Balancing Act launches a new web TV channel – SmartMonkeyTV .com– out to capture the energy at the crossroads between culture and technology

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Officially launched this week, will replace Balancing Act’s existing You Tube channel. It will be a hybrid channel with video clip interviews, e-letter and some other surprises from time to time. Below Russell Southwood sketches out why he decided to launch it and how Balancing Act’s existing readers will find it a useful addition to their weekly diet of information about Africa.

(The bracketed items in italics are a selection of videos that illustrate what Smart Monkey TV covers and why you might be interested in it.)

When I started Balancing Act broadcast e-letter I was interested in how the continent’s steadily growing film and TV industry would come together in an online relationship with the telecoms and Internet industry.

The e–letter that you’re reading (which is one of three we have launched over the years) was my way of working out what I thought about the challenges of seeing more professional African film and TV industry develop and how that might be achieved. Without the Internet and e-mail, it would have been almost impossibly difficult to create a piece of media like this. Imagine trying to send you this e-letter with a fax machine.

(Isabel Kearney, Mediae on its new Know Zone TV series for Rwandan primary school children)

Over the time Balancing Act has covered African broadcast and film, the number of TV channels has grown substantially, along with a growing recognition that Africa is part of a global TV and film industry. But Africa’s creative industries contain much more than just film and television as they include elements that play a big role in film like music and writing. So Smart Monkey TV is a way of splitting out some of topics that sit less comfortably within the frame of Balancing Act’s existing coverage.

A word of reassurance is perhaps needed at this point. Balancing Act’s existing e-letter will continue to provide the same service as they always have. The broadcast and film industry will continue to get a regular fortnightly e-mail.

(Ross Haddow, Guinness Africa on the competition to find an Africa film-maker to make their next ad)

Smart Monkey is born out of two main ideas.  Firstly, we believe that video will become an extremely powerful and widely used medium in Africa, particularly on mobile phones. It will be as natural to look at short clips on your phone as it will be to read your e-mail or a newspaper. Secondly, because online content and services are increasingly a reality for the continent, it opens up the potential for using technology both as powerful means of cultural expression and to help tackle social problems like health, education and traffic in cities. There is a crossroads somewhere between technology and culture that contains a terrific energy on the continent and we hope to capture some of that spirit.

(Kenyan film-maker Ng'endo Mukii on Yellow Fever, about African women using skin bleaches)

When social media took off, we started a You Tube channel because we wanted to see what sorts of things were interesting in video interview form. My colleague Sylvain Beletre pushed me into trying it. We discovered that some of the topics covered got tens of views whereas others – like African film and TV directors – got tens of thousands of views. The interviews were of widely varying degrees of quality and it was hard to get any editorial consistency for something that was an extension of our e-letter. It was just a cluster of interviews of people we happened to meet on our travels.

A year ago I decided very quietly to create the web TV channel (with accompanying e-letter output) to try and find a hybrid medium that would be somewhere between a magazine and a specialist TV channel. I set myself very few boundaries in terms of who I interviewed as I wanted to see what topics and people I found interesting and to improve the practical presentation of what was produced.

(Kahenya Kamunyu, Able Wireless on his low-cost Kenyan video streaming service using a Raspberry Pi)

So after a year, I’ve chosen a series of areas to focus that are both cultural (African film, TV, music and writing) and technological (start-ups, incubators, content platforms, social media, online media and digital advertising, ITC4D). A full list of topics can be viewed on our website

It will be about 80-90% stuff directly from or related to Africa but with a pinch of spice from other parts of the world. The latter will be things I found interesting when thinking about what’s changing in Africa.

(Paul Mitchell explains Microsoft's TV White Spaces pilots and why it thinks TVWS is important

So what is it? It a combination of 20 video clip interviews a month and a weekly e-letter output. There will be two strands to the e-letter output: the first strand will be short, one story e-letters on particular topics and the second strand will be a new fortnightly e-letter called Emerging Digital Content, that will have alternating focuses on film and music. A trial issue will go out in the next few weeks and after that we’ll let you know when it’s ready for wider consumption.

In the meantime, please subscribe to Smart Monkey TV as we’d like to get to 1,000 subscribers as quickly as possible so that we can get the free live streaming service from You Tube. And what will we do with that? You’ll have to wait and see.