The business and consumption of television as we know it is going to change forever. From digital living rooms to newsrooms, stay tuned for a personalized, multi-screen experience.
We live in a world of constant disruption. Technological advancements have turned everything on its head. Companies like Uber, Airbnb, YouTube and Facebook have shaken the incumbents in their respective industry, paving the way for new business models that value efficiency and instant gratification. Fintechs are the next group of relatively new startups to disrupt one of the world’s largest sectors – banking and finance. And while every industry in the world is impacted by these technological enhancements and changes in consumption, media has probably changed the most.
Before we get into the changes impacting the evolution of television news, it’s important to take stock of the market. In sub-Saharan Africa, the pay-TV landscape is dominated by DStv. Hybrid services that bundle over-the-top (OTT; content delivered over the internet) services with digital terrestrial and IP TV like Kwese and Wananchi Groups’ Zuku are smaller in terms of subscribers, but are making inroads across the continent.
The deadline for the switch-over to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) has passed in most markets in Africa, but remains an opportunity for growth and channel development. Netflix and Amazon Prime have been globally available since 2016 and are growing subscriber numbers in emerging markets, competing directly with pay-TV providers, while Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are investing in scripted short-form programming. With the abundance of choice, for both free and paid content, the share of screen-time is getting increasingly more fragmented.
PwC, a professional services firm, publishes a report, Entertainment and Media Outlook: An African Perspective, each year. The report does a good job of measuring the pulse of media across the continent. PwC predicts that the total TV market in South Africa, which is the largest TV market on the continent, is going to exhibit reasonably strong growth. They predict that the pay-TV sector will add 1.5 million households by 2022, contrary to the decline in pay-TV viewing predicted by media pundits as a result of the availability of OTT alternatives like Netflix in South Africa. TV advertising remains an important part of the overall TV market, but accounts for just under a quarter of the sector’s total revenue.
In West Africa, Nigeria’s TV market grew year over year by 17.1%, despite a challenging economic climate. Again, pay-TV dominates revenues in the sector, commanding 75% of total revenues while advertising accounts for just 19%. Poor broadband penetration and availability has delayed the onset of the internet video segment, extending the life of linear TV in Nigeria.
How is content creation changing?
Industry leaders like Netflix have brought in data analytics for better content creation and acquisition. The Economist published a cover story on Netflixonomics in June where it reported Netflix has identified some 2,000 “taste clusters” by watching its watchers. An analysis of how well a program will reach, draw and retain customers in specific clusters lets Netflix calculate what sort of acquisition costs can be justified for it. Historically, the calculus of whether a show or film is worth making was based on relatively subjective criteria, and, on the intuition of people experienced in content creation. Data will become increasingly important in determining what to produce.
Advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are going to play an important role in augmenting the abilities of content producers, particularly journalists. AI-driven computer vision tools, speech recognition and natural language processing, when combined with a real-time content feed can help a content producer with creating enhanced visualization and representations of data, fact-checking, and guest identification cataloguing.
AI is enhancing the newsroom in many other ways. From streamlining media workflows to automating mundane tasks, enabling journalists to focus on what they do best – reporting. AI is also being used to improve turnaround times by allowing content creators to crunching more data. Research can be performed much faster, information can be correlated quickly and efficiently. Facebook is using AI to detect word patterns that may indicate a fake news story.
One of the largest cost components within a television news station was the cost of connectivity. Historically, connectivity for a TV channel was largely based on expensive satellites. Reliability was also an issue; bad weather could impact the quality of the signal. Portable cellular backpack solutions like LiveU, which uses the internet through mobile cellular networks, bound with other networks, like wireless internet have rendered legacy satellite uplink systems redundant and obsolete. Robotic cameras used within news studios take up less space and don’t require dedicated personnel to operate them. Integrated hardware solutions that incorporate all the elements of live TV in a single box have reduced the cost to operate a TV channel.
What are the transmission protocols of the future going to look like?
How people receive content is becoming just as important. IP-delivered content opens new doors in how advertisers can target consumers. As TV becomes more digitalized and smarter, the line between TV and OTT is blurring. Advertisers and ad agencies will eventually merge their TV ad digital planning and measurement.
It’s no secret that video on demand and other internet video services lag pay-TV across Africa. This is largely due to the availability and affordability of broadband internet. While this remains a challenge in the short-to-medium term, providers of telecommunication services are entering the content distribution space.
How will consumption patterns change in the future?
We’ve covered how data informs decisions around content production. Data is also used in the consumption side of the equation, particularly when it comes to delivering personalized content recommendations. Netflix does this particularly well with its content recommendation algorithms. This becomes important when dealing with massive amounts of content, like for example, user-generated content from social media sites. On any given day, over a billion hours of video are watched on YouTube. 70% of this content is recommended by YouTube’s algorithms. Going down the rabbit hole of YouTube is something most of us are familiar with; your well-intentioned first click to a video someone sent you leads to a three-hour binge from videos about political conspiracy theories to a clip on the antics of various house cats.
The recommendations are personalized, and they’re the first thing you see when you sign onto the site or YouTube app. They help you find the needle in the haystack of the millions of videos on YouTube that you actually want to watch.
The shift to second screen viewing has already taken place, with viewers often multi-tasking, watching Netflix and engaging with their friends on social media. There has been a lot of buzz around augmented reality and virtual reality. If you look past the gimmickry and hype, there hasn’t been a tectonic shift with either technology.
Wherever the future of television takes us, you cannot understate the importance of quality content, whether user-generated or scripted, free, paid or ad-supported. Almost all content will move towards a multi-screen environment with a highly personalized stream of content, rendering channels obsolete. The television will be just one of the many screens available to audiences. News production will become more efficient to produce, insightful when consumed and ubiquitous in its availability.
– The writer is the Managing Director of CMA Investment Holdings.