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Digital Migration: Which way for Africa?

Africa , 19 Jun 2015

Digital Migration: Which way for Africa?

Fighting the winds of change has been the proverbial stand for most African broadcasters when it comes to digital television migration.

According to reports only three African nations namely Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda have successfully switched off their analogue systems and embraced digital broadcasting, meeting the 17 June 2015 deadline.

The mainstream media stations are now looking for ways to guard their markets in a much more liberalised playing field, while the new entrants are searching for uniqueness in the crowded environment.

Experts at Convergence Africa World conference in Nairobi, Kenya discussed the new possibilities broadcasters and content creators have in this new frontier.

As Danny Mucira, the general manager, Digital and Bamba TV at Radio Africa said the market cannot be less dull than what it is.

“As I look into the crystal ball I see an extremely exciting competitive market going forward. The telcos coming in, other platforms in Europe that do not need to set up locally via video on demand platforms are also coming in. I think the existing Pay TV players will be strong but they need to adapt and be advised on how to face the battle going forward,” said Mucira.

Content is king

Julius Butime, head of engineering and training at African Advanced Level Telecommunications Institute (AFRALTI) in Kenya noted that in recent times the continent has seen more local productions in movies and music, reflecting the demand.

“The only downside is that there is no much funding going into supporting those kind of ventures,” Butime said. Most broadcasters find it much easier to opt for premium international foreign content.

“I think there is always going to be a distinction between premium content and non premium content,” Mucira said.

“There is a huge demand for premium content.” And people are paying for it. Multichoice (DSTv and GOTv) and Startimes were highlighted to be the biggest market players in the pay TV revolution in Africa.

It was well noted that exclusive content such as the English Premier League, which is popular in Africa has driven subscription revenues for companies such as DStv and the push for sector players is to secure exclusive content.

Bamba TV currently does not have a subscription model for its offering but Mucira alluded that they would also look into way of offering such a service as they also promote local content and talent.

“There is definitely a huge hunger for local content,” Mucira added. However, the challenge for producers is the cost implication for producing such content.

“The content providers really need to rethink their business models. And I think that’s why Nigeria is so successful - they are able to produce extremely high quality productions at extremely competitive pricing,” he said.

Currently the parent ministry for broadcasting in Kenya, Information, Communication and Technology, has directed that all local broadcasters should have at least 40% local content either produced in Kenya or makes use of Kenyan talent.

The move is aimed to promote local programming and in turn open up the industry’s job market.

Look to mobile

According to the Communication Authority of Kenya, there is estimated to be around 3.5 million households with television sets, with over 2 million on the digital broadcasting platform.

This hardly becomes a formidable market for competitors to slug it out. But the spread of smartphone and mobile broadband might duplicate how many people can watch content.

It is estimated that by 2017 there will be over 330 million smartphones in the African continent and this is an opportunity content providers cannot ignore.

iROKO TV through its vice president Peter Brunt, said that they are in the process to actively market their Android application to Africans where they believe the future of their business lies.

Julius Butime said that it might not be the right time to completely offer services through the mobile phone due to high data cost, but broadcasters can start breaking down their content and offer it for mobile users in small downloadable chunks.

“I think increasingly the mobile network operators will become a formidable competitor on pay TV,” Mucira said. “However I think linear television viewing is still the preferred way.”

Mucira said that there are opportunities for pay TV providers to partner with telcos and offer content to their subscribers as a way of creating over the top TV viewership.

Into the future

Content and content delivery systems are two key areas that digital broadcasters need to innovate around.

Kenya currently has around 40 digital broadcasting stations, all of them looking to differentiate their content and acquire viewership.

The panellist urged greater government participation in promoting local content generation and improve infrastructure to encompass more potential viewership and eventually grow the industry.

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