East Africa: Broadcasters prepare to capitalise on the opportunities from the digital transition

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Tanzania has become the first mainland African country to declare that it has completed the digital transition. New channels are now available to free-to-air viewers on their set-top boxes (see Distribution News below). This provides an interesting opportunity for the delgates to the Broadcast, Film and Music Africa Conference taking place at the end of the month to look at these new opportunities.

The catch with the Tanzanian announcement is that the country has simply completed the installation of the transmission infrastructure, the supply side of the equation. No-one knows whether all TV households in Tanzania (the demand side) have yet made the transition.  Although there is no data yet, poorer households are less likely to have made the switch. However, this approach may yet become the default for African countries as they limp towards the ITU’s 2015 deadline.

Mauritius, which is the only other African country to claim to be near completion, has adopted a much more careful approach. The regulator ICTA, in partnership with the Post Office, is carrying out a survey to identify how many people have still not switched from analogue to digital.

As Kenya prepares to be the second country in East Africa to transition to digital broadcast (after Tanzania), industry players are regrouping to capitalise on opportunities that increased bandwidth will provide.

“This is the season for change especially on the TV front,” said Sean Moroney, Chairman and founder of AITEC Africa, organisers of this month’s ‘Broadcast, Film and Music Africa’ conference (see details below).

However, he warns that a lack of sufficient information could potentially derail industry gains. “When it comes to digital terrestrial television (DTT), several African countries won’t hit the International Telecommunication Union’s deadline on time. Many countries still hesitate between technology standards and few are aware of best practices for digital television implementation and the ideal PPP (public private partnership) mix,” he said.

For those stations that have resolved technical issues, the focus will be on how to sustain audiences and attract adverts, and this Moroney said will require a better understanding of audiences through surveys, which will help develop new business models. He added that while the role of TV and radio had altered since the 1990s, broadcast continued to be the preferred medium on the African continent. While radio was dominant in sub Saharan Africa, television was gaining prominence in North and South Africa.

Sylvain Béletre, senior research analyst at media consultancy and research company Balancing-Act said that while greater competition prompted the application of a ‘Me too’ business model where companies closely mimicked their competitors, it also resulted in proliferation of cheap international content rather than quality indigenous programmes.

“African audiences want to watch local content, but the economic weakness of many states has meant that talented artists stop working for local broadcasters because they are not paid adequately,” Béletre said. The diversification of devices through which listeners can consume broadcast content - such as satellite, internet and various portable gadgets- has also increased uptake of broadcast and heightened audience expectations.

One of the greatest battles that is brewing in the Kenyan pay TV space is between pan-African platform 'MultiChoice DStv', Chinese contender StarTimes and Wananchi group's 'Zuku TV'. The race for audiences has pushed broadcasters to maintain and develop market share. It has also spurred innovations like VoD (video on demand), the most popular example of which is Catch-up TV where TV shows are usually available after the original broadcast.

Source: Based around a story published in ‘Nairobi Business Monthly’, June 2013 and produced by Aamera Jiwaji.



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