The TV market in Africa offers tremendous opportunities, as was evident at the new AfricaCast conference and exhibition launched in Cape Town earlier this month. The event gathered leading companies from the broadcasting world such as Multichoice and SABC, as well as alternative players such as Southtel and YouTube. The event was co-located with AfricaCom, allowing participants to mix with the players from the telecoms and ICT world.
One of AfricaCast's leading panellists was Anthony Smith-Chaigneau, Managing Director and Senior Vice-President of Business Development at Alticast, a provider of Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) solutions to the interactive TV industry. He answered questions on the overall market trends after the event.
What major developments have you witnessed in Africa's broadcasting industry in the past 12 months?
Clearly the development of the broadband sector with huge investment in fibre across the continent, juxtaposed with the development of a better understanding by the African industry of the importance of the broadcast sector for hybrid opportunities is driving Africa rapidly forward.
What challenges have you encountered as a result of this progress?
There are many challenges as it is a huge, diverse and multi-faceted market. In a market that is developing very rapidly, there are many aspects of technology choices that need to be coherent with the word 'advanced'. Technology selection has to be carefully considered and future thinking is paramount to creating the environment for developing services.
For example South Africa has chosen DTT and Uganda has selected DVB-T2 - described as the 'World's Best Digital Terrestrial Technology' at recent seminars; yet these two countries have chosen the 'oldest and outmoded' interactive middleware (MHEG5) for interactive TV services.
This does not make sense! Why open a super-highway and then ride a bicycle down it? Africa has the chance to leap-frog the rest of the world with systems that offer the best that the market can offer.
How do you believe new technologies can improve viewer engagement?
New technologies are designed with the viewer in mind, by providing better picture quality, better sound, more channels and value-added services. It is up to the broadcaster and operators to exploit these in order to engender viewer loyalty.
The experience of Mediaset in Italy with their advanced terrestrial services using DVB-MHP-HBB is a clear example of the broadcaster offering viewers the opportunity to engage in social media, catch-up TV, enhanced programming, play-along (prize-driven) quizzes and much much more. They have maximised their use of the right technologies for a comprehensible offer that sees receivers at affordable prices in the market.
What role do you think online video will eventually take within the overall mix of television technologies in Africa?
Online video requires a solid infrastructure and a sure-fire Quality of Service which entails a lot of back-office investment and the need to find a business model that supports this infrastructure. Lessons have been learned across the globe regarding the mix of technologies, and many partnerships have been formed between broadcasters and telcos/ISPs to try to balance the weaknesses of the Internet.
Others believe the Internet is ONLY way forward and therefore there is disruption in the market as each and every player tries to obtain the same loyalty from the same customers. At the Recent Future of Broadcast Television Summit in China it was declared that 'the transmission of information to an unlimited number of listeners and viewers is the most spectrum-efficient means for wireless delivery of popular real-time and file-based content'.
In online TV we have a long way to go to serve the population as efficiently as broadcast, especially in countries that have geographic, economic and technological challenges.
How do you believe content providers can best tap these new opportunities?
Content providers throughout Africa will have to beware of fragmentation. Standardisation and ubiquity is primordial for the content industry to be able to create their product once and have it deployed everywhere. If Africa, as in Europe, sees massive fragmentation of receiver middleware and interactive systems this will pose more challenges and add costs to the content industry.
Which markets do you think offer some key insights into the future direction of Africa's broadcast market?
There are many markets that can offer good and bad examples to Africa. They have a great experience in satellite, which is clearly seen as a continual growth market considering SES Astra is launching new satellites to further cover the region. The telcos have concentrated on the huge mobile market and this has been at the best shaky in other markets. The particularity of Africa and mobile phones may lead to a profitable mobile TV market where others have failed.
Terrestrial Broadcasting is clearly going to benefit from previous global experience. I firmly believe that Italy is the best benchmark for the implementation, management and deployment of advanced digital terrestrial services, and not the UK as many people imagine. Since 2004, Italy has successfully grown its DTT market to around 12 million advanced receivers and iDTVs. A very cohesive, interactive and OTT plan driven by the collaboration of the broadcasters under the guise of the DGTVi.
France has seen a badly conceived digital terrestrial market rollout, which saw radical short-term changes of technology from analogue, to terrestrial SD and then to HD, followed by the addition of interactive with the threat of more changes to come in the near term. This has cost the consumer heavily in replacement Receivers. A recent TV Documentary called the 'French Digital Terrestrial War' aired in the last few days; if they are making TV Programmes about it it must have had issues, and been controversial!