Balancing Act (London)

8 November 2012

Africa: Discop Africa 2012 Round-Up - African Content Busy Being Born in Hybrid Forms

opinion

London — DISCOP Africa 2012 came back with a bang after something of a dip last year in its new venue in Johannesburg, attracting 1,248 delegates from 85 different countries. It is the one place where you can get to meet more or less anyone who's anyone in the African TV industry. But the excitement is generated by watching new African content being born and struggling to find its place in the sun. Russell Southwood rounds up what he saw and heard last week while in attendance.

The Convention Centre in Johannesburg's shiny tech downtown Sandton provided an impressive setting for DISCOP 2012. At last more or less all of the stands and booths were in one giant room and the conference sessions were right next door with impressive audio-visual back-up.

In an event of this size, it's impossible to be everywhere at once so what follows is an impressionistic attempt to capture some of the key highlights and trends from where I found myself. Headline speaker Jason Njoku, CEO, iROKO partners was asking me at the conference session on the digital transition that kicked off the event how many people he could expect. I was saying I had seen everything from 10 to 50 people: in the event, there were nearly 200 people.

The panel included a content aggregator (Sas Jahani, ABS Broadcast); a market researcher (Craig Johnson, MD-Media, Neilsen South Africa); a Francophone broadcaster (Ramanou Kuferidji, Imanle TV) a producer (Marc Schwinges, Underdog) and a civil society activist (Kate Skinner, SOS).

A lively debate took place between the floor and the panel about the perils of a perceived decline in quality with more channels; the likelihood of a decline in income for producers; over who would pay the costs of the transition; and whether and how alternative channels like broadband could deliver and when. Ramanou Kuferidji bemoaned the lack of political will in Francophone Africa to address these issues.

There was a panel of the Mobile Advantage which I also chaired that included a mobile operator (Oladapo Adefolaju, Etisalat); a brand marketing company (Solomon Adedamola, Real Marketing Group); a consultant and former Vodacom executive (Rick Joubert, Yonder Media); a mobile content producer (Farid Merabet, BAM) and a low bandwidth video service technology (Pierre van der Hoven, Tuluntulu).

After a couple good speeches laying out the potential of mobile as a media, I chased what content producers were likely to get from mobile operators for content they produced or supplied. The answer was the standard one: 70/30 or 80/20 to the operator and please bear in mind that the operator spends money on marketing.

So far, so expected but on pressing the panelists on the case of content owners that could do their own marketing on their own media and who had artists or brands that there were already famous, there was a certain amount of concession-giving. Adefolaju of Etisalat given the example of Galaxy TV (CEO Steve Ojo was in the session) said they might go to 50/50 and Rick Joubert, back from a trip to West Africa, said he got the impression operators knew the current deal had to change.

Interestingly two of three prizes for format pitches went to Kenyan submissions. They were Dreamcatcher Productions' 'Dads Can Cook' and 'Am I Dating an Idiot?' by OnScreen Productions: the latter is probably something single women think but rarely articulate. Prize winners receive a cash contribution and expert advice from leading format companies.

Also from Kenya was a previous winner of the comedy pitch from DISCOP in Nairobi Hussein Kuferji, Xeinium. He explained how he had used Kickstarter to raise enough money to now make a pilot version of the NGO comedy series, The Samaritans, which takes a wry look at the failings of those in development who want to help people. There will be a lot of interest in the show if they can find a scriptwriter who can keep the jokes coming thick and fast:

The real story of the show for me was to see hybrid content, both in terms of genres and platforms, getting success and challenging the definitions of what African TV might become. The hybrid content platform approach (film-TV and TV-Stage show) is a sign of how producers have to demonstrate success before TV broadcasters will take them on.

Ghana-produced Adam's Apples ran as a 10 film series in the country's only cinema (Silverbird in the Accra Mall) but even through this relatively narrow channel it has demonstrated that it can generate a following for the family relationships at the heart of the programme. Now on to season 2 (which deals more with marriage than singledom), it is talking to TV channels about running as a broadcast programme.

British-Nigerian family comedy Meet The Adebanjos started as a TV series but the producers have been touring it as a stage show around the UK. All the hard work has paid off and they have now sold the second season to SABC and are talking about bringing the stage show to South Africa first and then maybe elsewhere in Africa. It only goes to show success for African programmes is built one brick at a time: there's few that undergo a sudden magic moment where fame bathes them.

African programme makers have often seemed somehow distant from all the genres that they could choose from. Wanuri Kahui's Pumzi short sci-fi film stands out along with Djo Munga's Viva Riva! as rare examples of genre fiction. South Africa's DV8 has taken the mutant children of Mulder and Scully and put them in a District Nine backdrop to produce a genre bending detective series. The officers are looking skeptically at supernatural crimes in a post-apocalypse South Africa, perfect for a continent where JuJu and Muti inspire both belief and disbelief.

Another hybrid is the alliance between African distributor Côte Ouest Audiovisuel, which is collaborating with Brazilian TV giant Globo TV International and the Brazilian Independent TV Producers Association (Rachel do Valle in attendance). Also pitching content was Monica Monteiro, Cinevideo who set up a company in Mozambique and cut her teeth doing a soap series in that country. She is currently working on a series on African Presidents and it will be interesting to see the final result. See video clip here:

Head of Distribution for the German public broadcaster, Petra Schneider was in attendance, bringing news that its output was now available on the SES5 satellite over KU band on a Free-To-Air basis:"We've introduced a more dynamic schedule, with headlines for most of the day but two main prime time news shows".

The schedule is more flexible and we can run 15 minute short-form programmes." These include: Digital Lifestyle, Business Brief (keeping you up-to-date on the euro crisis), Europe in Concert, Kick Off (covering the Bundesliga) and a fitness programme called I'm in Good Shape. It is also inviting its broadcast partners to submit items that will then be shown globally, a tremendous opportunity for local programme makers.

What follows below is a round-up of short items that came into focus (or didn't) during the event:

For all the below-the-radar discussion of a Free-To-Air/Fremium satellite platform, there is still no sign of one...Setanta launched its Setanta Action Channel on Top TV...embarrassingly for them, Top TV then went into administration but it seems confident it will find another investor...Platypus Digital is launching a set of digital download kiosks in South Africa so whatever the bandwidth, you can take your favorite movie home on a USB stick (see video clip below) ... Bob TV is launching an entertainment channel called Q on Multichoice (see video clip below)...MTV Networks Africa has changed its name to Viacom International Media Networks Africa to reflect the breadth of its content portfiolio. Alex Okosi talked about the comparisons between African and global MTV viewers based on a survey it has carried out (see video clip below)...A24 Media has seen a significant increase in its turnover over the last year.

There is always a flurry of new entrants at DISCOP and this year was no exception. Africa Pay TV is launching a Pay TV operation in Tanzania...Tele10 is launching a Free-To-Air and Pay TV operation in Rwanda in January 2013...privately owned Turkish news agency IHLAS has opened a bureau in Nairobi...The US State Department had a representative in attendance offering free live streams, footage and interviews with officials on African questions...and Trend TV is opening a Film and TV Academy.

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