Really splendid insight on Zimbabwean and African broadcasting ecosystem from the esteemed Gelfand Kausiyo…
IP&TV News: What are the most exciting things happening in Zimbabwean broadcasting?
Gelfand Kausiyo: The most exciting things taking place in Zimbabwe right now are the prospects of new television players entering the commercial digital broadcasting space as a result of the endless opportunities presented by the imminent launch of DVB-T2 in the country. There is a bustling hive of activity as potential new television players are either making final touches to their strategic business plans or contemplating taking on the giant national public broadcaster once the country has gone digital.
Previously Zimbabwe operated only one national television channel owned by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, with a second television channel whose footprint or broadcasting reach is limited to two provinces of the country. Now with the imminent launch of DVB-T2 the sky is indeed the limit – it appears the fun is about to begin!
We know you’re going to be speaking at AfricaCast on the digital switchover, focussing on Zimbabwe and Sub-Saharan Africa. How much progress has been made in this direction over the last year?
Although the ITU has prescribed 17 June 2015 as the deadline date for digital migration for all countries that fall in Region 1 (which Zimbabwe is part of), there are going to be serious regional challenges posed by this deadline. Whilst it appears a possibility to beat this deadline from a broadcaster’s perspective and from the transmission partner side of things, consumer awareness or the lack thereof, and unwillingness to change for the sake of it without proper incentives in place, are likely going to impede on this deadline.
If one looks at best practice and the SADC project Gantt chart for successful digital migration in the region where all the project tasks are carefully drawn up and projected using the critical path assumptions then the reality of a June 2015 deadline fades quickly away. Nonetheless I have seen an awful amount of commitment from the policy makers, the broadcaster and the transmission partner where considerable effort went into serious planning, taking the lessons learnt from the rest of Africa. The border areas in Zimbabwe seem to have received priority planning for obvious reasons as more and more effort now goes into attempts to achieve universal access so that digital migration adds to universality as opposed to throwing people into the digital darkness.
What do you think are the main challenges still impeding the switchover, and how can these be overcome? What kind of time-scale are you currently thinking of?
The main challenge remains the obvious culprit number one: finance. Broadcasters and legislators have been warned time and again on the huge amounts of money required to take a country from analogue to digital broadcasting. The entire broadcast value chain will need to be looked at holistically as any attempts to leave out one of them creates the undesirable weakest link and obvious point of failure. As the digital platforms get developed, so must be the content acquisition strategies. There has been a bit of coordination challenges between industry players, typically the broadcasters on the one end and the policy makers on the other. In South Africa there has been wrong assumptions made until there was an aborted take-off late last year as a result of lack of an all-inclusive policy. In Malawi there have been attempts to launch which did not go on so smoothly due to lack of coordination and these problems are being reported almost consistently across the region. One hopes that countries like Zimbabwe who are a late entrant in this process will use these examples of failure and avoid the same pitfalls. Everyone still hopes that the ITU deadline date will and must be met, even the SADC Outcome of Council of Ministers Meeting expressed the same views and commitments in one of their resolutions passed at the just ended SADC summit held at the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe in August 2014. The deadline date is solid, so it appears!
What do you think the biggest opportunities the digital switchover will open up in African broadcasting – exactly how significant do you think this will prove in the years to come?
The biggest opportunities will come in the form of digital content creation. Content based on good technical quality and innovative programming will be required as broadcasters try to fill up the multiple channels created by digital migration. And as they try to claim the number one spot in the minds of viewers who will no doubt have a wider choice of TV channels. This will prove quite significant for public broadcasters in the Sub-Saharan African region as they are all bound to lose their monopoly that they have enjoyed for so long since the inception of television in most of these countries. They will be forced to become commercial and to compete more effectively in an open market system. Only the best will survive but the national public broadcasters will become a different animal as they will be forced get into public-private partnerships in order to stay relevant in the upcoming highly commercialised digital space.
Are there any innovations currently coming to the fore you think could have a significant impact on African broadcasting and why?
Dynamic bit-rate management, interactive advertising and smart electronic programme scheduling, which allows for maximum return on investment responding directly to consumer behaviour, will come to the fore as the fight for the piece of advertising cake intensifies. The operator who will use these features of multimedia digital broadcasting more effectively and innovatively to respond to the market dynamics will hold the key to success in the digital commercialisation caused by this digital migration – for instance the ability for any operator to effectively manage the head-end equipment in such a way that it responds favourably to the quality issues demanded by HD video channels versus SD, at different times of the day, etc. while keeping viewers within their bouquet of services.
Broadcasters must throw HD quality where it makes good business sense and avoid wasting precious bandwidth where only talking heads are involved. This skilful balancing act will require some young creative minds to be appropriately motivated so that broadcasters can stay ahead of the game.
How much value is there in African broadcasters coming together at an event such as AfricaCast? Are there any conversations you’re particularly excited about having at this year’s event?
AfricaCast is an event where serious broadcasters converge and together with their partners in the telco industry talk about issues of convergence and the evolution of broadcasting (including OTT, HbbTV, etc.) and in doing so they strike strategic business partnerships.
If you look at the way content is being consumed on multiple devices by viewers the world over, it calls for meaningful strategic partnerships. I am looking forward to finding out exactly what’s up the sleeves of the telco operators. With the digital dividend declared, it seems like all their medium term growth ambitions are geared towards becoming content suppliers, and I am wondering what sort of strategic partnerships can be struck resulting in a win-win situation.
Gelfand Kausiyo will be appearing at this year’s AfricaCast, Africa’s premier show on the future of broadcasting, which takes place on the 11th-13th November 2014 at the Cape Town Convention Centre, South Africa. Go here for booking and info