Discop Africa: Seen and heard in Accra – Things coming up from below the radar

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Last week, Africa’s biggest content market – Discop Africa – took place in Accra. The event brings together African broadcasters and producers with their international counterparts. It offers an ideal moment to take the pulse of what is happening in the industry. The event was spread over three floors so Russell Southwood expended serious shoe leather to find out what was happening both above and below the radar.

The event produced no single big story but a clear set of trends emerged from the public conference sessions and discussions with a wide range of people:

* There was a pre-conference workshop on co-productions. Ghanaian film-maker Kwesi Owusu complained that as the host country, there were not enough Ghanaian film-makers in attendance. Not surprisingly, the event was well attended by Nigeria producers who were all articulate and knew what they were looking for. The story of Gollywood is largely untold but Ghana has both high quality film-makers and post-production facilities. Somehow they have to be more like Nigerians in promoting the work they do.

* Although the workshop was about co-production, there were not a lot of people in the room offering co-production finance. African broadcasters have occasionally come together to buy rights but have not yet (to the best of our knowledge) done so on co-productions. As a result, when Biola Alabi, Managing Director, M-Net Africa, one of the few companies providing production commissions on the continent, spoke she acted as a lightning rod for the frustrations of producers. They were all demanding that she spent more on production commissions. Rightly, she pointed out that Pay TV rights were secondary income and that it was doing as many commissions as its budgets allowed. She also said (and it was confirmed by one of the participants) that they had offered advertising and coverage to support cinema releases. DStv has just launched Africa Magic Yoruba and Africa Magic Hausa and its Nigeria soap Tinsel and its South African soap Jacob’s Cross are both on its premium HD channels.

* African producers need to look to both finding sponsorship (see link to Mo Abudu clip below this article) and to cinema release. Africa’s Oprah Winfrey Mo Abudu described how she worked with M-Net and sponsors to get her show (Moments with Mo) off the ground. Several Nollywood producers talked about higher budget films showing only in cinemas and that with an increase in the number of cinemas in the country, the income had gone up. (For more details, see: http://bit.ly/fGFg5q) Even in Accra, there are now 2 more cinemas and one film producer was distributing digitally, using a security key. There also plans by companies like Cinemart to increase the number of cinemas and these are the missing financial element for the continent’s film industry. One distributor was talking about taking West African movies into selected South African cinemas.

* Throughout the event, I seemed to be having conversations with both producers and companies who were talking about creating new channels. A broadcaster like Telesports in Togo is perhaps a sign of the future. As the name indicates, it does nothing but sport and claims 2 million viewers. It has rights to UEAFA, Champion des Footballs and the NBA. At least two other serious players are in the process of creating new sports channels for existing platforms. In addition, other successful producers are talking about local content channels with a variety of different focused themes. With all the testosterone running about on sport channels, it’s easy to forget that large parts of the schedule are for women. Gary Rathbone, Head of Africa, Supersport International said that they were seeking to become the African broadcaster of sport. In Zambia, it shows womens’ boxing: a gender crossover sport?

* There was a session on South Africa: Post World Cup in which Mike Dearham, Head: Sales and Library Acquisition, DStv gave a very detailed and interesting presentation, studded with interesting facts. Currently DStv has 20,000 mobile TV subscribers and plans to have 180,000 by 2014. Online advertising in South Africa will go from 15% of total spend this year to 24% by 2014. Pay TV challenger Walk on Water will launch later this year offering super cheap bouquets: 5 channels for R49 (US$6.71)and 10 channels for R99 (US$13.57) per month. He also predicted that 5-10 years from now that the “release window” (with cascading dates for cinema, DVD, TV, etc) will disappear to be replaced by a single release date.

* In the Differentiate your TV Channel workshop, panel speaker Ephraim Banda from the public broadcaster CRTV rucked up a considerable debate about public broadcasting by claiming CRTV did things better than its private sector equivalents. Many speakers (with a strong Nigerian representation) expressed outrage that the largely unimpressive public broadcasters could claim accolades of any kind for themselves. Whilst I find myself largely in that camp, you have to ask why it is CRTV as a public broadcaster (like many others on the continent) consistently gets between a quarter and a third of audience share. Is there audience simply stupid? I don’t think that’s an easy argument to sustain so perhaps more thought needs to be given to why their audiences keep watching.

* Despite the often half-hearted approach to the digital transition in broadcasting on the continent, small private sector companies see to be pioneering roll-out ahead of Government. In Congo-Brazzaville, MNTV is offering a set-top box for US$80 and has attracted 6,000 subscribers over a relatively short period. A Ugandan company will shortly be launching a similar service. And these examples are perhaps the tip of the iceberg?

* At Africa’s biggest film festival FESPACO this year, CFI are doing a day’s live broadcasting with 8 African broadcasters. Also TV5Monde are doing coverage from African film-makers themselves (see Investment News below). For African film and TV to continue to succeed, there needs to be media coverage. Another piece of this jigsaw might the launch by FCCE of Films and Stars Africa which will be focused on
Nollywood, African movies and the best of Hollywood.

The next DISCOP will take place in Nairobi in September and we look forward to seeing you there. Meanwhile, take a look at the clips below with some of the participants.

Five video clips from last week’s Discop Accra:

Mo Abudu, Executive Producer and hostess of Moments with Mo talks about getting the show off the ground
click here:

Alex Okosi, MD of MTV Network (Africa Region) on its Choose or lose it voter registration initiative
click here:

Farah Chaudhry, COO of A24 Media on the launch of Africa's Voice
click here:

Fathia Plange, CEO of VTV on the first season of Make Me a Success in Ghana and taking the second season across Africa
click here:

Patrick Akushie, Commercial Manager, Agence France-Presse talks about its strategy for selling news video in Africa
click here: