries to subscribers in 50 countries, who can also sign up to watch it on their television sets. From its US headquarters in Westport, Connecticut, founder and CEO John Sarpong says that the contentious campaign and its violence-filled aftermath has stirred more than 120-thousand anxious new viewers to tune in, looking to fill a void in global media coverage of Africa.
“We basically now have several hundred thousand Kenyans visiting the site on a daily basis from all around the world, and I think every African living abroad wants to stay connected at home. It's a lot of Kenyans abroad, and they are highly passionate about these hotly contested elections in their home country, and so we've seen a phenomenal participation in Africast,” he said.
Ghanaian-born CEO Sarpong notes that for a long time there was no way for Africans to view live television from their homelands, but with the worldwide explosion of digital technology, Africast was formed to fill the gap for those living in the African diaspora.
“We use IPTV (internet protocol television) technology to bring cable quality content to the television set and of course, to a variety of digital devices as well. The basic subscription if you want to watch it on your computer is $12.95 (US) per month. If you want to watch it on your television set, you need a set top box that we provide that is connected to your broadband internet connection as well as to your television and then you can watch it on your television set. And that comes in two packages of $15.95 and $19.95 per month,” he notes.
Reaction to the disputed elections is diverse among Kenyan viewers abroad, reflecting what Sarpong cites as the same comparable ethnic passions and intensity as those stirred up at home.
“It's not a unanimous feeling. You've got supporters of (President Mwai) Kibaki just like you've got supporters of (ODM opposition leader Raila) Odinga. The unfortunate part of this, too, is that it's beginning to get more ethnically driven, which is very dangerous, unfortunately. And so you have very varying perceptions of what is going on at home. Some feel they should be there to be a part of it and others are just relieved not to be there, given the escalating tensions,” he pointed out.
When the Kibaki government placed a media ban on election coverage shortly after the disputed vote, it raised serious concerns about how viewers both inside and outside the country were going to get enough information to follow developments with a full understanding of what was at stake. Africast's John Sarpong says this concern has been somewhat allayed by his company's carrying of coverage by an independent broadcast outlet, KTN (Kenyan Television Network), rather than the state-controlled broadcaster.
“KTN is one of the private broadcasters in Kenya, unlike KBC, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, which is government owned. And so, since we rebroadcast KTN, we have found our subscribers very pleased with the independence expressed, and KTN's been an expression of the whole event in the country,” said Sarpong.
Africast runs short video clips and free sample segments for prospective international subscribers from the collection of government-run and independent African commercial stations it offers. Viewers can access the program clips at Africast-TV's internet website of http://www.africast.tv . Although Africast has yet to transmit African telecasts from one country via broadband to viewers in other African countries, John Sarpong hopes that with the digital communications revolution, internet providers on the continent will soon be down-linking and relaying his company's broadband signals of the continent's programs to subscribers in other African countries as well.