It’s an exciting time to be in the business of content. The move to digital has
enabled audiences and producers alike to captain their own ships through a sea of
endless possibility. Viewership may be fragmenting and content platforms
multiplying but never before have we been so connected and empowered by choice.
The content we consume and the way in which we do so is no longer dictated by
mass media conglomerates or broadcasters. Instead, we are free to connect with
what resonates with our own unique interests, giving content which is more specific
and individualised the potential to snatch a lot more market share.
Success in niche distribution lies in being able to feed content to an already hungry
audience; and digitisation makes serving it up all the easier. Sign Painters, a
speciality film which looks at the lives of artists that hand paint commercial signs,
might never have blipped on the radar a decade ago, but last year experienced
successful online distribution and market performance.
Michael Dearham, VP of Pay TV company StarTimes and a strong believer in the
power of digital media, comments, “Believe me, in this world there is a community
for any kind of content – because there exists a group of people involved in a
particular subject, who therefore want to be part of that viewing experience in one
way or another.’
Navigation and discovery
Dearham maintains that the evolution of content in the digital age and the growing
popularisation of niches, are reliant on navigation and discovery. With the
refinement and integration of search engine optimisation and metadata, audiences
are able to connect more efficiently with the content they want, and content
providers are able to aggregate and serve this content more specifically according
to user interests. Further to this is the expanding field of apps and content
communities on social media, which are able to streamline and direct consumer
choices. “The companies who will win in the digital race are those who master
content navigation and discovery,’ says Dearham. “Content needs to be accessible
across all platforms, and finding and paying for it needs to be a quick and easy
The creation of niches
The process by which niche genres develop is a complex and multifaceted one.
When content initially enters the market, it follows a similar path to that of any new
product. It essentially begins as a niche, which over a period of time achieves a
level of mass appeal. It then gets re-invented by its owners and marketers, who
introduce variants of the original in order to squeeze out the maximum amount of
The result is a “niching of niches’, which according to Dearham, can be broken down
into a number of segments. Dearham explains that a novel idea or genre is first
introduced by visionaries – take for example Africa-specific content. Once the genre
is introduced, leaders will emerge offering exclusive content within its parameters –
like African movies, TV series and soaps. Other players will then challenge these
leaders, whom they cannot compete against, by targeting a more specific segment
of the market. This would translate to Nollywood (Nigerian) or Riverwood (Kenya)
content for example. This is narrowed down further by other players who could do a
number of things to focus the content. They could dub a Nollywood film in a variety
of languages or produce further culturally specific content in the form of educational
programmes or social documentaries. Listing all of the specifying options available
would be impossible.
Dearham says a good example of this is the success he is seeing with StarSat’s
channel offerings which include a Bollywood Swahili channel, a Hausa channel and a
Ugandan channel which purely features Ugandan music. “There is nothing new about
Telenovela – it features on most African Television networks. But we noticed that no
one was featuring Turkish novellas – high quality, Islamic themed and conservative.
We recently launched a channel which features this kind of content in primetime
slots, and it is proving to be highly successful,’ he says.
Cost effectiveness vs. risk
In global markets, Hollywood studios are beginning to focus more and more on big
budget films which offer franchising opportunities and a guaranteed return on
investment, like the Marvel series for example. Small to medium budget films now
have a greater hill to climb if they want to get made, receive a theatrical release
and traditional distribution. There is no discrimination in this arena either.
Even Lincoln, which was directed by filmmaking legend Steven Spielberg, barely
made it into distribution for this very reason. But online, where marketing budgets
can be sliced and producers can self-distribute and broadcast, these films have
found a new home and a way of reaching the viewers who want to see them.
It comes down to an age-old business formula – cost effectiveness versus risk. The
more differentiated and specialised content is, the more expensive it is to produce
because it requires specialist resources and skills which may consume more time.
The worth of any content is ultimately measured in terms of its audience – does one
exist, if not, can one be created? The digital revolution and the resulting explosion
of connectivity are significantly lowering this risk. In Africa we don’t have superfast
broadband yet. It is undoubtedly the chink in our armour at present. But when we
do – and we will – content as specific as a 24-hour crocheting YouTube channel, a
documentary on pet cemeteries or an African reality series on a tribe in northern
Ghana could all comfortably find their place on a significant number of screens.
Written by Carly Barnes