2017 will undoubtedly turn out to be a defining time for the television industry in Africa. In 2016, we have seen networks that were free to air announcing online only subscription video services. Some of them allow viewers to watch the network live online and individual programs on demand. Others let customers subscribe to a standalone service without paying for a multichannel cable or satellite TV package. In Sub Saharan Africa, the TV market was very different, but online subscription video services seemed to be arriving all at once as well. Netflix arrived in Africa fully formed early 2016, a successful global service with massive brand recognition. In the past, new TV services had been introduced to Africans mainly by local media incumbents. The first TV services were provided by the major newspaper publishers and the national radio broadcasters like SABC in South Africa, TBC in Tanzania, KBC in Kenya, UTV in Uganda etc. When commercial TV services were equalised in the late 1990s, it was the metropolitan networks that provided the new channels. Subscription TV was pioneered by a new entrant, DSTV, in the early1990s, but soon consolidated into a venture controlled by media and telecommunications incumbents. Digital TV was put in the hands of the established TV networks in the 2000s with Chinese company STARTIMES being one of the beneficiaries.The online era had made it much easier for Tv services to be born global.I recently decided to ask some people who should know more about the market than I do. If television was changing so fundamentally in Africa, what might it look like in a year’s time, in 2020 and, say, in 2026? I wanted to hear what they thought might change and what might endure. I also wanted to find out how they had experienced and interpreted the recent past. What trends had surprised them? What had delighted them? Getting them was hard because they live across Africa, because different people would have different areas of specialised knowledge. There had to be people who worked in TV only some of the time, as well as people from other sectors that are supplementing, transforming, overtaking, bypassing or reinventing television. Even those right in the middle of the TV business shouldn’t necessarily have always worked there and they should include some recent arrivals and departures who knew the industry well but were not of it.
Most of those I contacted are based in Africa. This primary focus on small-screen media in Africa is not meant to be parochial, simply to acknowledge that TV has always been distinctive to its own part of the world. But TV has also, always, been a very international thing, American shows on commercial channels, British programs on pay Tv, foreign language movies on state broadcasters, international sport and news on DSTV, STARTIMES, ZUKU, videos from anywhere on YouTube. It is becoming more so and so a lot of the questions and answers have an international flavour. All those I asked to give personal views, not necessarily those of their organisations. On the recent trends in television and video in Africa, several said the resilience of linear free-to-air and subscription television, the rise and durability of reality formats, the strength of scripted drama and the increased attention paid to its screenwriters but unfortunately on Nigeria and South Africa were experiencing that. Another ones was the speed of the recent decline in audience numbers for regular free-to-air TV programs especially commercial Tv stations. Others told me about the rapid growth of other platforms and devices like subscription video on demand, over-the-top services, tablets and new forms of content available online and other non-traditional outlets while a shift from the DVD format to online delivery of video programming to organisation wide servers in schools with Multichoice South Africa, the parent company of DSTV being the market leader. Interestingly, many shared the same view I have held for a very long time that the real future of TV will be decided by the telcos, not the traditional TV broadcasters as well as the commercial free-to-air networks. Others identified younger players like Amazon, Netflix among others. I cannot share everything I gathered but can confirm that technology trends that would be particularly significant in TV and video in the next few years include but not limited to Mobile, smartphone, tablet and the application of broadband to TV. However, the price as well as raw capability would make a big difference to mobile video consumption. If mobile data packages keep improving in Africa, the consumption of, particularly out of home, video, phones, tablets etc, will completely take off and that will helps sustain existing players’ business.