UBC in a Uganda where ratings are king
Uganda Broadcasting Corporation is the country’s state broadcaster that has seen its fortune dwindle by the day thanks to competition from private broadcasters led by NTV Uganda that has occupied the market that was once the fortress of Uganda Broadcasting Corporation.Despite gaining immense popularity before liberalisation of media in 1990s, the state funded organisation is in sorry state.Recently, Ugandan media quoted some officials who were appointed to oversee the revival of station but what I can predict is that UBC will never compete with private stations like NTV Uganda, NBS and the likes.The problem with UBC isn’t content but its a case of a ‘animal kingdom’ generation competing with ‘millennials’ and there’s no way the former can triumph. Last time I was in Uganda, UBC was a classic example of what mid 20th century Tv viewers would expressed concern over the quality of the TV broadcast in the station. One bloke told me that content at UBC is terrible and as a father he said to me, ‘Contador, I instil good morals in children every day but in the evening, they watch likes of UBC television programs that entirely contradict what I have taught.He particularly directed his criticism at TV programs that feed superstition and promote luxury lifestyles, fuelling consumerism. In 2015, a South Africa based company released a study on the best and worst TV programs during the 2014 in ten African countries after asking 2,500 respondents from 30 cities about programs aired by top 5 TV stations in their respective countries. The respondents in Uganda ranked UBC lowest, with a score of 1.3 out of 10 which helps explain the dire state of the state entity.According to the assessment indicators, UBC does not reflect the nation’s religious character as it contains mysticism, horror and violence.
Other shows lambasted included hit soap opera for showing a decaying face and talent contest, in which female actors have their chest was touched by men and aired on watershed hours. The shows were aired during prime time, meaning they attracted large audiences. Uganda’s first television channel was launched over fifty years ago, when the state-owned Uganda Television went to air. The monopoly ended when private channel WBS began broadcasting over a decade ago. More followed in the coming years and by the last count in 2015, 100 local and national TV stations were operating in the country, according to the industry regulator Uganda Communication Commission. With the proliferation of new TV stations, competition to grab audiences’ attention ‘ which translates to soaring ratings and robust advertising revenue ‘ is growing fiercer. In early 2010s, stations stumbled upon a kind of magic bullet of stripping soap operas produced and aired daily. They soon bewitched Ugandan viewers, compromising on quality for the ratings sake. After an episode is aired, we’re given ratings data, which shows the fluctuation in audience size at every minute of the episode. Usually, the scenes that generate highest viewing figures are repeated in the next episodes, explained an expert working in Uganda’s Tv industry.
These favorite scenes are added repeatedly to the point that the soap opera deviates from its original storyline.. ‘We just put our movie on the market, and people can choose whether to watch it or not,’ said the producer of several of local programs. The TV industry is different. What a production house produces cannot reach the market if TV stations do not agree to air it. Everything has to be done at the TV station’s request. Do Ugandans watch shoddy melodramas and formulaic variety shows because they truly love them, or simply because they have no choice? A recent study in six towns of Mbarara, Jinja, Kampala, Gulu, Mbale, Entebbe shows that not all Ugandans have a choice.Residents of major cities can juggle between the Internet, pay TV and local TV, but limited infrastructure reduces the choices of those living in rural areas. TV has a big influence, watched by 40 percent people over the age of 15, according to available data. In my view, a rational approach, with UBC encouraged to make slow but sure improvements. Those who have been given the task of resuscitating the ailing state broadcaster shouldn’t expert UBC to produce programs with the perfect 10 in terms of quality. What they should work on and hope for now are TV programs with at least a score of six out of 10 and this can be achieved in the short and medium term. Those broadcasters that are going to survive are stations that are committed to improving their programs’ quality. The inescapable truth for UBC, it seems, is that ratings remain the key when TV stations are deciding to go with a program or to axe it. Ugandan Tv advertisers are looking for programs with the highest rating share. This happens around the world and the reality is that TV can’t live without advertisements and vice versa.Time for UBC to style up or ship out!