Media disruption in Africa

April 4, 2017

Africa media industry is experiencing disruption that has changed the way consumers feel about watching Tv and listening to radio.It’s hard to escape change in any industry.The media industry is still about sharing news and information, but media companies are now doing it in new ways and through infinitely more flexible platforms.Africa’s broadcast media, advertising, technology and telecoms companies are being affected by digital disruption far more than their global counterparts.In a study conducted late last year, some 62 per cent of African chief information officers say their companies have been affected by digital disruption while 28 per cent higher than their global counterparts.But despite this, African companies are recruiting personnel in place to deal with the challenges, with more than a third of them employing chief digital officers, about 3 per cent more than the global average.The data, collected from June to October in 2016, found two-thirds of those surveyed report digital disruption as a very significant change to business, driving them to create new business models and bring new products and services to market faster than they ever have before. Most affected by digital disruption now are broadcast media and advertising. The demand for big data analytic skills has also leapt to the most scarce skill, skyrocketing to almost six times higher than the next most sought-after skill, change management.Disruption is highly evident across customer experience, operational improvements via cloud technologies and traditional business models are being challenged.Overall the impact is more noted by African media executives because they are experiencing high levels of change across all of these elements of disruption simultaneously.According to the study, digital disruption was being felt more by African media businesses because the continent was a target market for new and emerging technologies.Africans preference for using digital is the driver for significant investment in the digital experience through sophisticated digital platforms. Researchers believe that this demand from clients and customers is a key element enabling digital disruption in Africa.As in every continent , the African media landscape is today dominated by the challenges of digital technology with radical effects already apparent and the scope of future effects inherently uncertain.For many participants in the media this is a time of fear and trepidation. It was always thus with revolutions in communication technology.The very concept of broadcasting in Africa is under challenge,indeed under threat of being extinguished as new modes of delivery enable any viewer or listener to arrange their own program schedules to be accessed whenever they feel like it and to do so from an ever expanding range of sources, all accessible from rapidly converging hardware of extraordinary, and increasing, power.

It is in such a context that broadcasters must now find their place. If anything, the editorial role of a trustworthy intermediary to select and organise the abundance of material has become more important but not less in my view. It is now possible for anyone in Africa to insulate oneself from any opinion with which one may disagree. The role of mainstream media and broadcasters in promoting social cohesion and providing a forum for debate for a democratic polity as a whole is not just for those who can afford monthly subscriptions but remains of critical importance.This shows that African businesses understand the need for focus of digital activities and outcomes. Although digital is pervasive across all business functions, the need for accountability, data and reporting of value is often best achieved through the inclusion.The speed and radical nature of change in the technology of broadcasting and communications has transformed African audience expectations and capacities. The existing broadcasters are seeking to meet those expectations and liberate those capacities. In radio service delivery, podcasting has become widely available. In television, the Tv stations are pioneering Live Streaming and the online catch up service. Many Africa radio and television services are now available on mobile smart phones and tablet devices, including, not least, the catch up services.The digital revolution has undermined the business model of much traditional media. These effects have recently been manifest in dramatic announcements by Kenya and East Africa’s largest print media corporations, Nation Media Group. Broadcasters in other countries, as well as pay TV, are facing an uncertain future, although the impact has not, or not yet, been as dramatic as that for print.In such a context there has been an increase in the frequency with which those with commercial interests at stake express anxiety about competition for the eyes and ears of the African public from public broadcasters. There is of course nothing new about this. African broadcasters, by their very existence have always had an adverse impact on such commercial interests.It is, of course, perfectly understandable that commercial broadcasters, and, in a converged world other media, should suggest that the online broadcasters refrain from providing services to the African community that, to some extent and with varying degrees of quality and permanency, are, or may be, provided on a commercial basis.The first thing to say about such arguments is that there has never been a time when the online Tv channels mushrooming in Africa are simply a market failure broadcaster, obliged to fill gaps in the commercial offering. Its obligations are, and have always been, defined positively, not negatively.

Specifically, under current legislation, the Online Tv channels aren’t directed to provide comprehensive broadcasting services or to accept a responsibility to provide a balance between broadcasting programs of wide appeal and specialised broadcasting programs.Undoubtedly, a online Tv broadcasters in Africa program for minority audiences in a way that, at least, commercial free to air broadcasters would never do.At a fundamental level, the key role of the regulated media is to ensure that all Africans have access to quality media services, perhaps particularly reliable news and information about international, national, regional and local matters. The technological changes are only at the beginning of their impact on traditional modes of delivering news, information, entertainment and education. Already it is apparent that digital technology constitutes a profound challenge for Africa media organisations that have built and sustained businesses on pre-convergence assumptions. A range of new commercial business models is being tried, in the hope that they will allow established Africa media companies to transform themselves. In the face of the confident assertions that these models will work, and that the assumptions on which they are based are sound, the truth is that no one knows where this is going.In my view, digital revolution does not guarantee that any of these models will prove to be sustainable. Some no doubt will be and personally I have no way of knowing which. In such a context, the capacity of African media landscape especially broadcasters to ensure that all Africans receive a base line service, offering a breadth of content on all major platforms, has become more important than ever, thanks to fake news phenomenon. Whatever the intentions, and many of them are good intentions and are honestly held, of commercial broadcasters to continue to provide the range of services that the African community has come to expect, their ability to do so in the long term, or even the medium-term, is subject to a degree of doubt.The provision of quality services from a trustworthy source, accessible to all Africans wherever they live and without charge, with a degree of certainty that is not now available from other traditional sources, is a fundamental aspect of the public benefit and value that the traditional media delivers especially news and current affairs programming. As one of those involved in developing media disruption technologies, it is clear that pay walls in Africa and online advertising for newspapers cannot sustain the news gathering infrastructure of the past. I also doubt whether the pay wall for pay TV can be sustained at the levels extant in Africa. The reduction of commercial TV and radio news and current affairs coverage to an online core has been noticeable for some years now and these developments are unlikely to be reversed with disruptive technologies.

Contador Harrison