INDIA: Indian, Pak channels gain popularity in S Africa

Indian and Pakistani satellite television channels such as NDTV 24x7, Doordarshan, GEO TV and ARY network are gaining popularity in South Africa, where they can be accessed free of charge

The Times of India
Sunday, January 18, 2004

JOHANNESBURG: Indian and Pakistani satellite television channels such as NDTV 24x7, Doordarshan, GEO TV and ARY network are gaining popularity in South Africa, where they can be accessed free of charge.

Viewers do not have to pay for the channels because the large footprint of satellites targeting North Africa and the Middle East also covers South Africa.

For an enterprising young Indian electronics enthusiast here, this provides an ideal opportunity to start a lucrative business.

Having had an interest in electronics since childhood, Zubair Modak was one of the first installers of satellite systems when the first satellite started beaming over South Africa in the early 1990s.

In 2000, Modak went to Germany to study further and found to his amazement that the C-Band services had been available there for years already at no subscription cost.

A probe soon revealed that he could do this in South Africa as well, and on his return he started experimenting with imported equipment.

The expatriate Pakistani community soon became aware of the opportunity to pick up Urdu channels such as GEO TV, and the ARY network of several channels in Urdu.

Within a short space of time, Modak was having difficulty keeping up with requests for installations and roped in three people to assist him.

Many customers are surprised when the team led by Zubair Modak installs a new satellite dish and also sets up a decoder bearing his surname as the brand.

After the Asians, the Somali, Egyptian and Moroccan communities in South Africa discovered the Arabsat satellite that could be picked up free, with channels from Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries.

In the local Indian community, news channel NDTV 24x7, in English from New Delhi, and the international service of national broadcaster Doordarshan are among the more popular of many channels from South Asia.

The demand became so great that Modak negotiated with a German manufacturer to import satellite dishes and decoders bearing his surname as the brand, and is currently using a second-generation decoder with advanced facilities.

But in the effort to provide ever-better technology, Modak is already preparing to import machines with a hard drive with which you can watch one channel while recording another.

Other innovations soon to be made available locally are satellite decoders with DVD players and large plasma screens which will cost just over half of the current cost of about 35,000 rands.

Amid all the success, Modak has one regret - that legislation does not permit the kind of cable TV enterprises that he saw being used successfully in India during a visit their two years ago.

"That is so successful that there is no reason why we could not do it here," Modak said, adding that the technology he had seen in India was "amazingly impressive".

"Guys there start up a cable service from scratch in a matter of days and the intense competition ensures that customers benefit from both the cost point of view and quality content. I wish we could do that here!"

But what about possible regulation that could control the free channels that are currently received, or even the possibility that some might shut down?

"I have heard that the broadcasting authorities in South Africa are working on some sort of regulation for satellite services, but I think implementing control of services from outside the country which happen to broadcast into our area because of the broad satellite footprint will be quite difficult," Modak said.

"It is certainly also possible that some services might shut down, but then others keep coming on line all the time."

For now, he lives by the motto: "Satellite is my life and the sky is the limit!"