A new market for media equipment manufacturers, TV content producers and buyers is broadening the frontiers of broadcasting in Africa.

Cherise Barsell, Regional Manager,
Africa, Basic Lead

Patrick Theater, General Manager, Basic Lead

DISCOP Africa is the first-of-its-kind marketplace for audiovisual content producers, distributors and buyers. The hotel-based, matchmaking and networking event service is being spearheaded by event management company, Basic Lead. In February, Accra played host to the first of this year's two DISCOP Africa matchmaking conferences, which brought together free-to-air and pay TV operators, as well as satellite equipment suppliers.

This year's events are being driven by the joint effects of the push for digital television services, the fast growing number of mobile phone users on the continent, and a couple of private-funded undersea fibre optic cables that have since late last year gone live in West Africa, marking the beginning of an era of faster and cheaper broadband connections. Nearly 450 participants, including top industry decision-makers, acquisition and programming experts and business development executives, took part in the three-day Accra event. Other participants included cable and Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) operators, international suppliers of movies, finished programmes and packaged TV channels.

"We had incredible success at the Accra event. It was our largest edition with the most serious buyers. Our first edition had huge numbers, but since we invited many of our participants, some of our buyers were just "tourists", said Cherise Barsell, Basic Lead's regional manager for Africa.
"Our numbers decreased at the subsequent editions, but our buyers were much more serious about doing business. This edition in Accra really brought together the highest number of participants and business-focused buyers. We hope this evolution continues to our next markets", Barsell added.

The enthusiasm of buyers and sellers at the Accra event shows optimism for the long-term prospects of the broadcasting industry. However, organisers of the event say there are plenty of obstacles on the road ahead.

The myriad of challenges ranging from high production costs to linguistic, cultural and technological barriers still keep some TV content producers from reaching foreign markets.

"We still have a long road to walk," said Russell Southwood, CEO of Balancing Act, a consultancy specialising in African telecoms, Internet and broadcasting.

The International Telecommunication Union's call on all member countries to switch their analogue broadcasting systems to digital by June 2015 has come with its own challenges too, but also opportunities for African broadcasters.

"There is a long road ahead for the digital transition and many African countries have already started the process ahead of the deadline. The opportunities are numerous, but the real challenge is to ensure that the transition is coordinated by governments," said Barsell.


Theodore Asampong, SES Regional Director, North,
Central and West Africa

"With government's leadership, Ghana and other countries can meet the 2015 deadline. It seems, however, that many countries have yet to outline a clear and uniform path to digitalisation," she added.

Commenting on the pace of digital migration, the regional director for North, Central and West Africa of SES, a global telecommunications satellite operator, Mr. Theodore Asampong said: "Today, only one out of three homes in Africa has a TV set, but this number is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. The digital migration in Africa is already being driven by satellite and the markets are ready and eager for assistance, which SES is ready and able to provide."

Broadcasters have realised that digital terrestrial television cannot achieve the maximum audience reach on its own. SES is offering to help African broadcasters to migrate into the digital broadcasting arena.  It has announced it will launch five additional satellites with capacity dedicated to providing services to customers in Africa over the next four years.

Currently, SES boasts a fleet of more than 40 geo-stationary satellites that can reach 99% of the world's population.

"We plan to expand our presence in Africa by providing the much-needed additional capacity to the continent, as well as add staff and new local offices. This will foster long-term customer relationships to meet the diverse needs of Africa's numerous markets," Mr. Asampong added.

DISCOP Accra participants  were able to meet leading industry players, develop partnerships, and learn about the latest trends in broadcasting.

Some big trends in the market are the ever-growing popularity of South American telenovelas across Africa, which in turn has fuelled a surge in locally produced drama series in response to demand for stories that reflect African life and culture.

But distribution networks across the continent still reflect the old colonial order, where Nigerian movies sell well in English-speaking countries such as Ghana and Kenya and local TV stations in Mali or Senegal are more likely to air French-language movies from Burkina Faso or Côte d'Ivoire.

Indeed, it is Spanish-language telenovelas that seem to have the least difficulty crossing national borders despite growing demand for locally produced content.

Latin American webs are reporting strong and continued growth across the African market, in both English and French-speaking territories.

But African producers, led by Nigerian independent producers are unrelenting in their drive to push for the acceptance of African produced content on the continent despite the seeming preference for Spanish/Latino productions.

It was not surprising then that there was heavier Nigerian representation at DISCOP Accra than any other country.

Nigeria has both the largest population and the largest TV production industry in Africa.  Many of the Nigerian participants at DISCOP Accra were leading independent producers, broadcasters and distributors in their country.

From now to September, when the next DISCOP Africa event will take place in Douala, Cameroon, expectations are high for further growth in the industry and more countries moving ahead with digital transition.

At the next edition, organisers are looking to add a key element for anyone looking to increase their viewership – Sports. At the African Sports Rights Market, which will run parallel to DISCOP, leagues from across Africa will be showcased to develop partnerships with advertisers and broadcasters on the continent.

In Accra, many contracts were signed for programmes and many partnership deals closed. It is hoped that these agreements will come to fruition over the coming months and add quality to broadcasting content in Africa.

Buyers meet sellers at DISCOP Africa, Accra show

DISCOP Accra brought together buyers and sellers of TV content from all over the world