Convergence – Getting to grips with the contours of the new media landscape with real data

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Convergence has been creeping up on the telecoms and Internet sectors in Africa. Orange has been quietly promoting its Livebox product in a widening range of countries and Telkom will shortly launch IP-TV services through Telkom Media. Gateway Communications set up GTV to compete with DStv in the satellite Pay TV market. However, up until now there has been little data to work out what any of this might mean. In a world in which telcos are becoming broadcasters and broadcasters may yet return the favour by offering voice and Internet services, telcos and ISPs need to know what their peers in the broadcast sector are doing.

This week sees the publication of African Broadcast and Film Markets, a large 340+ page report packed with both industry and audience data. The report comes in two parts: part one covers industry trends and data and part two looks at audiences. There are seventeen country user surveys covering: Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Each survey involved a large sample size, and was conducted through face-to-face interview, usually in the home of the respondent. The result is an unusually rich, single source for data on how Africans are interacting with traditional and emerging platforms, new technologies and modes of mass and inter-personal communication. It is sufficiently standardised to allow cross-comparison between countries and trend analysis across the timeframe data has been collected.

In the industry trends part of the report, it covers:

• Triple play and converged players: The report analyses the ten countries where there are converged operators (including cable) or telcos providing IP-TV. In each case, the size of the market is comparatively small but the numbers have continued to go upwards over the last 12 months: there are both subscriber numbers and bouquet breakdowns with rates.

The report looks at those like Telkom Media and Egyptian operator PCN who are starting to enter the market. It examines Algerie Telecom’s Fibre-To-The Home roll-out and its ambitions with IP-TV. Triple play has been hampered by backward looking African regulation on VoIP in some countries and the high cost of international bandwidth but with the arrival of several new fibre projects in liberalised East Africa in 2009 all that will begin to change.

• Rights and programming costs: One factor that has slowed down the converged operators is that they are entering a new area and have not fully understood the importance of rights and programming costs. This report gives a breakdown of regional production costs and the resources required to buy in international programming. In one section it looks at the battle over rights and their costs during the African Cup of Nations.

• The great mobile TV experiment: The continent is the site of one of the most extensive set of roll-out plans for mobile TV. The report has a section that covers how it is being done, the initial numbers using the services and the technologies involved.

Part 2 of the report focuses on audiences, with detailed robust survey data that tackles a range of questions including:

• Affordability and the size of the middle class: Many of the new converged services assume that there is an affluent audience out there who can afford to pay for them. This report contains breakdowns of the size of the middle class in each country. Where there has been above average economic growth in countries, the middle classes have actual grown significantly: for example, the Kenyan middle class has grown by several percentage points. That may sound small but the numbers run into millions of people.

The user surveys tackle both media equipment ownership (televisions, radios, PCs, mobiles, satellite dishes) and also the level of usage “yesterday”. On affordability, it asks respondents whether they can afford expensive goods like televisions and fridges.

• The Internet and “critical mass”: The country surveys include both North and South Africa where there is now a clear “critical mass” emerging in terms of Internet use. For North Africa and some other countries, there is detailed data on: frequency of use, gender, age and web sites used. The report’s data identifies precisely the continuing gap between PC ownership and Internet access but this may be one gap that closes as access costs go down.

• The Internet and Mobiles as media: The big surprise is the percentage of respondents using SMS as a key source of news. To reverse Marshall McLuhan’s well known phrase: the message is now the medium. There were 4.5 million downloads from Africa of material from the second series of Big Brother. Increasingly, SMS and the Internet are becoming media and will compete for advertising with the broadcast industry: there are shifting patterns for advertising in different media. Africa’s over-priced and ineffective newspapers are set to receive a shock over the next three years.

Balancing Act’s African Broadcast and Film Markets, published in association with Intermedia, is over 340 pages long and has 132 charts, 41 tables of statistical data and 12 graphic maps. Don’t say that convergence is all hype until you know what the new landscape may actually look like.

The report is priced as follows: Full price (Africa) – GBP500/US$1,000; Full price (Rest of the World) – GBP750/US$1,500; Reduced price for universities and NGOs – GBP375/US$700. Click below to order: