Talking TV in Africa


Creating a national conversation through TV is important in the media diet of any
country, especially in Africa which is swamped with foreign programming.
How do African countries increase their TV coverage and make it a central part of
Information Communications Technology (ICT) policy in the continent’s digital
terrestrial television (DTT) future?

This was the question posed by Russell Southwood of consultancy and online
publishing company Balancing Act at the recent Commonwealth Telecommunications
Organisation (CTO) Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum in Johannesburg.

“An effective solution is for signal carriers to share the burden of national DTT
coverage and utilise satellite in remote areas of the country,’ said Southwood. “TV
coverage should be linked to all universal access services – voice telephony,
broadband, Internet, radio and the roll out of rural electricity.

“Africa not only has to bridge the divide from analogue to digital broadcasting but
bridge the electricity divide as well. In Ghana 76% of people in urban areas have TV,
while in Sierra Leone only 9% of the population has access to TV. There is not much
distinction between rural and urban areas in Sierra Leone.

“Included in ICT policy should be greater diversity of content because at the moment
most Africans see a mirror of themselves in overseas shows. Therefore African
countries need to have significant local content quotas.’

He noted that South Africa’s multilingual environment of 11 official languages offers
an opportunity to provide specific channels once the country has migrated to DTT.
These include news, parliament, health, education and so on.

“Africa is characterised by a TV channel deficit as many countries only have a single
channel – a state broadcaster or what I term “Mr President TV’. Only a third of
African countries have liberalised and they struggle to pay for content. South Africa
has a fairly limited number of channels, given the size of the market.

“It’s preferable to have more players in the DTT market rather than merely expand
incumbents’ channel offerings as this will make content more diverse. Broadcasters
need to treat content as a business and export it. Nollywood is not really a film
industry as it produces 52-minute movies that are seen mostly on TV. It’s a
phenomenally successful TV industry and is the fourth largest contributor to Nigeria’s
GDP,’ commented Southwood.

Liberalisation of the airwaves has resulted in an increasing number of broadcasters
which has seen the creation of jobs and skills. The biggest advertising growth in
Africa is mobile.

“In the main, state broadcasters are less trusted by consumers than private
channels. There is not enough focus by African broadcasters on public purposes such
as consumer issues and vernacular programming. If the situation doesn’t change then
African broadcasters will struggle to persuade consumers and vendors to migrate to
DTT,’ stressed Southwood.

By Joanna Sterkowicz

Screen Africa magazine – May 2012


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