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Seasons Greetings to our Readers, Clients and Advertisers

Dear Readers, Clients and Advertisers

2012 has been a year without spectacular, new announcements and indeed the conclusions of several imminent ones has been delayed. So it seems like something of a holding year…

However, the continent’s leading TV market DISCOP came back with a bang in Johannesburg in the autumn. The Sandton Convention Centre allowed almost all exhibitors to be in one hall and the conference alongside had many meaty sessions that were well attended. It will also be in Johannesburg in 2013 and we look forward to seeing you all there.

The last of the international fibre cables, the France Telecom-driven ACE cable opens this week, which means that every country in Africa (except Eritrea) is now connected by fibre to the Internet and the rest of the world. The consequences of this will take a while to become apparent but will be profound for broadcasters.

The Fremium Satellite Bouquet Model: A number of satellite operators have been promoting the idea of a satellite neighbourhood that will carry a mixture of local channels and international content. The idea has two commercial legs: a free set of channels that will be supported by advertising and a low-price, pay TV bouquet that will compete with low-end bouquets from existing Pay TV providers. Operators like OHTV have moved to the new Spacecom satellite to put their content out across the whole continent: See here for Balancing Act youtube chanel. There are already parts of Africa where there are many pirate satellite TV receivers and the aim is to create an attractive content offer for more legitimate receiver sales. Furthermore, the existence of the satellite signal with local channels may have a part to play in delivering the digital switchover more quickly, particularly for areas that are remote and/or have low-density populations. The idea has been slow to get off the ground but maybe 2013 will be the year that it will finally happen.

Africa’s digital transition – the rubber finally hits the road: Africa’s digital switchover has until now had a rather dreamy quality about it. The strategies are getting written and increasingly the policy-makers have been in a huddle with broadcasters. But nothing very much that is practical seems to have taken place in most countries.

A sign of how it might all unravel is provided by Kenya, which is normally much better at these kind of technology issues. The digital signal carriers have done all the transmission provision and now the Government is talking about switching off the analogue signal. How many people will be affected? According to the Government’s own research, 16 million people have not yet bought a set-top box but the Government appears to be determined to stick to the 31 December 2012 date, an entirely artificial deadline. We have yet to meet a Kenyan who has actually got a set-top box and there does not appear to have been much of a campaign to persuade people to make the switch. So you might end up with the entirely unedifying spectacle of an election later in the year that almost no-one will be able to watch.

Despite the slightly shambolic progress to the deadline, the opportunities in digital television should not be forgotten. It has allowed for the creation of public broadcast goals like an education channel in Kenya and should allow for interesting niche audience channels. A golf channel in Nairobi, anyone?

Putting the public back in public broadcasting in Africa: In the main, public broadcasting in Africa is in reality state broadcasting. Whereas elsewhere, public broadcasting speaks truth unto power and offers local content an opportunity, this has not been the pattern in Africa. The one place where is ought to have happened is the “perpetually-in-political-and-budget-crisis” SABC in South Africa.

People tune into the public broadcaster to check out what the Government is thinking but there is considerable evidence from surveys that they do not trust what they see or hear. International broadcasters – like Al Jazeera, France24, the BBC and CNN – all flourish because of a trust and information deficit locally. The latest addition to this lengthy list of international news channels is China’s CCTV, which has increased the scale of its activities over the last 18 months.

From the donor side, there are a considerable number of NGOs that pay to have their programmes aired on local channels. Whatever the merits of the programmes, the impact is arguably market-distorting as it encourages a mind-set among Africa’s broadcasters that programme makers need to pay to be on their channels.

There is a discussion around edutainment as a tactic to engage attention but nowhere amongst the donors is there anything like a strategic approach to supporting public interest objectives in Africa. This is perhaps understandable from those donors who deal on a Government-to-Government basis but less comprehensible from those who are not tied down by these kinds of bilateral relationships. Somewhere between community broadcasting and a Government TV or radio channel there must exist some space for new models of public interest broadcasting.

Online platforms and the impact of LTE: Working online local TV and film delivery platforms are here: the most notable are (from different parts of Africa): iROKO Partners, BuniTV and MeTVAfrica.com.

Michael Ugwu, CEO, iROKING noted at a recent event that its Nigerian users had gone from 12th to 6th by volume of views over a six month period. Its free-at-the-point of delivery model has made rapid progress, both at home and with the extensive Nigerian diaspora. However, paid-for services are understandably making slower progress. Broadcasters and Pay-TV operators need to work out how they will make sense of this new online world: it starts as a supplement to a media diet but soon grows to look something like the main meal.

But here in Africa? I hear you say in a skeptical voice. Independent operator Smile Communications is already delivering 6 mbps on a real network to real customers in Tanzania. The first thing their customers start using is video. In the next 12-18 months LTE will deliver video to high-end mobile users. The pace at which LTE is coming over the horizon is speeding up. There are three existing market - Angola, Namibia and South Africa – and a whole rash of tests, both public and below the radar. Ethio Telecom is the latest to announce and in Nigeria there are three to four operators queueing up to offer it next year and in 2014.

Crowdsourcing finance to make sense of local content: A left field observation is that online crowdsourcing of finance may be one route to raising production funds for both African film and television. Stephen Markowitz produced documentary Rollaball hot its funding target, as did Hussein Kurji of Zeinium for its NGO comedy pilot but South African documentary maker Mayenzeke Baza had less luck. So the results are mixed but in a world where it’s difficult to raise finance, this one definitely has legs.

Next year we will publishing an updated version of our major report, African Broadcast and Film Markets.

Just under two years ago we started a Balancing Act You Tube channel to offer video interviews with key industry figures. Whilst we have interviewed a lot of really interesting people, the format of You Tube and the way it operates remains something of a frustration.

In order to address some of these frustrations, we’ve opened a second channel and an associated web site called Smart Monkey TV. Confused? OK, going forward the industry-based video clips will be on the Balancing Act channel and the video clips with a slightly wider audience will be on the Smart Monkey TV channel. So for example, Akin Salami, OHTV talking about its extended satellite coverage with Amos Spacecom will be on the Balancing Act You Tube channel. But stories with a wider appeal – like online music and video platforms, interviews with content producers like film directors and what other global TV companies are broadcasting, in Africa and elsewhere – will appear on the Smart Monkey TV channel.

This year we have carried out many different research and consultancy projects - both large and small - for a range of clients including broadcasters, equipment vendors, investors and policy bodies. Because we operate discreetly, you may not be aware that we offer these services. If you think you have needs or requirements of this kind, talk to us about them. In what will be a year of great change, we will have both data and ideas to help you change your circumstances.

A big thank you to all those who have helped News Broadcast, Film and Convergence keep ahead of what was happening in 2012. Without your help, we would not have been able to bring you your weekly dose of information and new opportunities.

Broadcast, Film and Convergence will return in the New Year with issue 147 on 10 January.

All the best for 2013

Russell Southwood
CEO
Balancing Act

Isabelle Gross
Senior Analyst
Balancing Act

Sylvain Beletre
Senior Analyst
Balancing Act

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