The future of the TV landscape in Africa

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What is really happening on the TV landscape in Africa currently ? If one person knows about this market in-depth, both from a producer and TV channels’ points of view, it is Bernard Azria, CEO of Cote Ouest. Bernard Azria has over thirty years experience in the African audiovisual industry. In 1983 he founded Nelson Mc Cann, the first network of Marketing and Communication Agencies in Francophone Africa, affiliated with the McCann Erickson group.


In 1997, he set up Cote Ouest Audiovisuel in Abidjan which has become a point of reference for the distribution of audiovisual programmes across Africa. In 2010 he opened an office in Mauritius that deals with Anglophone markets. 

Sylvain Béletre, analyst at ‘Balancing Act’ interviewed him ahead of Discop, the ‘MIP TV’ of Africa.

 




 
Q. In the African territories you cover, where do you see the most significant growth for media services?

A. In anglophone countries, Nigeria, Kenya and Africa are far ahead. In North Africa, Morocco is a leader. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Senegal seems to be the most advanced among francophone countries. We also witnessed growths in Cameroon and Gabon.
 
Q. Will the African countries you know reach the June 2015 DTT(1) deadline? if not, why?

 
A. It seems that this is the case in Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania and Senegal. However, everyone expects a 6-month extension to the original deadline, bringing it to 17 December 2015.
 
Q. How many free TV channels should DTT bouquets include for a given African country?
 
Q. It depends on the number of multiplexes. A multiplex can typically carry six channels in high definition (HDTV) or 20 channels in standard definition (SD). For example, Senegal  provides 4 multiplexes carrying 19 local channels, including the national channel that is considering the possibility of broadcasting in high definition. Obviously in each country DTT operators will offer free and paid services. It is clear that profitability will come from pay DTT. Pay DTT service will play a key role since it won’t require any change to the antenna coupled with an affordable decoder (STB – set box) or with a DTT-equipped TV set. That will help with the development of more sophisticated and suitable offers such as VoD.
 
Q. Should DTT bouquets include international TV channels and radio stations?

 
Yes, of course, because if we take the example of Senegal, nearly 80 channels will be offered to all Senegalese homes and the local TV production industry does not have the capacity nor the will to edit all 80 local channels. Therefore international or regional channels will be part of the TNT offer.
 
Q. Should governments allow foreign players to fund and supply DTT content and platforms?
 
A. It seems that it is already happening in some countries, and it is a threat to the industry. DTT raises very significant difficulties: Technical, logistical and financial. The transition requires raising a very large capital , which may exceed EUR 100 million, and of course difficulties in terms of sourcing content.  Everyone is preparing as best they can to meet one or other of these three challenges. Today it seems that only a Chinese group has been approaching some African governments with an offer solving those three problems. If this offer is attractive, it also carries a danger that one can imaginable. DTT is not a technological revolution, it is a major revolution for the cultural and economic future of Africa, it is an opportunity for Africans to finally build their own destiny in the audiovisual sector. This opportunity at intersection of cultural and economic concerns. Let private groups kidnap this chance would be a terrible mistake!
 
Q. When you talk to African TV channels, do you feel their executives are fully aware of the upcoming changes in the African media landscape and the consequences for their business model? Are they ready for it?
 
A. Of course everyone is aware of the digital transition. Whether they really understand the issues, and if they are really prepared for it is another question. But we do think that some players clearly understand what will happen and are getting prepared for this war. For this is a war!
 
Q. How should African governments fund DTT? (e.g. through new telecoms licences?) will it happen?
 
A. Obviously, models vary from country to country, and of course it takes shape as a tender with equipment companies, operators’ license and funding agencies, etc. Of course, we understand the need for funding and obstacles to prevent the status quo of some governments who are being cautious and thus opt for ready-made solutions by a Chinese group. Otherwise, we will also see funding through licenses. DTT Technology is only a tool, the challenge lies in profitable models and operation of this tool.
 
Q. In theory, should African governments fund part of the national TV content (incl. films, news, docus and series) and why? Will it happen?
 

Government support for quality national content must exist, because it is vital for the development of the national audiovisual sector. This sector is strategic for the future of Africa. But for countries that rarely did receive this support, the transition to DTT makes it mandatory, essential and urgent. Failing this will not lead to a domination of African programmes but to an invasion and a crash. As already mentioned, this is a historic opportunity for Africa; failing to understand it and letting foreign interests prevail at the expense of the national interest would be making a tragic mistake in history.


 
Q. Do you see a growth in the African TV and film production segment? is quality improving?

A. Yes indeed, we have noticed an improvement in both quantitative and qualitative aspects of the « made in Africa » TV and film production segment. But it is not enough. Quantitatively, it is when DTT but also the DTH and Broadband will come to full maturity that we will see the amount of hours needed to satisfy audience and channels’ need. Today it is still insufficient. Yet in terms of quality, we're confident that the level will grow rapidly. Because the thirst for African content is not only felt in Africa but also beyond its borders. And our belief is that Africa is a wealth of talent still completely unknown and untapped.
 
Q. Is DTH an essential part of the digital migration process in Africa and why?

 
A. DTH is not essential, but it will grow. There are operators currently in place that can offer DTH services for every home at very affordable terms using DTH and broadband.
 
Q. Do you see VoD service usage grow in those African regions you know? 
 
A. A complete blur reign on VOD services. To our knowledge, VoD content for African is mostly consumed by people outside of the African continent. We believed that consumption of VoD from the African continent today is very marginal. This is mainly due to the problems of bandwidth and cost of the so-called bandwidth. It seems that the consumer will pay much less to the VoD platform than what he will pay to the operator for the cost of data transfer.
 
Q. Will Africa go through the same media usage patterns as in the Western and Asian World: decline of traditional press, radio/TV persistent, VoD/TV catch up/replay boom, digital advertising growth?
 
A. It is likely but not certain that we follow the same path. Certainly we are in the continent of orality (the use of speech, rather than writing, as a means of communication), and it is certain that the press has never had high penetration. It is certain that radio has the strongest media outreach with an uneven penetration. Certainly TV in all its forms (tv = remote and vision = watch with the inclusion of tablet, laptop, mobile) remains king. Certainly young Africans do not differ much from young Ukrainian, Chinese, or New Yorkers: they are eager and curious. It is certain that there will be a time when Africa will be catching up on digital usage in lightning speed. Africa is fortunate not to have an old infrastructure needing destruction to get a brand new digital network. Africa will soon be technologically in par with Western countries. In the light of these observations, we're heading towards the same pattern.
 
Q. Is pay TV too expensive for large African audiences? will prices come down in the coming years and why?
 
A. With the proliferation of offers it is expected that services will be sold at a few dollars a month and we are convinced that the future of television in Africa will go through "paid services". I want to take as an example a service launch in which I was personally involved when I was working at McCann. This was the first launch of mobile service in Francophone Africa. It was in the early 90s and the strategic vision of the operator was to launch a product for businessmen from the elite, millionaires, leaders etc. Only after the launch did we realised we had there a mass service and that the real market was in the mass market. Today, in order to keep their mobile phones, people are going without anything else. Spending around US$ 5 per month per individual from disadvantaged classes is nothing extraordinary.

 
 
 

Q. How will DTT offers compete with pay TV?
 
DTT will offer free channels (must-carry obligation) and will be paid by channels and/or governments. But above all it will offer pay packages. And the question that arises is how Pay TV on DTT services will compete with pay TV via DTH.

 

Note: (1) DTT means digital terrestrial television. Also written DTTV.

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Digital Content Africa: Balancing Act's web TV channel Smart Monkey TV has launched a new e-letter called Digital Content Africa. On a fortnightly basis, it covers online film, music, publishing and services and applications. We have already produced 25 issues and these can be viewed on this link: Essential reading for those in broadcast or film. If you would like to subscribe, just send an email to info@balancingact-africa.com with Digital Content Africa in the title line.
Here are some examples of past issues below:

You Tube provides a platform for piloting new TV series: An African City and Al Bernameg light the way

Licensing delays stall Kenya’s “i-Tunes” content platform on a Raspberry Pi but end may be in sight

The Mobile Deal that is keeping Africans from having more music, film and TV on their mobiles

Online film, music and TV content in Africa – In search of the elusive business model


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