African broadcasters : Rapid Blue can help you fund better productions

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Rapid Blue  is an independent TV production house with headquarters in South Africa and branches in Nigeria and Angola. In terms of turnover, it is probably one of the top 3 production and digital media companies in South Africa. In an interview with Balancing Act's Sylvain Beletre, Duncan Irvine (Rapid Blue CEO) and Brett Levy (MD Rapid Blue Digital said that there was an abundance of content opportunities on the continent.

Part of Rapid Blue's success lies in its ability to proactively secure various types of funding from licensing, ad funding, airtime barters to strategic deals with satellite and terrestrial channels. This approach of advertising integrated barter deals has proved to be highly successful.

Six months ago, Rapid Blue responded to market demand and launched Rapid Blue Digital, with the aim to support the parent company with digital content and strategy solutions. Under the leadership of Brett Levy the division has been hard at work taking hold of various opportunities linked to the internet and social networks.

Already, Rapid Blue Digital has exceeded its initial targets and is working with clients such Telkom (South Africa's national fixed line telecoms service provider), 8ta (South African's newest mobile network), design agencies and banks. Rapid Blue digital has been very busy supporting a brand app launch and location based services. It is now also involved in new delivery methods such as mobile, subscription-based and video on demand.

In terms of social networks, Rapid Blue is involved with branding campaigns via Mxit, Smiggle, LinkedIn, Twitter, 2go, Facebook and most other social networks. Rapid Blue confirmed that South Africa is a very much a mobile country: it now has over 10 Million Internet users and 25 Million mobile users.

Rapid Blue sells globally because it is English-based and the exchange rate is in favour of South Africa right now. The company regularly receives enquiries from all over the world and particularly from Africa.

"It is going to be very exciting to see where production funding will come from when we switch to digital TV across the continent‚", says Irvine. The company is in the process of preparing for the switch as it already relies on various new funding models, not exclusively tied to broadcasters in Africa. Irvine witnessed that there is an emerging revenue-sharing and co-production appetite across multi-territories.

The company's primary clients are in English-speaking countries: South Africa of course, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and to a lesser extent Uganda, Tanzania or Zambia. But the company has also sold outside the continent with programmes for the BBC distributed into Australia and across Europe. It recently attracted interest from Channel 4 in the UK. It has also been involved in the USA and has its own shares in a small company located in NYC. But Francophone Africa has not yet been explored by the company and it hopes that it can link with this market at some point.

On the revenue front, Rapid Blue is very much focused on TV programmes linked to special events: entertainment shows, talent talk shows and reality shows because there are some valuable PR stories to benefit from. Rapid Blue produces the local versions of international formats such as 'SA's Got Talent' and 'Nigeria's Got Talent', as well as 'Come Dine With Me SA' (for the BBC), So You Think You Can Dance, animation and game shows. They are also on the forefront of developing new local shows. Event type TV series and repetitive programmes go a long way in helping build an audience from a new channel launch point of view.  The production house is currently working on thematic types of opportunities such sport, female activities, current affairs and kid's programmes acquired by thematic TV channels. Rapid Blue also assist channels' packaging and packaged content, on-Air marketing and promotion for a number of channels including TPA in Angola.

Lastly, documentaries fall at the end of the revenue list. Rapid Blue recently produced a programme on the history of musical rights linked to Apartheid. For Irvine, documentaries are a passion project but it is not a money generator so they usually only produce one documentary per year.

Q. What pieces of advice would you give to African producers who want to work with you?

A. I get proposals from production companies two or three times a week. There are three main criteria that are important to us:
-The idea needs to be able to generate a wide audience
-If selected, we apply a funding model to it, so if a few brands are associated with that programme from the start there are chances we will consider it carefully.
-The programmes we are keen on need to travel well across multiple cultures and territories.

Q. What is your key message to broadcasters, especially in Africa?

A. We are very keen to talk to them more. We have innovative financial models for smaller broadcasters to be able to air more expensive quality programmes than they currently use. That includes big shows!

Q. What do you think holds the majority of African TV broadcasters back from investing in content?

A. The fact that there is no rating system to price advertising is a major barrier in many African countries. There is much greater scope in terms of looking at getting sponsors and at funding local production. if advertisers were able to measure the audience they could price their inventories more accurately. This will give their inventory greater value leading to being able to pull more ad spend to the channels.

Q. Do you feel there is a crisis in South Africa like the one in Europe?

A. We are not experiencing the same level of crisis. The business environment over in South Africa is pretty much the same as in Europe but I do not feel we have hit the 'second dip' like Greece and others have. Besides, the television business environment is not the same in South Africa as it is in the rest of Africa.

Q. What did you think of Discop Africa 2012 and how can the event improve further?

A. It was just great! We probably had the largest stand among producers and we invested heavily. Discop Africa now is a healthy trade market. I have seen major improvements compared to few years back. Rapid Blue hopes to generate about 20 Million Rands from the show but I cannot confirm right now.

It will be difficult to do better than the 2012 edition, but I think that if we can encourage more international distributors and buyers to attend it might avoid going to MIP for example. To maximise attendance, there should be a fast way of finding out who has got budget for what types of TV content they want through networking.

Q. Which are your top 5 African films?

A. District 9, Black butterflies, Tsotsi, Material and Invictus.

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Afrique Telecom-Philippe Tintignac,

Arnaud Filhol, Head of Capital Investment chez ARKEON Gestion

Alexandre Vilgrain -President du CIAN/client d'Afrique


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