Quality content isn’t free

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At the ‘Next Generation Pay-TV Services in Africa’ panel discussion at AfricaCom 2018

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Content isn’t free. It costs money to produce quality content and producers have to be paid. Consumers may want a freemium model, but will be prepared to pay those who bring quality content to them.

This was the view of a panel on ‘Next Generation Pay-TV Services in Africa’ at the annual mega-conference and expo, AfricaCom, held in Cape Town at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) on 13 to 15 November, 2018.

AfricaCom focuses each year on the digital ecosystem in Africa, and this year attracted 14 000 people to its 16 conference tracks under the AfricaCom banner. The television broadcast stream was this year renamed the Africa Video Forum and hosted discussions on the content market in Africa, revenue models and the growth of the pay-TV market and free-to-air (FTA) channels on the continent.

Most discussions centred around revenue models and updates on digital migration – but, as always, content and the type of content featured heavily, with emphasis on the move to local content and creating opportunities for local content productions.

Most of the global broadcasters are beginning to invest in local content and create local content opportunities for producers, and the consensus was that this would continue, although a focus on mobile content would disrupt the market.

On another panel, ‘Ensuring that quality content is getting commissioned in Africa’, Elias Schulze – co-founder of Kana TV, the first free-to-air channel in Ethiopia – made the point that stories matter, and that stories are universal.

Before Kana TV started investing in local content, all content bought in was dubbed into local languages, and Kana was, in fact, the very first channel to do professional dubbing in Ethiopia.

“We thought the entry-point was clearly the stories everyone was watching, even where they didn’t understand the language, hence the dubbing.

“So right now, we are building in more original content and investing in the people we hired, and those people are now working on original shows.”

The problem, as always, is funding that local content in a market like Ethiopia, where the television advertising market is only $20 million. So while the demand is there for quality produced local content, the funding is not.

“In Ethiopia there is no funding from the state, so we have to be very clever and deliver content that works.”

Funding models

The advice given to independent producers by Duncan Irvine, founder and CEO of Rapid Blue, was to diversify as much as possible into revenue streams from multiple sources. “As a production company, the one thing that has helped solidify us as a business producing long-form television for local broadcasters and ride the rollercoaster of the state of our local broadcasters (in South Africa), was to diversify.

“We are best known for big television shows and we fund those in different ways. We actively pursue brands and media agencies in terms of getting the communication strategies of brands before they start implementing, so we bring them opportunities, and thereby get ahead of the spend.

“Even in South Africa, let alone other African markets, this advertising pot isn’t growing exponentially – we are all fighting for the same dollar.”

This is how Irvine has diversified his business into a “basket approach”, with investment and revenues coming in from multiple sources:

  • Producing long form: commissions, originals, ad funded, scripted or non-scripted.
  • Short film: digital first, design.
  • Building production hubs for international broadcasters to film in South Africa: all dollar-based revenue.

He also warned that no production was ever funded in only one way. “The financing models we run and use are varied to facilitate the productions we do. We source funding from brands; through DTI funding and tax rebates for scripted productions; presales funding from distributors internationally; from some broadcasters, though not many, which are open to a structured finance deal; and a shared component from a telco operator – we are now also creating content for telco providers.”

Irvine also urged production companies to work on several projects at once, as it always takes longer to fund a production and get it off the ground than you think. In his view, any production business should be running five to six productions at any given time.

Disruption

During a panel discussion on ‘Can content producers think differently in terms of how they produce content?’, Siraaj Cassiem, producer and director at Circle 7 Media, said writers and producers also needed to focus on non-scripted content. “In a room full of content creators, everyone wants to make a movie.”

He urged people in the industry to collaborate, to learn from each other. “Our industry consists of many genres, there is a place for everyone, collaborate with others producing different content.”

Cassiem was concerned about legacy issues. “Everything has always been focused on linear television. With video on demand (VOD) and the production of VOD, the linear television business model is being disrupted. Our world is also disrupted as content producers and we haven’t come to terms with that yet. How do we play a role in this new environment? This is the struggle we have to deal with. It is an exciting time.”

One of his biggest frustrations remains the fact that people don’t appreciate that VOD allows a more flexible structure and provides detailed analytics. “As content producers for linear TV, we are still getting to grips with the concept of analytics. It is so important.”

Dantagos Jimmy-Melani, the founder and managing director of Ndapunikwa Investments Management (Namibia), said that content needed to be tailor-made for funders, especially with teaching content or promotional content that focuses on financial literacy or the social responsibility sector.

“I’ve worked with corporates in the financial services sector and they want to fund specific types of content,” he said. “In a smaller market, where there isn’t that much funding available for smaller projects, our priorities are somewhat different.”

Irvine also encouraged producers to create the type of ecosystem that allows people to be independent and to work for broadcasters in a free-flowing system.

Cassiem also emphasised that mobile broadcasting would become more and more important, and that content producers all needed to get comfortable with both producing for mobile and producing with mobile.

“Go out and produce your content: get a team together, make a hit. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. Even those of us who have worked on big productions and some of the biggest TV reality shows are starting at the bottom again when it comes to producing mobile content. I’m starting at the bottom with VOD. Now, I don’t have that network. Everyone around me is uncomfortable with VOD.”

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