BFMA Wrap up: a much larger role for African producers and broadcasters in the future

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With about 650 delegates this year, Broadcast Film and Music Africa conference took place last week at the Oshwal Centre, located in the Nairobi Central Business District, Kenya on 10-11 July 2012. Dr Ann Overbergh reports on who said what and future trends.

Set up under the theme "Innovation, investment and partnerships for local content and service excellence", this event gathered some of the most respected experts in the African film and broadcast markets.
 
In my own presentation, I mentioned that you can diversify into various types of audiovisual productions if you know who you are targeting. From the production houses I visited in East Africa, I feel that there are opportunities for series, kids' programmes and short dramas. I also think that content producers should place their bet on making as many African stories accessible through the various media channels available. Producers and broadcasters could reap benefits if they broadcast on multi-platforms and adopt multimedia approaches.
 
I have observed that broadcasting is changing very rapidly in Africa and this challenges producers to be dynamic in order to survive. The audiences are being fragmented into the various distributions of content channels. This is a serious challenge and an opportunity as well, a challenge because it is very difficult to monetize some of the audiences and an opportunity because the producer can target specific audiences.
 
One of the presentations that stuck me was Michael Dearham's talk on production, financing and innovation. Dearham, SVP of 'Cote Ouest Audiovisuel', the largest distributor of TV content across Africa predicts a much larger role of producers and broadcasters in the future, most probably after digitization (due in 2015). As there will be more spectrum available and more opportunities to distribute content across the African continent, the question is what content will be needed, and what will African producers give audiences? Dearham talked about innovations in marketing such as gladvertising, which we should be aware of and anticipate. His biggest advice was: differentiate yourself, which is also what I tried to get across. Find an undeserved niche and go for it.
 
Other expert speakers said additional incentives aimed at encouraging the production of local African content at a lower cost were needed.
 
Thee distribution of TV content has a very big impact on the broadcast business because it shapes film culture by regulating access to the content. In Africa, distribution infrastructure has largely been shaped by its colonial legacy. This legacy means that what little infrastructure there i scan be found largely in urban areas. Therefore, the production of cinema was based on distribution instead of audiences shaping production.

As a result, there is one cinema seat for every 100,000 people in Africa. To date Africa has produced only 3,000 movies. The markets are small while the whole industry is stifled by high taxation. Furthermore even in regions that have integrated like East Africa, there exists no attempt to develop regional legal infrastructure to develop the distribution of production.

The end result is that financing becomes problematic because there is no telling how a production will perform in the market. Banks are reluctant to fund such unpredictable distribution channels while the alternatives such as private equity, pre-sales and sponsorships have not gained currency in sub-Saharan Africa.
To break from this legacy, a culture of video has sprung up where producers shoot productions directly to video. The film producer has a very small window to get income before pirates take over.

In international (audiovisual and broadcast) market, African content does not have a significant market share. However, there is a high demand in diaspora African communities as well as from blue chip TV channels. The African producers need to know what sells in order to turn this demand into money. For example, there is almost no African telenovellas, cooking programmes and formats.

Competition is growing for African producers. New entrants from international markets have begun shooting African content to satisfy the demand. To beat the competition, African producers will need to develop and strengthen their business process.
 
Areas of growth that African producers could explore are; straight to video, series/telenovelas for TV, formats and reality TV, animation, travel, cooking, interactive content and data.

Formats have been growing rapidly in the international arena. 40 percent of the business in the international TV market was formats in the last two years. For example, UK sells 146 formats per year. The key drivers for formats are empowered consumers, collaborative digital enterprise and involved advertisers.

In response to Dearham’s presentation, Ian Fernandes, Head of Broadcast, Nation Media Group said that the African TV managers do not commission production because revenues are low compared to operating costs. One of the reasons is because advertising is not widely available as advertising production is very expensive. Pay TV and online platforms are however opening new opportunities.

There is good appetite for local content but the audiences are now demanding content in ethnic languages. This creates the problem of multiple translation to meet the various ethnic and regional tastes.

Further there is no accurate and timely way of measuring audience viewership. Once a programme goes on air, the measurement of its performance is only available after 12 weeks. That means at that initial stage, no advertiser will touch the program. To deal with these issues , the East African region will need a viewership monitor that is quick.
 
In my panel a good presentation was given by Envir Fraser, Head of Research, Regulatory & Policy, Convergence Partners in South Africa who supported his speech with interesting data. Fraser said that new technology will drive investment in media. The African continent is rich in culture and the opportunity to diversify products is a major hint for content producers.
 
I also moderated a panel on the perceived threat of webcasting and live-streaming over traditional broadcasting. Paul Ojil, MD Soltice Kenya and David Svarrer, CEO, Digital Age Institute (unfortunately Santos Okuttah could not make it) both basically predicted the 'death' of the current broadcasters' model as they are 'expensive dinosaurs' and could well be replaced by webcasting.

In webcasting, the viewer experience depends on quality of the internet last mile. Content protection can be good because viewers can pay per view. However, there are several issues that must be dealt with. For example, currently, webcasting is largely not regulated. Even when regulations begin, the problem will be who, how and what to regulate. The other issue is how to monetize the platform. There is no particular way of assessing the viewership since is largely global. The flipside is that it is easier to monitor the viewership through clicks on the content.
 
Someone in the audience from M-Net responded that broadcasters have a lot to learn and are challenged by webcasting, but that it is a good opportunity for them to rethink their existing models and take away what they can learn from webcasting and from new technological choices.

Several experts are convinced that broadcasting will stay the way it is for a few years to come. Consensus towards the end of the debate was that broadcasting is challenged by technological innovation and that it will have to reinvent itself to some extent, or that we will have to look for a new media ecology using new partnerships. There are still challenges to webcasting too: financial, regulatory, and technological aspects (including data traffic).
 
I missed the panel on the digital transition, though I really wanted to see it. I spoke about it with other experts who are convinced that 2015 is the absolute deadline even though that for some African countries it will be extremely difficult to reach.
 
I heard a bit of Joe Otin's presentation which was very interesting and informative. Joe Otin is the Media CT Director at Ipsos Synovate Pan-Africa and also the Rotary Public Image Coordinator for Africa. As such, Joe is at the core of advertising and media development in at least 6 Africa countries, through the provision of insights that drive the industry.
 
I saw a big part of the movie that was screened on the first day: 'Inside Story', the story of a talented Kenyan boy with a dream to play international football. The hero forsakes a great opportunity with some South-African talent hunter to go and join a football team in South-Africa on a paying contract. His father has passed away and his family needs the cash. What he does not know is that he is HIV positive. The story unfolds as a straightforward story about love and friendship, but there is a nice and informative take on how HIV exactly works. Many people present at the event liked that film, and its cinematographic format was also highly rated.
 
Furthermore, I checked around to hear what people thought of the event. They were all very positive about it. It seems to be bigger than last year (650 delegates vs. 400 people last year), content was very interesting, and a great place for for Networking and fro setting up partnerships. One positive aspect is that you meet all kinds of people - from CEOs to young people aspiring to becoming film makers and asking for advice.
 
According to a research by KFC (Kenya Film Commission), in the government 2009/10 financial year, Kenya's film industry contributed 3.6% (KSh 71 billion) of the country's GDP, with more incentives this figure is expected to go up to 7%.
Mr. Peter Mutie, CEO of the KFC revealed that the commission would be unveiling the Film City which will be part of Konza City - Kenya's "Silicon Valley".
 
KFC’s CEO also told the audience that given the choice between intervention by government and market forces, his Commission would choose the latter. The Kenyan government will let the market forces determine how broadcasters’ share airtime between local and international content.

“We believe the 40 percent local content requirement for local broadcasters is sufficient for now. In fact, we have seen from evidence and viewer ratings that broadcasters with the heaviest local contents have the biggest viewership in Kenya,” he said.

Instead, Mutie said the producers have to develop content of high quality to get the airtime they need. He said some of the content in the market was of inferior quality and could therefore not compete effectively. The government has been challenged to block  prime time slots in local broadcasters for local contents.
 
Issuing the challenge, Gregory Odutayo, a Nigerian TV and Radio producer with Royal Roots Communication said a similar move to allocate all prime time slots in Nigerian Media had been responsible for the production boom that gave birth to Nigerian Movie Industry. Odutayo who produced award winning drama series “Edge of Paradise” for MNet said the business of independent TV and Radio production faces very serious challenges.

“We have to deal with the challenge posed by the Mexican soaps on our TVs. Part of the reasons the Mexican soaps have flooded our screens is because they are acquired cheaply. Some of the series will be accessed at a price of 100 dollars per episode. In Nigeria, because of advocacy by producers we had the government setting aside all prime time slots to local contents. This move forced the Nigerian broadcasters to move the soaps to earlier slots in their programming, “ said Odutayo.

“One of the causes of these challenges is the fact that most broadcasters do not want to invest in quality production. As an independent producer, you have to raise funds for production, seek advertising and then buy airtime from broadcasters through revenue sharing agreements,” said the producer.
Odutayo also said that African producers also have to contend with Reality TV production such as ‘Project Fame’, and ‘Idol’ which have sucked up most of commercial sponsorship.

“Commercial sponsorship for drama and movie production have virtually dried up. In such a scenario, movie and drama production is largely endangered,” he said.
 
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