Africa’s Free To Air TV future in doubt

September 19, 2016

Truth be told, the future of free to air Tv is bleak and those still in such business hardly wants to admit that their archaic business models need an overhaul or else they will be out of business soon.In fact, it’s not been a good year so far for Africa’s traditional television industry with reports that prime-time audiences are down almost 20 amid competition from internet streaming services.But the decline in the number of Africans watching traditional television has not just occurred since the introduction this year of online streaming services such as Netflix. The trend has been evident for some time now in reports from the audience monitoring companies.The key reason for the change in television viewing habits is the internet, which has led to a large uptake of new screen media devices such as computers like desktop and portable, smart phones and tablets. Larger media organisations in Africa had not seen YouTube as an immediate threat to the traditional television model, and some still may not.But YouTube’s own figures show that it reaches more 18 to 34 and 18 to 49 year olds than any Tv network in Africa.Recent analysis shows YouTube is going to get stronger and continue to grow at 19% for the next four years in Africa.YouTube is not the only new media company that is having an impact on traditional television’s business model. Netflix will arguably be the largest US video network by end of 2018 according to some estimates.Analysts hope that expenditure on content will increase subscribers’ viewing time.YouTube and Netflix’s growing audience is far different to that of African Free To Air stations, which are seeing their prime-time audiences decline.As a person who is involved in streaming and digital media platforms developments, am not surprised by this decline in television viewing. This is not a new trend and although broadcast television continues to dominate a changing market it will soon be out of business. For the time being, in African market, I believe that television is the only effective platform for the delivery of large and engaged audiences to advertisers.

But this is not an argument based solely on the platform, nor the devices you can access the media from. It’s about content.Content is still king, but both Netflix and YouTube have done something that Africans haven’t seen from commercial broadcasters.Both provide niche content to a mass African audience.Yes, there are more than farming videos on YouTube that garner millions of views.There are also some African YouTube producers getting hefty views on their videos that local commercial broadcasters would kill for.Due to the user information the likes of Netflix can acquire, it can afford to buy content that doesn’t have broad popularity as it can target its content to particular subscribers.The approach by commercial television broadcasters to satisfy a mass audience is no longer ideal. Now, it appears that personalised viewing is the desired model for consumers.The reason YouTube creators are successful is because their programs differ from what is on commercial FTA stations. Many have a shorter format and, more importantly, presenters who engage with viewers as if they were speaking directly to them.The content on both YouTube and Netflix could, for the most part, be described as niche, an area commercial broadcasters in Africa don’t engage with. Television broadcasters need to present popular programming to get as many people as possible viewing at the same time. This is fundamental to a business model based on advertising, which is gauged by viewers.New online media distributors have shown you can still gain a large audience for niche content, when it is presented globally and not locally.Engagement with YouTube and Netflix will only continue to grow as smart televisions fill living rooms. By 2018, more than 15% of television sets in Africa are expected to feature smart connectivity.This will open up further possibilities and ease of access to these services across all age groups.

Contador Harrison