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World Television Day : Past, present and future of TV In Africa

Gbolabo Ajisebutu
There is a little debate over the birthplace of television broadcasting in Africa. The prevalent view is that Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, was where the the first terrestrial television broadcast signals on the continent occurred on 31 October 1959 and belonged to the Western Nigeria Television Service. The less known version is that a television station had been established in Morocco five years before, making the North African country the home of television on the continent.

But what is not in dispute is that television has, over time, become one of the greatest gifts of electronic engineering given to mankind.

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The birth of television broadcasting in some parts of the world is also not in doubt. TV broadcast signals were first received in Europe in 1936  and in 1939 in North America.

The story is not  as straightforward in Africa, where Algeria, Kenya, Uganda and Senegal launched television stations in the late 50s and mid-60s.  It was not until the early 70s and 80s that South Africa, Cameroon and many other African countries started having television stations.

Nigeria also led the way in the introduction of news and specific content genres. This began with the takeover of sub-national television stations by the Nigerian Television, now known as the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), as directed by the military government of the era. With the introduction of scripted by behemoth in the late 70s, the stations became the mouthpiece of government, with news programming critical to its desire to forge national unity.

By 1980, there was an increase in the efforts to increase the level of original content from Nigerian producers. This saw the NTA network set a ceiling of 20% broadcasting time for foreign programming in order to stimulate interest in local content. Between 1980 and 1985, NTA started producing Africa’s first local soap operas, children’s programmes and comedy series. This was the forerunner of Nollywood, which has leapfrogged Hollywood as the world’s second largest movie industry by volume after India’s Bollywood.

The year 1992 marked another stage in the evolution of television in Africa. This came in the shape of Pay TV, which saw M-Net launch an analogue service to over 20 countries. A year later, MultiChoice Africa began expansion outside South Africa and is now present in 49 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. Three years later, MultiChoice introduced digital technology to the continent with the launch of the DStv bouquet. The following year, its analogue satellite TV services were cancelled. DStv was one of the first broadcasters outside the United States to launch a satellite platform that enabled high-quality transmission to Africa’s most remote regions.

Streaming and video-on-demand (VOD) services have started supplementing broadcast TV for some time – mostly in the area of news.  Today, most news consumers no longer read have appetite for lengthy articles but for video of events as they unfold from news agency sites or social media networks. The era of consumer-led journalism and social networking has considerably shifted the power of traditional news agencies and at the forefront is video. This, however, has also led to other problems, notably the prevalence of fake news, which has imposed on consumers the need to check authenticity with well-known news agencies.

However, with relatively slow and expensive internet connections being the norm in Africa, commercial VOD and streaming services have seen slower growth than in markets where data speeds allow for more efficient live streaming. Pay TV is still growing on the continent. According to Dataxis, Africa’s Pay TV revenue for 2016 was $4.4 billion and is projected to reach $6 billion by 2021. In 2016, Africa’s Pay TV subscribers stood at approximately 18.7 million, an increase of approximately two million subscribers compared to the previous year.

Increasing broadband penetration and the reduction in data rates in Nigeria will increase the penetration of online video content. Online video consumption is expected to be a supplementary service to traditional Pay Television, as online providers do not provide news channels and live sport which are major staples of viewers in households across the country and the continent.   The implication is that the video shops that used to be the rage across the country are now empty as consumers no longer need to leave their homes to get a video.

Alternatives to this are DStv Box Office services on the Explora decoder, which provide an option where consumers do not have to pay for the delivery of the movie while streaming requires the delivery cost and the bandwidth.

Local content will remain a crucial cultural and economic factor in the Nigerian and continental markets. Such require continuous investments and nurturing to make it grow in the rapidly changing entertainment space. Nollywood, for example, employs more than a million people directly or indirectly. The local content industry is rated the country’s second-biggest source of jobs after agriculture.  According to a PwC report, Nigeria’s entertainment and media revenue could more than double to an estimated $8.5 billion this year from $4 billion in 2013, and is considered one of the major pillars on which to grow and diversify the Nigerian economy.

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Massive and continued changes in the entertainment industry are afoot, and the recent AT&T acquisition of Time Warner in the US is a perfect example of how the lines between content producers and the owners of distribution platforms are being blurred. The full impact of this disruption on the global landscape remains to be seen.


  • Ajisebutu, a media scholar, writes from Lagos.



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