The African broadcaster is dead, long live the African broadcaster – changing to meet the mobile and digital futures

20 October 2017

Top Story

Social Media, the mobile Internet and the proliferation of new DTT channels are all nipping at the heels of African broadcasters in the more competitive markets. Advertising discount rates are almost suicidal and younger audiences are slipping quietly away. Russell Southwood asks whether it’s time to change the way we think about being a broadcaster.

On a trip to Nairobi in March, everyone I spoke in the Kenyan media complained about feeling the heat of the digital transition. The pressure from an increased number of TV channels (140 of them) and the downturn in the economy have bitten hard.

In July 2016 the Nation Media Group announced that it was closing QTV, Nation FM and its Rwanda radio station KFM. In October 2016 Royal Media also announced job losses. The Standard Group made cuts earlier in 2015.

The Nation Media Group’s statement on the job losses put the blame firmly on the shift to digital:”We are cognizant of the changing trends of how are products are being consumed. In line with the new reality, we are reorganizing ourselves with the aim of transforming Nation Media Group into a 21st century company by embracing digital as the business model.”

But nobody really understands what the digital business model is and it’s an unforgiving mistress for those who have held it up as the way forward. But nevertheless in this climate, it may be helpful to look at three African broadcast pioneers who are trying to come to terms with “all things digital” in very different ways. Each involves dealing with mobile as a media delivery channel:

Example 1: Abdulai Awudu works for Multimedia Group, Joy FM’s free to air satellite company that has now established itself as one of the country’s top broadcasters by audience. He chose to work on its VoD offer with a local start-up called 2C TV. Why? Others like Star Times offered to put his content on their platform without paying (arguing it would give him greater reach) or wanted to take the lion’s share of any revenues. 2C TV offered to give him a good percentage of the revenues it generated. His main motivation for doing VoD is to generate just a little bit more money to put into production. Watch him talk about here:

Example 2: Thabo Dabengwa works for Reel African, the VoD arm of South African media company Kagiso Media. He’s producing short-form comedy content to sell to mobile operators. These are short clips of 30 seconds to a minute with jokes in them. The interesting thing is that the clips are being shot on an iPhone 7 so they are truly low budget. Watch him talk about here:

Example 3: Lucy K was recruited from a commercial radio station by the Government broadcaster in Namibia NBC for her social media skills. She runs the broadcaster’s Mobile Reporting Unit. The journalist team she runs goes out and reports on stories, shoots them on a Samsung phone, edits them using a mobile app and uploads them for use on radio, TV and social media. Working with social media means she can stay of the story and be first to report it. A story that was done on single mothers – a hot button topic for youth in the county – got 20,000 likes on Facebook. Watch her talk about it here:

What’s happening is what the academics call “hybridity”: as consumers of media, we’re taking what we want from the media buffet that’s available to us. And in doing so, how we watch, listen and read our media is changing.

When Murphy Anawana, founder of Aforevo, a Nollywood distributor and one of the biggest You Tube channel operators told me he was getting 120 million views a month, I began to understand that some African channel operators might be making money. Furthermore I was pleasantly amazed when Yoel Kenan, Africori told me that they are now getting 60 million views per month for its music videos.

So what is to be done? An African broadcaster used to be a company that owned transmission infrastructure and produced content. And the part it spent most on producing was largely in-house: talk shows and news. It was vertically integrated from production to transmission.

But with DTT, many broadcasters no longer own the means of transmission. So it might be more sensible to talk about a media content company. What’s that, I hear you say? A media content company produces content that connects with audiences through channels that make it money.

Just as the mobile operators now have to increase the data income, African broadcasters need to increase their incomes across every different channel: Free-To-Air – both terrestrial and satellite; mobile (through downloading and streaming platforms); Internet (through channels like You Tube); and social media (through digital advertising). International and regional sales needs to be a first, not a last consideration. User loyalty is won by staying with them throughout the day on whatever device or channel they’re using.

So if you have separate radio and TV companies, perhaps now is the time to start thinking about creating as a first step a multimedia division. Out of this can then be born a multimedia team that works across media. Yes, different media have different forms and demands but the skill will be in re-purposing content: for example, taking the sound track of a video and re-editing it for radio; or taking a local programme and reshooting contextual material so that it can be sold to neighbours.

Finally if you’re not to lose youth audiences, you need to start employing producers who are the same age as these audiences (like Lucy K). Now’s the time to run talent competitions for those in their twenties to get the next generation of talent on air. Without a radical shake-up, traditional African broadcasting – whether public or private – runs the danger of going down a steady slope into decline.


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