“The internet will lock horns with TV”: Russell Southwood on Future of TV in Africa

Russell Southwood

If you asked around about a broadcast, internet and mobile expert in Africa, Russell Southwood would be the first reference. He is also the CEO of renown research firm Balancing Act Africa. The TechPost crew (David and Daniel) caught up with him about the status of digital migration, mobile and the internet in Africa.

First things first; he came to Kampala, Uganda, under the invitation of Uganda Communications Commission to talk about digital migration. Here is what we talked about:

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Analogue-to-Digital TV Migration in Uganda

TechPost: We’ve seen PayTV start to gain traction in Uganda. Previously the market was dominated by MultiChoice’s DSTV, but today we’ve we’ve more than 4 digital PayTV providers. What do you think is driving this growth?

Russell: Competition. Competition has a tendency of driving prices down in any industry. With well over 5 provider including GoTV, ZukuTV, Startimes, we definitely expect prices to go down as each provider tries to lure customers on their side.

TechPost: Digital service providers charge their customers free-to-air stations! How justifiable is this?

Russell: That’s for UCC to decide.

TechPost: Do you think Uganda will beat the 31st december 2014 deadline for analogue-to-digital migration?

Russell: I don’t think. We are more likely to see the same scenario that played out with Simcard registration. The regulator is bound to extend the deadline as it did with simcard registration. This is because there has to be significant set-top-boxes first, about 1 million of them in just about 11 months. This is less likely to happen.

Local vs International content on Local TV

TechPost: Lets talk about what African actually consume on TV — content. We know that there is more foreign content on local stations than there is local content. How can this trend be reversed?

Russel: ┬áIt’s up to regulators and industry players to invest in the local industry and market their own content. Fortunately, Uganda Commission Commission (UCC) is making a great move by investing in the Uganda film festival which seeks to recognize and celebrate local film makers in the region.

We also have have Nigerian film makers producing quality films cheaply for the local market.

TechPost: There’s no doubt that the growth of local TV depends on how much local content is broadcasted. Producers are the forefront of creating this content, how can we boost their moral to step in and create the kind of content that viewers will love?

Russel: It’s true, producers do play a pivotal role in boosting the local TV industry. One of the ways to boost their moral is to create local production fund. These funds will give them the financial capital they need to produce the most compelling content. This what Kenya is already doing.

Producers also need a wide market to distribute their content. By broadcasting their content in several TV station across several geographies, producers are assured of a wider market and hence revenue for their content.

Future of TV in Africa

TechPost: Currently, most of Africa has been on linear programming as the mode of broadcasting with little or no Video-On-Demand(VOD) providers. What can you say about the current state of VOD in Africa?

Russell: We’re seeing quiet a number of VOD providers in Africa. For instance Bonu TV in Kenya is already getting well over 80,000 views per month while iROKOtv, Afrinolly are huge in West Africa. YouTube is also certainly one of the most frequented sites in most African nations according to Alexar. So definitely there’s some growth in that industry.

TechPost: But these VOD providers are struggling in their business models compared to traditional broadcasters

Russell: Nobody has found the business model yet. The first step is usually creating the audience and the business model follows which is always advertising revenue and paid content.

TechPost: What’s the future of TV in Africa?

Russell: The internet will come to compete with traditional TV players. Today we see more people accessing content such as news on social media hours before they see the pictures on TV. For instance, we saw this trend when Islamic militia, Alshabab, attacked the Kenyan shopping mall. Many people relied on Twitter to get the minute-by-minute updates on the attacks as opposed to tuning on their TV sets.

Also we shall see more vernacular content coming up and this is will constitute part of local content that will infiltrate African TV.

Image via Okwii David