Monde Twala, Head of Channel at eTV and Rodney Benn, vice president of
Eutelsat Africa, weigh in on the prospects, practicality and potential profitability
of regionalised television, one of the many developments which could arise from
the migration to digital terrestrial television (DTT).
South Africa’s digital migration and the possible broadcast business models
which could emerge from this transition formed the subject of a round table
discussion at the 2014 SatCom Africa exhibition and conference.
Among the countless possibilities mentioned, one which was particularly exciting
was the potential and viability of regionalised television.
A gateway of opportunity
As set by South Africa’s broadcasting regulator, ICASA, two multiplexes will
feature on the spectrum allocation for DTT. 85 per cent of the first multiplex has
been allocated to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC),
theoretically allowing them to broadcast 17 channels, with the remaining 15 per
cent allocated to existing community television channels.
e.tv will take 55 per cent and a possible 11 channels, while M-Net will take 45
per cent and a possible nine channels of the second multiplex. There is also a
possibility of creating a third DTT multiplex to cater for new players that may
enter the broadcast field. This offers many avenues of content possibility, across
According to Rodney Benn, the mechanics of DTT will not only make it possible
for broadcasters to have regional or market-specific channels in their bouquet
on an allocated multiplex, but with the use of a digital gateway, hardware and
software which exists in the architecture of the system, they will be able to
seamlessly shift from one form of broadcast to another.
He explains: “If one were to decide that certain content on a region-specific
channel would be relevant to broadcast nationally, it is possible with the DTT
gateway software to queue streams into a schedule and coordinate it in such a
way that it’s smooth and unnoticeable to viewing audiences. The process is
possible on analogue, but is very difficult and complicated.’
Archiving SA culture in the digital age
With South Africa’s move to DTT, broadcasters will be able to expand their reach
and capacity, allowing them to distribute more content that specifically caters to
niche markets as well as language and cultural specific communities. It is clear
that there is already a growing demand for more specialised programming with
community stations popping up in different regions of the country, such as Alex
TV in Johannesburg, and ASTV in Rustenburg.
Monde Twala believes that regionalised content will create the opportunity to
preserve culture and promote diversity.
“This excites me because it’s another avenue, especially from a culture
perspective. We are a diverse country, filled with different language groups.
How do we keep that alive? Technology is an enabler for us to contain and
showcase our cultures equally. It’s part of the story of our democracy. We are
this rainbow nation; wouldn’t it be amazing to see every little shade on TV and
in the spotlight?’
Expanding revenue potential
There are a number of options in terms of possible revenue models for regional
TV: the traditional private investment model, an advertising driven model, or a
community driven model, which would be dependent on affluent contributors or
donors within the community. But Twala points out that regulation needs to
ensure it protects the “smaller guys’ so they are able to function and compete
for a portion of the pie.
He adds that there is lots of uncertainty and anxiety with an advertising model,
as one would have to drive uptake in terms of viewership in order to sell
numbers to advertisers and achieve objectives, but putting these risks aside it is
one which could expand a broadcaster’s revenue portfolio.
“There is an ad model for regional TV that allows advertisers to be focused with
messaging and drive products to a specific target audience. It also provides an
avenue for small businesses to use the medium. Big players have expensive
rates due to huge audiences but regional TV is more focused and provides an
opportunity for the guy who owns the corner shop to advertise his products to
the right people,’ says Twala.
Benn adds that different business models also exist in relation to broadcasters’
channels within the allocated DTT multiplex. “You could have these channels,
regional or otherwise, as a subscription-based service or free-to-air. For
example you could ask viewers to buy a smart card to access channels or you
could split it with some channels being charged for and some free.’
Inspiring locally produced content
It makes sense that the content which would broadcast on regional channels be
created by filmmakers within these areas or cultures. In addition, local content
creates understanding and encourages entrepreneurial spirit.
“The spin-offs are immense,’ remarks Twala, “You are training people and
creating jobs. If you’re a filmmaker in Mpumalanga, why should you come to
Johannesburg to pursue a career? Adding to that, it makes our industry more
competitive, which means the quality of programming is driven up. Local content
aligns to broader political and nation building objectives.’