Broadcast News

Something that would have seemed crazy two years ago in Africa can now quite easily be considered a part of the near future. Bandwidth and internet users are now at the point where mass live streaming services make very good sense. The number of mobile phones able to receive live streams is probably larger than you think. Plus there are interesting business models to monetize the content. Russell Southwood looks at what live streaming has to offer Africa.

Nollywood is a huge continental film phenomenon but it has survived with a business model that clunks along the bottom as it is largely seen (by the yard) on television or on pirated VCDs. At the other end of the spectrum, African film is an greenhouse flower nurtured by international (mainly French) funding and seen mainly in European art-house cinemas and festivals. The release in early October of Congolese director Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s Viva Riva! in 18 African countries may be the first sign that African film is in reset mode and this time it might become commercial.

The Arab Spring has provided much needed momentum for Free-To-Air broadcast liberalisation in North Africa. The pace of change has been matched in Sub-Saharan Africa where the domestic airwaves are opening up to something more than Mr President TV and satellite Pay TV for the well-heeled elite, with the exception of North Africa where Satellite TV is a more democratic affair. Russell Southwood looks at those that have now got their foot on the accelerator and at the traffic jam at the back of the queue.

What makes people laugh is widely watched. Local African comedy programmes of any quality nearly always shoot to the number one audience position. However, African broadcasters have been slow to take the local laughter medicine: one hit comedy show in East Africa is still buying its own airtime. The recent pitching session at DISCOPRO in Nairobi highlighted the talent available (also see video clips at the bottom of this article). These shows also lend themselves to high levels of online viewing.

Nigeria’s Iroko Partners has hit upon a way of distributing Nollywood content legally, making money and giving some of that money back to the artists who made it. In under a year it has generated around US$1 million in advertising revenues from 2.2 million views and is now expanding into offering music video clips on the same basis. Russell Southwood spoke to its CEO and founder Jason Chukwuma Njoku at Mobile Entertainment World in Cape Town last week. (see the interview video clip link at the bottom of this article).

It’s official. The Swedish-owned DTT Pay TV operator NGB which runs the Smart TV brand seems to have quietly slipped out of Africa, having offloaded off its three existing operations. Russell Southwood rakes over the still glowing embers from this week’s news.

“The Sixth Swedish Pension Fund (AP6), investors in NGB Africa have decided to refocus their Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) investment plan from Africa," NGB said in a statement on Friday, 5 August 2011.

UEFA announced that the 2012-15 free-to-air media rights for sub-Saharan Africa have been awarded to Chinese pay TV operator Star Times. It has come from nothing two years ago to becoming a player to watch. Russell Southwood looksat the implications of the deal for what it may do in the future.

UEFA announced that the 2012-15 free-to-air media rights for the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League in sub-Saharan Africa have been awarded to Star Times. The unusual thing about the deal is that Star Times is a Pay TV operator, not a Free-To-Air broadcaster.

Africa’s TV content market DISCOP is coming back to Nairobi in September. Since 2008, it has not only made it easier for African TV buyers to do deals for content but has become an international meeting point for those involved in the development of the industry. Before Discop launched in Africa, broadcasters on the continent had limited options to buy TV content. Sithengi closed in 2006, leaving only MIP-TV and the small MICA market held during Fespaco.

The front-runners in the race to make the transition to digital broadcasting are now facing a range of issues including: who runs the signal carrier?; how those who can’t afford a decoder will pay for it; unrealistic deadlines and the absence of any public campaign to explain the process. The politicians seem scared by a process that could affect their citizen’s ability to watch television and are seeking to control the discussion about what’s going to happen. Russell Southwood looks at the early news from the front-runners.

Africa’s broadcast and film sectors continue to grow. There are more channels, more local content and a growing professionalism. But margins on advertising remain low in many of the more competitive markets and too many companies are still run by managements who don’t understand how to run things as a business. Broadcasting is a prestige profession and therefore attracts many “wannabe’s”. This years Broadcast and Film Africa Conference in Nairobi (see details below) combines presentations, panels and workshops to look at how to build a world class electronic media industry in Africa.