Mali stands at the threshold of a new more competitive broadcasting sector – Survey results show new competition fault lines

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With the exception of Senegal (and more recently Côte d'Ivoire), not much change has happened in the francophone broadcast sector for so long. But the long delayed transition to digital broadcasting is accelerating the move to more competitive markets. Sylvain Béletre looks at the example of Mali and picks over what the results of an audience survey in Bamako tell us about the new competition fault lines.

At first glance, Mali’s TV and radio market is dominated by the Government broadcaster ORTM. It operates two TV channels (ORTM and TM2) and a number of radio stations that compete with private broadcasters. The latter are more numerous in the radio than TV sector.

ORTM is the long-established Government channel and it gets the lion’s share of the audience still although largely in the capital Bamako. TM2 was set up to provide more entertainment-based programming and is aimed at younger audiences: it has yet to find its feet in terms of attracting viewers because it is digital and the transition process has barely begun.

The main competitor to these channels is Africable, a private sector satellite platform that offers both Free To Air and Pay TV content. As we reported in Issue 198, it is also operating a satellite platform for other broadcasters as well as its own content. This platform is aimed more broadly at francophone west Africa.

According to industry sources, there are around a dozen independent TV production companies and a small number of film-makers. The latter’s productions are largely made through international donor funding.

International NGO MICT carried out an audience survey in Bamako called “J’aimerais bien être fier de l”ORTM” Enquête sur l’utilisation et l’image de la chaîne de télévision nationale au sein de la population de Bamako.” It has plans to carry out a second audience survey outside of Bamako.

Asked which TV channel was their first choice, 40% of respondents from within Bamako said ORTM and 27% Africable. However, within these percentages, men are much more likely to watch ORTM and women more likely to watch Africable. The latter also does much better than ORTM in the 15-19 year old age group.

ORTM’s digital channel TM2 was named by well below 5% of respondents as their favorite channel. TV5MONDE and France 24 both were named by 12% and 6% respectively as their favorite channel. TV5MONDE is currently running a billboard campaign in Bamako advertising its online presence.

When respondents were asked whether they had confidence in a channel vs. it being a favorite channel, both ORTM and Africable had less people expressing confidence in them whereas TV5 and France 24 had more people expressing confidence. Education was the key variable in these responses as those with less education expressed higher level of confidence in ORTM and Africable, whilst those with a higher level of education were more likely to express confidence in TV5 and France 24.

When asked whether ORTM was a “chaîne crédible”, between 30-40% either didn’t agree at all or didn’t agree. Over 40% felt ORTM was too controlled by the Malian Government.

In the capital Bamako, TV is as likely to be used as radio and the vast majority of people watch it in their home. However, there is also significant viewing at work, in neighbours’ houses and with public TVs in places like cafes. As elsewhere globally, prime time between 18.00-21.00.

When asked which media was Very Important in terms of their daily life, most respondents chose TV followed by radio and Internet (only slightly apart) and lastly the press. The presence of Internet at this level is particular significant for what is described in the following section. 15-19 year old respondents were slightly less likely to watch “journal télévisé” (or 'JT', the news in French) than other age groups.

The most popular content (either watched often and very often) were in descending order: sport, music and concerts, magazine programmes and talk shows. Respondents also thought that ORTM did a good job (well covered and very well covered) with music, sport and the elections. 

As for all Government broadcasters but particularly in francophone Africa, the dilemma which this survey highlights is that they are between a rock and a hard place. The private sector is increasingly offering better and more varied entertainment and sometimes sports and the international French broadcasters are offering news that the more educated middle classes find more credible.

As if this squeeze by broadcast competition were not enough, as elsewhere, they face competition from online and social media where locally sourced news (particularly from the north) gets to people more quickly (though not always more accurately) than through TV and radio.

If Government broadcasters fail to change to meet these challenges, they will both lose audiences and become irrelevant. They must meet these challenges by finding enough room to make credible reforms, particularly in terms of news gathering.


Images: Bamako seals. Source: wikipedia.


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