Digital technology tools create new business opportunities in Africa


SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: The 5th StarTimes Digital TV Development Seminar
concluded on 10 June in Beijing, with a number of technology service providers
offering attendees a glimpse at the role which technological platforms, products and
services will play in a digitised Africa. In addition, a number of high profile African
representatives which formed part of the conference delegation gave further
insights as to the challenges their respective countries face in the march towards
digital migration.

CEO of Harmonic Inc., Patrick Harshman, shared with delegates a number of
advanced technologies which the company has developed in response to the
challenges and benefits of the digital video revolution. These include video
compression, transcoding and customisable content solutions. From a consumer
point of view, as more users adopt digital lifestyles and make use of multiple
devices, a need for hybrid networking solutions and connected home entertainment
eco-systems has emerged. Fred Taylor, product line director at Broadcom,
discussed how devices such as STB’s, smartphones and tablets could be connected
to a network along with home appliances, security and monitoring devices.
Satellite coverage and direct-to-home services have an important role to play in
Africa’s digital transition. According to Christoph Limmer, marketing director of
broadcasting and video at Eutelsat, not only does satellite technology provide a
complimentary coverage solution to terrestrial networks, but is flexible, can handle
a number of different formats and has national coverage capability. Limmer points
out that the African population is still very dispersed, with 1.2 billion people still
living in rural environments. Limmer said that DTH subscriptions were on the rise
globally, but that emerging markets in particular where experiencing notable
growth. “A few years ago there were 150 million DTH subscribers in Africa. In 2015
that number has grown to 161 million.’

The OTT explosion was also a topic for discussion, with John Kjellemo, technical
director of advanced solutions for Conax Asia-Pacific, calling this an “exciting and
frightening time for broadcasters.’ According to Kjellemo, the emergence of OTT
has brought about new devices, platforms, services and a complete change to the
industry. He pointed out that advertising on OTT platforms was still behind when
compared traditional advertising and stated that in 2014 the OTT ad market
generated $3.6 billion in revenue, while the traditional ad market brought in $94.3
billion. Kjellemo added, “With the internet the whole world is your market – and
also your competition. It’s an entire new world to relate to.’

A large portion of the conference was dedicated to contributions from attending
African delegates, which were given the opportunity to engage around issues
surrounding digital migration. Though at varying stages of progress and
development, all delegates felt digitisation played an important role in social
development and enhancement. Common challenges which were brought up
included product pricing, coverage and content production.

Hassan Sylla Bakari, the minister of communications in Chad said, “Africa faces
many issues including war and hunger. We want to give our people access to
information. Pan-African broadcast and TV industries are an integral part of that.’
Minister of communications for the Democratic republic of Congo, Okiemy Bienvenu
highlighted the need in the DRC for relevant pricing of STB’s and pay-TV
subscriptions. He added that the industry in DRC was still developing and that a new
influx of TV channels could negatively affect local stations.

The chairman of the Kenyan Parliament Senate Committee on Information and
Technology, Senator Mutahi Kagwe, shared his concern about the continuation of
analogue television set sales and production in Africa. “There is potential for Africa
to become a dumping ground for old TVs from the West. This is not a position we
want to be in,’ he commented.

Alex Shimuafeni of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation highlighted the
importance of audience research and stated, “In Namibia, the regulations are clear
on local content production. We want to make sure we give the right content to the
right people at the right time.’

The road to a fully digitised continent was openly acknowledged as long and littered
with obstacles by conference delegates; but the will to learn from and share with
those who had overcome such challenges was also evident. The ability to engage
with other Africans, albeit at varying levels of technical development and digital
progress, provided a valuable opportunity to proceed with better foresight, in what
is painted to be a prosperous and socially progressive era for Africa.

Report filed from Beijing by Carly Barnes, Screen Africa Deputy Editor.


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