BBC: "There’s a large appetite for online video in the African market"

Technology & Convergence

IPTTV News interviewed Richard Porter, Controller of English at BBC Global News.

Q: What developments have you witnessed in Africa's broadcasting industry in the past 12 months?

A: There have been a number of changes taking place. From a general trend level we continue to see TV closing the gap on radio. In many cities TV attracts a bigger audience than radio and that trend is continuing to spread to smaller cities and even in some cases rural areas. TV tends to be dominant in the evening.

Mobile phones are increasingly being used to listen to radio and to access internet. In many countries more people are accessing the internet on their phone than they are on a PC. It’s also worth noting that broadband has reached a number of countries in Africa, though the average person has not been able to benefit from this yet (that is to say there is limited streaming of audio and video as most people have slow connections).

In terms of the industry itself, there’s been more investment in vernacular stations, which are becoming more dominant in their markets. In certain markets, DSTV is getting competition from cheaper satellite and digital operators like Smart TV and Zuku TV and on an international level, there are new players entering the market, like Al Jazeera Swahili, and an increased emphasis on local programming (like Africa Business Report on BBC World News).

Q: What challenges have you encountered as a result of this progress?

A: The challenge in Africa is not too different to that in other markets - increased competition leads to increased choice for consumers and this it makes it harder to maintain or grow audiences who want news content when, where, and how they want it. At the BBC we’re responding to this demand by making our content is available on as many platforms in as many formats as possible - TV, radio, online, mobile and tablet.

Q: How do you believe new technologies can improve viewer engagement?

A: We know, from a partner point of view, that making programming accessible has become easier thanks to new technology, and things like satellite and mobile phones are changing the way people access information. However, on phones most people are still using WAP and are not streaming content, downloading apps, etcetera.

Social media sites like Facebook are making big waves in the market and the BBC is extremely active in this space - the BBC World News Facebook page recently passed one million fans and we now have close to one million Twitter followers on @bbcworld - however, it will take a while for iPad apps, Android apps, iPhone apps etcetera to penetrate and until PVRs and other technologies break through.

What role do you think online video will eventually take within the overall mix of television technologies in Africa?

There’s a large appetite for online video in the African market, however the cost and speed of downloads and streaming are the main barriers, although there is a lot of sharing of content (via Bluetooth on phones). In the future, Africa should not be that dissimilar to other markets with online video widely used, though more in short form (for example via YouTube) than viewing of whole programmes (for example via Hulu), which will take longer to become commonplace.

Q: How do you believe content providers can best tap these new opportunities?

A: Partnerships are key to making sure content is available. Use of social media is also important with Facebook, in particular, playing an important role in the development of markets - as we saw during the Arab Spring.

Q: How quickly do you think viewer behaviour will change?

A: Things will change rapidly, as they have in other parts of the world. For instance, look how quickly Twitter, launched only in 2006 and now the second largest social network in the world, has become a core source of news and information with high levels of consumer engagement and interaction. Traditional media organisations see these developments as both an opportunity and a threat – I recognise the risks but I definitely see them as an opportunity for us to reach and engage with new audiences.

Q: Which markets do you think offer some key insights into the future direction of Africa's broadcast market?

A: Within Sub-Saharan Africa Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa are amongst the most developed markets and are leading the way in changes to the media. There is an emerging middle class that brands are trying to reach, and lower-cost services (such as Smart TV and Zuku) are tapping into this market and rolling-out their products out to other countries. Smart TV for instance is now available in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.

PS: Richard will be speaking at the AfricaCast event taking place in Cape Town, South Africa on 9th-10th November 2011.