CNBC extends its reach across the continent with terrestrial and non-terrestrial deals

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This week CNBC Africa launched its new-look schedule to include cluster-style programmes aimed at seamlessly integrating Africa-focused content with CNBC's international offering, as well as a breakfast show 'with a difference'. Launched just nine months ago, CNBC Africa’s COO Gary Alfonso talked to Russell Southwood about progress so far.

Q: Who’s behind CNBC Africa?

The station was launched on 1 June 2007 through an investment vehicle with 70% backing from Dubai-based investors and 30% from IDL. The Dubai-based investors had already successfully launched CNBC franchises in Dubai, India and Pakistan. What CNBC and ABN did was to bring rights to distribute CNBC content in Sub-Saharan Africa. It invested US$20 million in studio facilities for broadcasting and we have bureaus in Cape Town, Nairobi, Abuja and Lagos. We started with 140 people and that’s now gone up to 150.

So the CNBC content is the base from which we make the pizza. We get rolling programming from CNBC in the USA, Europe and Asia and we have introduced programmes from regional stock exchanges. We’ve targeted the primary economic activity hubs on the continent: Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

Other countries are now calling us and Uganda and Zambia want to be on board. Also we have a terrestrial deal in Ghana and Port Harcourt as a result of peer pressure in those markets. But we’d like to go where there is commercial viability for the story, not to do a deal with a parastatal to pump out Government propaganda. The banks who sponsor us get the opportunity to showcase their logo on our daily markets programmes. We need a sponsor to make it work in new markets. We want to roll out in Angola, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and the DRC. We look at it almost as an investor would by asking what’s the political risk in the market

Q: How’s the channel distributed?

It’s rebroadcast by DStv across Africa using Sentech on PAS-7. It’s a Free-To-Air Signal and a whole range of decoders can pick it up except in Senegal. In addition, we’ve started doing lots of other terrestrial and non-terrestrial deals. We have about 14 deals with country broadcasters like the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation, Capitol Broadcasting in Kenya, Trend TV in Nigeria and Net2TV in Ghana. What we like about these deals is that they provide out of the home content during the day when people want to switch to watching a TV in their office.

Q: What’s the USP of the channel?

We’re coming from stock exchanges around the continent for a full 10 hours a day and we’re taking live feeds from CNBC in Europe and the USA for another 10 hours as markets close. We know that viewers want to see Martha Barti Romo doing the closing markets commentary. The one thing that makes me wake up every morning is this continent’s commodity and resource story and in the future, this will be a global story. We are localising the global business guy in Africa.

Q: Who’s your competition?

We did a survey of viewers last November and from that it would appear that CNN and BBC World are our two main competitors. Of course, there’s Bloomburg but they’re not actually physically present on the continent for business coverage.

Q: What’s the audience for the channel?

According to TGI in July last year there were 200,000 ABs watching DStv’s output on PAS-7. In Kenya, we can reach 90% of the 12 million people in Nairobi and we reckon that 5-10% of that figure is our market.

Q: Are you hitting your advertising targets?

We are on target to be cash-positive by the end of the year and on present performance that would be about R70 million. Our target is to exceed that.

The banks are a large part of our revenue through advertising and sponsorship. After that it’s leisure goods. The advertisers are those trying to appeal to the 9 and 10 LSM groups with also aspirational people amongst the 8 LSM group.