More than 25 African countries are still broadcasting in analogue signal as of 30th August 2016 data but that is bound to change in coming months where more than six countries are expected to fully embrace digital migration.East Africa region has seen United Republic of Tanzania take a leading role by fully migrating to digital broadcasting and Uganda and Kenya followed suit.Other regions are following the same path.The opening first half of 2016 saw the first rumblings of a seismic shift in the African television market, with the introduction of several video on demand subscription services.This is set to make 2017 a tipping point for television in Africa. Yet it’s difficult to gauge the impact these services will have on the African television market particularly on the free to air commonly referred to as FTA and pay TV incumbents like DSTV, STARTIMES, ZUKU among others if we are unable to compare oranges with oranges.There are key differences in delivery, access and business models among the various services. The way viewership statistics are gathered is also different, and the numbers often incommensurable. So how will the industry discuss the impact and compare the various services remains a million dollar question.Shifting terrain in Africa’s free-to-air television broadcasters have battled against each other for decades for audience share. The commercial networks which tend to be privately owned have tended to dominate the public broadcasters although in recent years there has been a small shift back towards the public broadcasters.More recently, the commercial networks have launched online streaming television services as a way to allow their audience greater access to their programming.FTA TV is still a force to be reckoned with because majority of African households cannot afford to pay monthly fees. A 2015 study reported that each day more than 70% of Africans watch commercial free-to-air television.Commercial FTA broadcasters also dominated the nightly share of television viewing, accounting for 68% of eyeballs. That is significantly more than pay TV 5% and public service broadcasters 3%. In homes with pay TV services, the nightly viewing was also dominated by FTA viewing.
While live broadcast television still dominates in terms of viewing hours with just over 50 on average per person each month there has been an increase in online video viewing. The average time each African spent watching videos online during the second quarter of 2016 was 6.7 hours, which increased by more than two hours for the compared to same quarter of 2015.It is the teens and 18-24 age groups where the figures are significantly different from the average. Teens’ average television viewing in 2016 is 21 hours per month, with just over 13 hours online. The 18-24 group watch television on average 17 hours each month, with 9 hours online video viewing.Given this apparent trend towards increased viewing online, particularly among young people, arguably the online services of catch-up and VoD should be incorporated in the audience share data along with FTA television and Pay TV.All FTA broadcasters also provide an online television service. These statistics show a reverse trend of audience popularity in comparison to broadcast television. In addition, a report by an American research firm noted that awareness and use of catch-up television services increase with age.Despite the positive uptake and usage of catch up television, it only accounts for less than 1 hour of viewing a week which less than a third of live broadcast television. So if catch-up television was part of audience share data, how much further may it close the gap between commercial FTA and public broadcasters remains to be seen.The other facet of this issue is subscription television, of which there are now two types in Africa. The first is pay television where such networks’ follows the same linear broadcast model of FTA broadcasters. The second, and most recent, addition is the VoD services. These services are also subscription based, but unlike FTA and pay television, the consumer is able to select what they wish to watch and when.And while it might be an indication of popularity of the various services, it doesn’t give the critical information, such as how many people watched the VoD services, and for how long. These services’ business model relies on subscriptions and audience viewing habits, which site visits don’t clearly depict.Going forward what will matters is how the audience measurement will be analysed across the various services and it will not be business as usual.