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‘Future of African television lies in our culture’ says Biola Alabi

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‘Future of African television lies in our culture’ says Biola Alabi

Following the successful launch in 2012 of an expanded line-up of Africa Magic channels, the popular Africa Magic TV station is focusing on engaging with key stakeholders in East Africa and throughout the continent to promote and support the film and television community. Bamuturaki Musinguzi talked to M-Net Managing Director, Biola Alabi regarding the promotion of local content across the DStv and GOtv platforms.

Why has MultiChoice now decided to promote African local content across its DStv and GOtv platforms?
The development of local content is something we value very highly at MultiChoice; it is our firm belief that the future of African television lies in the provision of content that is not only relevant to our viewers but representative of their culture. This is why we have continued to grow the number of locally-based TV channels, such as NTV Kenya, KBC TV, Citizen TV, K24, WBS TV, NTV Uganda, UBC TV and Bukedde TV on our platforms, in addition to increasing the presence of locally-produced TV series and film on our Africa Magic channels and sports on our Super Sport channels.

Is this a reaction to the directive by the Uganda Communications Commission requiring that a pay television subscription broadcasting licensee must ensure that a minimum average of 20 per cent of Ugandan content is aired?
Even before the directive was made MultiChoice had been investing heavily in growing the amount of local content originating from countries such as Uganda. We have held various [sorts of] training with the local Ugandan television personalities and content providers to ensure that their submissions are of relevance and entertainment value to the wider African audience. MultiChoice is creating a home for African productions and as such there is always space for good Ugandan stories.

The Uganda Communications Commission contends that such directives are meant to promote national culture, pluralism and diversity as well as enhance employment capacity. What is your comment?
MultiChoice has made a deliberate and conscious effort to invest in not only Ugandan but African-based talent and increase the amount of African viewer content that is carried on its various channels and bouquets offerings. We offer a platform for nations across the continent to showcase their culture
and economic potential and this has bred a sense of understanding and identity among Africans. Our African-based programming is focused on our wide range of African channels such as Africa Magic Entertainment, Africa Magic Movies, Channel O, M-Net as well as our country-specific channels

How do you intend to meet such local content requirements?
We have been working in collaboration with various stakeholders not only in Uganda or East Africa but across the continent to ensure that we build on the quantity and quality of local content from Uganda, East Africa and Africa in general on our Africa Magic, M-Net and Channel O platforms. These stakeholders include film makers, producers, script writers, technicians and cameramen, which is why we constantly hold engagements with them so as to guide them through the requirements needed in order to succeed in showcasing their material on our platforms. We would like to support them in any way possible to achieve this and we are encouraging them to collaborate regionally as well in order to counter any challenges arising from production.

What are MultiChoice’s requirements or standards in regard to local content production?
MultiChoice basically values strong scripts that tell a captivating story and resonate well with the African audience as well as reflect the culture of our people. There are also common errors we usually see in content production, sound and picture quality that need to be rectified which is why we have been engaging with the various stakeholders in training about the production process so they align themselves with the standards of our content.

What has been the response from the television viewers in Africa and East Africa in particular to the increase in local production on DStv and GOtv?
We have received overwhelming support from our viewers right across the continent. East Africa in particular has amazing life stories to tell that resonate well with our viewing public all over Africa [and] as a result we have seen a sharp increase in the number of people subscribing for our services and we have responded by increasing the number of Africa Magic channels, which are now eight.

Of what economic benefit is the presence of platforms like Africa Magic to African content producers?
We provide them with a market to sell their products and showcase their productions. You see MultiChoice buys this content from the producers and broadcasts this right across the continent [and] this opens up the producers to a wider market of international opportunities

How would you describe the current state of the African film and television industry?
It’s growing at a very fast rate. Africa is rich in resources in terms of talent, content and audience. This can be seen by the growing number of big key players in the TV production industry such as Nollywood and Gollywood, as well as the fact that not so long ago, Africa Magic had only one channel transmitting African productions for only 7 hours a day; today, it boasts eight 24hr channels dedicated to reaching our various African audiences. We have also adopted the reality TV phenomenon, as seen by the positive feedback from shows like Big Brother Africa, which implies that Africa is actually transitioning fast and interested in finding new ways to enjoy TV.

How is pay television performing in Africa?
It is performing quite well at a pace that we did not anticipate ourselves. There has been tremendous progress in the adoption of digital pay television transmission technologies on both the DStv and the recently introduced GOtv platforms. The net subscriber base at MultiChoice almost doubled since March 2013 with lower priced offerings addressing a broader market segment that has to migrate to digital due to the impending analogue switch-off in 2015.

What are the major challenges facing the pay television industry?
The lack of a widespread and reliable power supply is a major problem; you see, our services are heavily reliant on the availability of power, which is a problem in many African countries. In addition, unreliable power pushes up our broadcasting costs because we have to constantly run expensive generators on fuel in order keep the receiver stations online. However we are of the view that challenges are a part of any business and should not be seen as a hindrance for growth but a stepping stone for success.

Piracy is a huge hindrance to the growth of the television and film industry in Africa. What safeguards have you put in place to protect copyright?
As an international brand and a listed company we observe global best practices in all our business processes, including issues related to copyright protection. With that in mind all our content is contractually bound and paid for before we put any content on our channels. Obviously not all television companies follow these principles and we often find that content we have paid for being aired on other channels. To counter this we have compliance officers in-country who monitor programming, particularly premium content that is especially attractive to content pirates. These officials forward any acts of copyright infringement to our legal teams at HQ and in-country for immediate legal action; so far we have been very successful and have been able to minimise this vice.

How is MultiChoice fighting off the competition that seems to grow each day, including from online and mobile phone channels?
MultiChoice is constantly investing in the latest technologically advanced digital pay television solutions, which keep it one step ahead of the competition. These include flexible payment options, HD PVR decoders, which give our subscribers an enhanced viewing experience, with content storage possibilities and self-help customer care prompts which allow customers to reconnect themselves and troubleshoot basic problems. In addition we have introduced innovative products which can be used with the latest communications devices on the market, for example we recently launched our mobile television services here in Uganda, a number of which, such as the Drifta, can be used on tablets and smartphones while the iDrifta can be used on iOS devices such as iPhones, iPads and iPods.

Television, and in this case pay television, has been accused of killing the culture of cinema because now people prefer to watch their favourite shows and films in the confines of their sitting rooms. What is your position?
This is an argument that has been raging since domestic televisions started to become widespread in the 1950s, the reality however is that television actually supports cinema by making films more popular to a wider audience and providing an outlet for the films to be aired once they are no longer in the cinema. Television helps to provide much needed additional income to the film industry, and by extension, cinemas.

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