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More local content, broadcasters told: although television is spreading all over the continent, most of the non-news content is still imported from outside. African film producers are still handicapped by a number of factors but, as became clear at the first Africa Broadcast and Convergence Conference held in Nairobi. there is a huge demand for local content. Andrea Bohnstedt reports from Nairobi.

No matter what topic was being addressed, one message came across persistently at the First Africa Broadcast and Convergence Conference, held in Nairobi from 23 to 25 September 2008: More local content, and more local content!

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Technological change, i.e. the full transition in broadcasting from analogue to digital by 2015 and the use of a growing number of ways that broadcasts can be received - for example on mobile phones and PCs - will establish a larger platform that has far more capacity for content. As a consequence, the demand for content is going to increase exponentially - and this includes local content.

According to the 'African Broadcast and Film Markets' report published by Balancing Act Africa (BAA) - a publishing and consultancy firm specialising in African telecoms, internet and broadcasting developments - 17 or more out of 40 countries have licensed private free-to-air (FTA) stations, and many have additional pay TV stations.

National broadcasters will be joined by a multitude of commercial players and in a liberalised broadcast sector, "Your Excellency TV, with endless footage of a country's ruler's every movement will simply no longer be able to survive," says Russell Southwood, BAA's CEO.

Commenting on the ongoing wave of liberalisation in African broadcasting that opens up the sector to private participation, he expects to see 'the kind of growth that the mobile market has experienced over the next five years'.

So far, African versions of international TV shows like Big Brother and The Apprentice perform well, but data show that locally produced content that has relevance to the viewers' lives is often preferred to imported series.

However, in most African countries, a local content industry is, at best, just emerging. The exception is Nigeria, where 'Nollywood', with its large number of low-budget movies, has modelled itself on the early days of Bollywood.

Southwood estimates that to produce international standard content costs $300 to $500 an hour and can go up to $1,000 to $2,000. Local productions, in contrast, cost around $9,000 if produced independently, or up to $15,000 if produced in-house. TV companies are gradually beginning to address this issue, and have increasingly begun to develop mechanisms to work with local talent in order to build capacities.

Joe Hundah, director of operations at MNET and managing director of Multichoice Nigeria, is well aware of the prohibitive pricing of local content, a reflection of a young and inefficient industry. Distribution and financing, Hundah argues, are the key concerns in developing a local content industry, but he concedes that financing would probably follow if a distribution system were set up.

He especially looks towards the US industry, which is not just far more efficient, but is also backed by strong, diversified marketing departments that push their content globally.

The recognition that production is worth very little without efficient distribution systems has driven the career of Charles Igwe, a media entrepreneur from Nigeria. Igwe, married to one of Nigeria's best-known filmmakers and with a background in finance, is one of the pioneers in building a formalised distribution structure for Nollywood movies (see box).

He has also been actively involved in the fight against piracy - a crucial concern if content creation is to become commercially viable and attract more investment. For him, distribution was the key stepping stone in turning local Nigerian productions into a commercially attractive industry that now sells to Nigerians in the diaspora as well.

Both Igwe and Hundah know that content is not necessarily about huge budgets - as Kenyan productions Tahidi High and Makutano Junction show, audiences have a clear preference for local content. Often such productions can be done at moderate budgets, helped by the use of modern technology.

These days, Igwe is more concerned with local production capacity. He argues that content is, in the end, a talent-centred business, which currently suffers from the lack of local skills.

Language fragmentation

Africa's enormous linguistic diversity - an estimated 2,000+ languages are spoken on the continent - clashes with economies of scale: content production needs to be targeted at a big enough language group in order to become viable, and this remains an obstacle for truly pan-African broadcast content that is commercially interesting.

English is spoken by an estimated 350m people, and Swahili speakers are estimated to approach 100m. This gave rise to the explosion in vernacular FM radio stations.

Kofi Bucknor, the head of television at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, threw a provocative statement to his audience: "African broadcasting has come to epitomise the African attitude to African issues," he said. Like the political fragmentation across the continent and the reliance on outside input, African broadcasting is not working hard enough to bring together the continent on its own terms.

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He sees the future creation of a continental platform and audience in the hands of the state broadcasters, since they are tasked to provide a public good, and argues that they can grow audiences across regions and all of Africa by creating content exchanges and commissioning local content.

Liberalisation of the telecoms sector, Southwood argues, has had a globalising impact in more than one way: on the one hand, the introduction of new technologies and the pressure to improve local production capacities have emphasised the need to acquire internationally standard skills and technologies; on the other hand, a liberalised, more competitive broadcast sector also opens up a window to the world.

This point was taken up by Alex Okosi, senior vice-president and managing director of MTV Networks Africa. MTV is keen to play African music, and has run DJ and video production programmes to help improve the quality of local skills and therefore content. But, Okosi argues, MTV also wants to make sure that their listeners are informed on global developments - 'providing a window to the world', since youth culture is a global phenomenon.

AITEC group chairman Sean Moroney, the organiser of the broadcast event, concluded: "The conference revealed the urgent need for broadcasters and film-makers across the continent to co-operate more closely in order to combine resources and pool their buying power to secure more favourable international broadcast rights, as well as share material across borders."

Even if still in its early stages, pay TV's making inroads into sub-Saharan Africa is indicative of a shift from low-income to mid-income economies, a trend that will benefit from the ongoing economic reforms and strong growth rates in many African countries.

Broadcast content has the potential to create a double effect: globalisation and localization - enhancing the continent's integration into the global economy, and giving new African voices a bigger platform. Despite all the teething problems, conference speakers and audience were enthusiastic and this tangible excitement is perhaps the clearest sign of accelerating momentum in this industry.

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Distribution is the key

For many African film producers, the lack of a distribution system means there are very limited ways of making money with their work. One organisation that is attempting to change this situation is TMC BoxOffice Ltd. Founded in 2006 by Nigerian film-maker Amaka Igwe and her husband Charles, TMC BoxOffice Ltd has become one of the largest players in African movie distributorship. Other distributors include ulzee Films, Gabosky Films, Oj Films, and Nu Metro Nigeria. TMC BoxOffice has spread out a network of supply lines connected to over 30,000 retailers in Nigeria in all the states of the federation. These outlets include supermarkets, pharmacies, and restaurants-anywhere where a customer might consider a purchase. with this structure, the movies are brought closer to the public, and there is a fair chance of getting the genuine product out before the counterfeiting kicks in.

Igwe says that for producers, there are several options to earn revenues: "We have different arrangements, depending on what segments of the manufacturing process we are responsible for. If we do not do anything in the process, we take a fee for distribution and the producer receives all his market-driven profits. If we are involved in the marketing, we agree with the producer on a royalty per unit."

A pirated copy, Igwe states, is often not that much cheaper than the original product, which typically costs between $3 and $7 per DVD or VCD, and the original is better packaged and delivers better value: "Piracy as we had observed was really a supply gap."

Now that they feel confident that the model works in Nigeria, TMC BoxOffice are looking to replicate it in several other African markets, including Ghana and, as a hub for East Africa, Kenya. This will both create a marketplace for local productions as well as open up distribution channels for Nigerian movies into the rest of the continent where they are already hugely popular. The husband and wife team are also in talks with equity investors to expand their operation.
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Title Annotation:MEDIA
Comment:More local content, broadcasters told: although television is spreading all over the continent, most of the non-news content is still imported from outside.
Author:Bohnstedt, Andrea
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:1463
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