By Hans Geldenhuys, managing sales director, Intelsat
Africa is projected to be one of the world’s fastest growing television markets over the next decade. To cement that position, cable distributors are banking on population surges in some of the continent’s largest cities, and fresh, new content that resonates with the indigenous culture. It goes without saying that viewers are drawn to programming with storylines, characters and even real-life scenarios they can relate to.
Intelsat has been part of the television fabric in Africa for many decades. We were the first satellite operator to provide connectivity to educational networks and to deliver a Direct-to-Home (DTH) platform to the continent. With over 25 satellites covering the region, Intelsat has the largest fleet and the most viewed video neighborhoods in Africa, delivering more than 900 channels to viewers across the continent’s 54 countries, whether they are watching on a traditional television set or a hand-held smart phone.
One of the drivers of the growth of TV viewership is the continent’s rapid urbanisation, with rural residents moving to cities at rates faster even than in China. The African Development Bank estimates that over 500 million Africans will move to cities in the next 35 years – more than a third of the continent’s entire population. The challenge for governments will be to build the infrastructure to support the growing urban populations with such things as reliable electricity and affordable communication networks. Sub-Saharan Africa will add 20 million TV households between 2016 and 2021 to reach almost 75 million, with most of the growth coming in urban areas.
Another driver is the shift from analog to digital television signals. Digital terrestrial television (DTT) has been slow to come to most countries in Africa, with broadcasters in some urban areas making the transition from analog signals but with much of the rural parts of the continent far from completing the shift. Transmitting in a digital format offers improved reception quality, expanded channel lineups, and enhanced applications like video-on-demand. Switching from analog signals will also free up spectrum for applications that could contribute to broader economic growth. Virtually 100% of the continent’s televisions are expected to be receiving digital signals by the end of 2021.
Over the next decade, the digital transition will revolutionise the African television landscape, enabling high-definition and ultra-high-definition TV; enhanced and interactive television, multimedia broadcasting; over-the-top television; digital-audio broadcasting; and Internet radio. This multitude of formats and outlets means that content developers will have ample opportunities to monetise their programming. With attractive returns, content developers will be further incentivised to create more and more compelling content.
Finally, Africans are enjoying a surge in local TV content they can finally identify with, rather than programs produced elsewhere that bear little relation to the daily lives of most of the continent’s residents. Many countries have local content rules in the broadcasting sector to protect and promote local programming. For example, Nigeria has a quota of 70% local content, and the South Africa Broadcast Corporation has set a goal of having 90% local content on radio and television. However, a 2016 recent study by Globetrack International Ltd and the Communications Authority of Kenya found that while three-fourths of Kenyans preferred local content in their television programs, they often choose not to watch it due to its poor quality.
A number of production companies are looking to expand in several countries to produce higher-quality local sitcoms, dramas and other programs. These include a knock-off of America’s “Real Housewives” series in Kenya called “Real Househelps of Kawangware” and a continent-wide reality show called “Big Brother Africa.” African TV content is making its presence felt and the coming years will see more localised content shown across all of the leading broadcasters with very popular shows coming out of Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.
Intelsat’s video neighborhoods play a vital role in distributing local, regional and international content to broadcasters and cable companies across Africa, connecting satellites with thousands of downlink antennas to deliver programming to millions of subscribers. Intelsat’s video neighbourhoods are seamlessly integrated with IntelsatOne, our terrestrial network, which provides access to IP/MPLS fibre, teleports and numerous points of presence around the world.
Today, we have seven video neighborhoods in Africa served by eight satellites, with Intelsat 20 being the most-watched media location reaching over 10 million DTH TV households. This past August we launched Intelsat 36 to enable MultiChoice, the leading pay-tv operator in Africa, to expand its DTH services in sub-Saharan Africa.
As more Africans have access to television programming and seek out quality local content, the African television market will grow steadily over the next decade. Distribution of content via satellite will be vital to this growth, bringing news, sports and entertainment to communities large and small throughout the continent.