Prepaid pay-TV takes off


At the time of going to press over 3 000 TopTV prepaid vouchers had been activated since 13 August, when the South African satellite pay-TV operator became the first in the country to launch a prepaid payment option for subscribers.

The vouchers were sold before the roll-out of TopTV’s marketing strategy, which commenced on 23 September.

Approximately 20% of the vouchers were purchased by new TopTV customers, with the rest bought by existing but dormant subscribers.

The introduction of the prepaid model is positioned as a key factor in TopTV’s turnaround strategy, motivated by a full review of the broadcaster’s business earlier this year.

“Our call centre gets between 100 to 150 calls a day enquiring about the prepaid payment option,’ says Brandon Duffield, VP of Sales & New Business.

Activation of the prepaid vouchers is done through mobile phones: subscribers merely punch in their decoder smart card number together with the prepaid voucher number and the TopTV service is activated in 15 seconds.

Each voucher runs for a period of 30 days and subscribers can choose from the Variety Package or the Ultimate Package. It is possible to upgrade or downgrade between the two options at any time. There are no re-connection fees in between activations.

“The design and implementation of the prepaid system took place in a very short time – only six months with two weeks of extensive testing. Credit is due to two people, Belinda Jonker, our GM of ICT, and Bennie Vorster, VP of Platforms,’ explains TopTV’s chief technology officer Frans Lindeque.

“We’ve not had a single glitch in any of the voucher activations,’ notes Duffield.
According to Jonker, TopTV originally wanted the prepaid activation to operate via SMS (Short Message Service). “But we decided to go the USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) route because there is only one interaction involved. Plus the cost of operation is cheaper than SMS. However, with any system utilising USSD you are dependent on mobile service providers,’ she explains.

USSD is the protocol used by mobile phones to communicate with TopTV’s computers. Unlike SMS, USSD messages create a real-time connection during the session.

Locally based technology company iTouch Messaging Services is responsible for the USSD development and hosting, while PIN generation is handled by CHKVIEW and Blue Label Telecoms.

Says Vorster: “The only change that TopTV had to make on its side to accommodate the prepaid system was to amend its billing system, with software created by CRM.COM, a company in Cyprus.’

Duffield points out that the system ensures a secure way for TopTV to receive its revenue. “And it offers complete convenience for the subscriber because you don’t have to go to the bother of phoning a call centre and you’re not limited to retail hours. Subscribers have been activating vouchers at all hours of the day or night, some even as late as 02h00 in the morning.’

Eventually TopTV subscribers will have access to prepaid vouchers in over 12 000 outlets across the country, ranging from supermarkets to petrol stations to hawkers.

Says Lindeque: “TopTV has introduced many innovations in the pay-TV market and we’re proud of being trend-setters. The introduction of prepaid has reduced the barrier to entry to pay-TV significantly.’

Prepaid pay-TV has only been launched in two other African countries – Ghana and Angola. Both systems are different to the TopTV model.

screen africa magazine – october 2012


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