Somalia TV Sales Grow as Many Avoid Public Places

Published: August 19, 2014

Inside the small office, the line of sweating clients waiting to renew their satellite TV subscriptions keeps growing. Technicians crimp wires and test signal strength of boxes while others go to homes across the Somali capital to install new systems or fix faulty ones.

The TV business is booming in Somalia, in part because of fears by people of gathering in public places like restaurants that are targeted for deadly attacks by the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab.

Movie theaters, long a source of entertainment for Mogadishu residents, have been shuttered following a wave of terrorist attacks. Many Somalis consider restaurants and hotels too dangerous to visit. And the Somali National Theater, which had started to pick up a large following after al-Shabab was ousted from Mogadishu in 2011 by African Union military forces, suffered a major blow after it was bombed in 2012 in an attack that killed dozens of people.

With the militants using violence to impose bans on modern cultural events, TV sales are going up, in turn fuelling demand for satellite TV services.

Access TV, a satellite service, was launched in 2012 and offers world news, local news and sports— a mix that many Somalis like. In the past, three satellite dishes were required to receive all that but now only one is needed, along with the receiver.

“It’s a quick sure-fire venture and demand is exceptionally high,” said Abdirizak Hassan Muse, who manages the Access TV office in Mogadishu.

On a recent day, a technician from Access TV went up onto the white sun-splashed roof of the company’s offices in this seaside capital to adjust the signal received by large satellite dishes. The shell-pocked city stretched out below him

With more than 5,000 subscribers, Access TV is a flourishing business. Its web site says 100 channels are on offer. Five other companies offering similar services have opened in Mogadishu. Sports channels, especially those showing European soccer leagues, are the most popular.

In a country that until just a couple of years ago was notorious for piracy — the real kind with the seizing of cargo ships and yachts — and other lawlessness, some wonder about legitimacy of the providers. Ahmed Muhummed, an economist in Mogadishu, said there is “doubt that such operations are wholly legitimate.”

The cost is relatively cheap. In addition to the $60 installation fee for Access TV, each customer pays $8 a month. Muse said business is growing so fast that his company had to train and hire freelance technicians in order to meet the demands.

Shops selling TV also report growing demand, with flat screens the most sought after. A 51-inch flat-screen TV now sells for $700 compared to $500 just year ago. A 40-inch flat screen TV goes for $400.

For Abdulaziz Yasin, a new subscriber to Access TV, the service means he can get entertainment at home without having to venture out to find it.

“Cinemas were better, but with this service we can at least avoid the unsafe public gatherings,” he said. “We hope peace will come, so that we can have fun at any location of our choice.”