In the early 20th century, a new profession – orchid hunter – emerged. The unusual shape and colours of the flower caused Europeans to develop ‘orchid fever’, and orchid hunters faced tropical diseases, snakes and deadly competitiveness in their attempts to collect the beautiful, fragrant flowers.
Orchids are ideal to cross breed – to create hybrids. Since the days of ‘orchid fever’, hundreds of thousands of hybrid orchids have been grown. These new hybrids can be beautiful and are often more fertile and easier to care for than their original orchid ancestors.
This November, we’re back in Cape Town for another Africacom, and thanks to SES, another Industry Day – ID 18 – packed full of insights about broadcasting in Africa, before the main conference starts.
Africa is unique. Don’t dare call Africa a country! It’s a continent of uniqueness, including some unusual broadcast characteristics.
AFRICAN FTA IS STRUGGLING
Apparently, only 10% of African TV viewers are watching free to air (FTA) TV while 90% are on pay TV. This is the opposite of the usual pattern, and that ratio is just not enough to bring in enough FTA viewers to generate good advertising revenue to support production of great content. It’s a virtuous circle usually – just not in Africa at the moment! OK, it’s a sweeping generalisation which Africa (and hardworking, innovative broadcasters and production companies) don’t deserve but … it rings true. Africans are proud of Africa and want to watch their own content, but the market – so far – is struggling to nurture it.
COLLABORATION AND INNOVATIVE BUSINESS MODELS
SABA, the Southern African Broadcasting Association seems to agree, explaining that state broadcasters are not well funded and there is little they can do as individual broadcasters. But innovating through collaboration could be the way forward. Instead of a population of 2 million, an audience of 370m in SABA is an entirely different proposition for advertisers. Initially, SABA is setting up a news exchange, but the next step will be a sub-Saharan news channel, with multilingual subtitling.
Innovative business models are also front-of-mind. Traditional broadcasters are losing audience to YouTube (etc), so what business models can help broadcasters change their mindset? The NBC (Namibia) is trying, funding a select team of young people creating local films. And mobile/OTT delivery shouldn’t be an add-on, for the youth mobile is their primary viewing device. With OTT delivery comes data, and keynote speakers at ID18 argued that audience + data = monetisation.
A compelling presentation by Surie Ramasary (Cell C’s OTT CEO) highlighted that an OTT service needs to offer local content, including local sports and music, and prevent barriers to sign-up. While credit cards may not be common, Surie highlighted that even asking for an email address can be a barrier – one that was overcome, when Cell C asked instead for a mobile number.
THE HYBRID FUTURE
As to the future of TV, it’s our belief that a consensus emerged – a hybrid model. For many countries, DTT is just too expensive (just ask the Zambian government) and perpetuates the digital divide (serving urban areas and failing to reach the rural); satellite covers the entire country but the entire country can’t receive it (e.g. Uganda’s 2014 census reports only 10% of rural households have electricity) so OTT/mobile (including solar-power mobile chargers) is an essential part of the mix (again in Uganda’s 2014 census, there was over 50% penetration of mobile in rural/urban areas).
Much like the orchid hunters of the early 20th century, the pioneering and competitive work of early African broadcasters has laid the foundations. In the 21st century, we can look towards a hybrid future – a future in which the best of technology can be combined, to create a fertile infrastructure the supports the production of indigenous content that educates, informs and entertains – in a proudly African way. Bring it on!