Mozambique: Private TV stations battle it out with state-run TVM

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Mozambique’s TV broadcast industry is comparatively small for the size of the country. It is limited by how many of the country’s population it can reach and therefore the level of advertising revenues that can be achieved. Nevertheless it s making serious inroads into the audiences of the state-run TVM. Russell Southwood looks at the current state of play.

Besides TVM, there are three other private TV stations in Mozambique: the first to launch, STV; Miramar, a church channel from Brazil; and the latest newcomer TIM. The three big players are the first two of these and the Government-run TVM. There is some talk of another private broadcaster, KTV, entering the market.

In addition, there are international channels like RTP from Portugal, South African Pay TV operator DStv (with 15,000 subscribers) and in Maputo only, cable TV from TV Cabo (with 10,000 subscribers). The latter is owned by the Portuguese Visabeira Group. It’s not clear whether the Government will make more frequencies available for new stations but state-run TVM has plans for a second channel.

A number of international companies including eTV and Portugal’s SIC have looked at investing in the market, although international ownership is restricted to 30%.

Although there are no studies showing where audiences are, the reality is that most TV viewers are to be found in the main towns and cities, with the largest proportion in the country’s capital Maputo. However, only 36% of the population is urban with 44.1% under the age of 15. In all there are 18 local languages spoken beyond the official language of Portuguese. Therefore broadcast TV probably reaches 5 million out of the country’s 20 million.

Recent independent audience share research showed STV taking 50%, followed by TVM with 40% and the rest sharing 10%. Nevertheless TIM claims that it is no 1 in some of the provincial capitals it has opened up in.

TVM used to be top dog but it has been fighting back, particularly in some time slots. Its rivals acknowledge that it has more extensive local coverage but point to its inherent subsidies like its access to free or low-cost satellite and fibre optic capacity.

The biggest challenge is getting advertising because although the country’s economy has grown rapidly since the end of the civil war, there are not a lot of advertisers. The main advertisers are the country’s two mobile operators, mCel (owned by the Government) and Vodacom (owned by the South African company of the same name).

Both advertise extensively on all stations. The current discussions about allowing a third mobile operator must therefore be music to the broadcast industry’s ears. According to Daniel David of STV the big problem is the fundamentally state-orientation of the economy:”All the major companies are state-controlled and they are not market-oriented.”

STV charges US$200 for 30 secs and has 6 minutes it can sell per hour but does not always achieve that. For social and cultural advertising, it gives a 50% discount.

Alongside these revenues, production for something like a local studio-based programme can cost between US$4000-5000 per hour. STV’s David says the country has independent production companies but they are “very weak.” The group which owns STV has its own production company that works for outside clients, as well as STV. Both STV and TIM shoot digitally and edit using Final Cut but TVM is still using Betacam SP. However, it has plans to digitalise its production.

TIM’s Joao Ribeiro is more optimistic:”Quality of production is undergoing a revolution. You’re seeing more ideas but people are more committed to quality. There are a lot of adaptions of ideas from Europe like Big Brother and Idols. In terms of news, there is much more free speech and the quality of journalists is improving. The quality of graphics is improving. This has been a huge change from 4 years ago.”

Rights for international programmes usually cost between US$500-600 per hour with sports rights coming in at considerably more than these figures.

Both STV and TIM operate their own transmitters and as a result of the low advertising rates havee only expanded nationally one step at a time. Both TIM and STV operate radio stations and the latter also has newspapers.

The Government (through the regulator) has started to draw up a policy paper as a prelude to starting the digital transition. But as TIM’s Joao Ribeiro observes:”Nothing is happening.” STV’s Daniel David says much the same thing but is planning to get a conference under way this November to drive a wider discussion of the issue, including what technical standards might be used.

SADC Ministers have approved a switchover by 2013. And although Government progress has been slow, it has indicated that it wants to see a separate signal carrier company set up. Obviously this will allow the private companies to match the wider national coverage that TVM currently offers.