The local content game

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African broadcasters lack a significant quota of local content on their channels due to limited funds and, in some cases, lack of available production skills. Once the continent migrates to digital terrestrial television (DTT) there will be multiple new channels that will require more content than ever before.

“Local content is much more expensive to produce than licensing overseas programming. However, broadcasters must consider the positive impact that local production has on job creation in a country, especially for people outside the main cities.’

This was according to Desiree Markgraaff, co-chairperson of the Independent Producers Organisation of South Africa (IPO), at the recent Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum (DBSF) in Johannesburg.

She continued: “African countries are in the process of reaffirming their identities and languages. I regularly travel to Nigeria and Kenya to produce a show called Shuga and it’s sad to see so few locally produced programmes for youth. It’s up to the industry at ground level to make sure that local content gets onto our screens. We need strong regulation to enforce local quotas on DTT platforms.’

Simon Robinson, publisher and managing editor of Screen Africa, added: “The big question everyone in the South African broadcast industry is asking is – what is going to persuade consumers to switch over from analogue television to DTT? As I see it the two big drivers are technology and content.

“Technology will provide viewers with better TV reception and higher resolution images. But it’s important that the content offering be compelling in the DTT era. So far in South Africa we’ve only had four free-to-air (FTA) channels so I think broadcasters should focus on the poorer communities in the country. They will be amazed by what they can get from DTT once it is implemented.’

Ghana

Presenting the Ghanaian view was Cosby Bikpe of Homebase TV. Over a period of a year and a half Homebase TV has put together a purely local content channel.
“It’s been proved that broadcasters in Africa have had lots of foreign telenovelas forced onto them. Homebase TV does mostly local content. I want to think within the box and look inside the continent for stories. All that is required to produce more local content is enthusiasm.’

Nigeria

For the Nigerian Television Authority (NTV), an umbrella grouping of over 70 stations which has entered into a joint venture with DTT provider Star TV, local content also includes programming from the diaspora. Some of the NTA specialist channels include NTA News24, NTA Language and NTA Knowledge.

Said NTA GM Bola Oyeyemi: “NTA has always been at the forefront of local content production. For us good content must be vibrant, exciting and compelling otherwise no-one will purchase DTT STBs. There are 140 million people in Nigeria so we have more than enough basic ingredients to come up with local content.

“We believe in projecting the positives – heritage, culture, arts, inventions, inspiring stories, heroes, laws, business and economy. Nigeria’s Nollywood film industry showed us what we can do. However, my worry is that foreign audiences watching Nollywood fare might think that Nigeria is nothing but witchcraft.

“Nigeria has a vibrant film and music industry. We’ve found that viewers want to know what is happening around them. NTA has the people and the skills and we can continue to improve,’ noted Oyeyemi.

NTA has an in-house production division but also collaborates with independent producers. “Nigeria has a lot of young producers that we’re tapping into because they’re full of ideas. In turn we provide them with the facilities they need. We also acquire programming from independent producers.

“The NTA’s strict quality criteria forces producers to raise their standards and in this way we contribute to skills development. We also make a point of getting people involved because our research shows that when people are part of what you do, they perform better,’ commented Oyeyemi.

She stressed that funding will always be a problem. “However, like most broadcasters we believe that you will never have enough money. So make the best from the little that you have.

“Last year the government put aside about $2bn for the Nigerian Entertainment Fund. This was a very welcome government intervention.

“I think all African producers need to think outside the box to make exciting programmes,’ concluded Oyeyemi.

By Joanna Sterkowicz

Screen Africa magazine – May 2012

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