London — The wave of digital transformation of broadcasting and the media is already under way in Sub-Saharan Africa. However with a few exceptions, most media organizations are focused on taking audience share from the existing pool of viewers and listeners. Russell Southwood argues that digital offers broadcasters new opportunities to reach those currently beyond media coverage.
Advertising in Sub-Saharan Africa can be broadly divided into two categories: those goods and services that are sold to urban audiences with higher incomes (high-end cars, drink, etc) and goods and services that are bought by what Kenyans call the Wananchi (soap, beer, basic foods).
Coverage by both TV and radio for the first category of people is almost universal as is coverage with Africa's capital cities. For example, from a Mediametrie survey carried out in two key urban areas in Cote d'Ivoire, Abidjan and Bouake7 in early 2016, 90.5% watched television at least one day a week and 58.7% listened to the radio between 1 hour and 1 hour 59 minutes a week. In other words, almost everybody reported having access to TV and more than half those interviewed had access to the radio.
By contrast, only 34% of those surveyed in the province of Northern Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan had ever listened to the radio and just 10% had watched TV. Only 1% had used the internet on a weekly basis. In other words, this province is the polar opposite of Abidjan and Bouake in terms of media access.
Why should this matter to TV and radio broadcasters? Because whilst most audience share in existing coverage areas is a tussle over existing viewers and listeners, no-one has paid much attention to expanding the coverage area and getting new viewers.
According to a new report (Africa's Media Deficit and Access to Knowledge - see details at end of article) that I've written, this "media deficit" is somewhere between 10-50% of the population depending on the country you're looking at. As ever, the data is not always the best but it's hard to deny the circumstances exist. Even radio and mobile coverage do not reach everyone in most countries. And whilst many of the people in these communities are poor, they still buy soap, beer and basic foods.
With the DTT transition in broadcasting, Governments need to play their role by extending the coverage areas that broadcasters are able to reach as part of a broader strategic policy to close the media deficit gap.
Technology is not the answer to everything but has a key contribution to make here. Solar power televisions (which can be bought for US48 cents a day) from companies like M-Kopa provide either individual household or the wider communal means for viewing. Basic mobile phones (with radio receivers) can deliver radio and feature and smartphones can deliver TV. Reaching audiences through multiple digital channels will become the new broadcasting and it fits well if you're determined to grow your audiences.