“Behavioural change will be slow, but will grow exponentially”

We speak to Oscar Dube, CEO of South African video-on-demand provider Southtel.

What developments have you witnessed in Africa’s broadcasting industry in the past 12 months?

The broadcasting industry in Africa is not unlike the rest of the world, the only difference is the speed (or lack thereof) with which Africa moves. Business models have longer life cycles here due to the operators’ tendency to sweat their investments for as long as possible.  This means that we see technology develop in other markets much quicker than in our own.

What challenges have you encountered as a result of this progress?

The delays by current incumbents artificially retards market development, such as the slow introduction of undersea cable. Those consumers fortunate enough to keep pace with the rest of the world do so at great cost. The most noticeable challenge Southtel has encountered is the mindset of suppliers, and by inference the market. Linear TV and bandwidth constraints are moot points when pricing is added to the equation. The fact is the market needs to progress – and this will happen, history has proven this.

How do you believe new technologies can improve viewer engagement?

New technologies change the market over a period of time, such as newspapers versus radio versus television versus the Internet. What is happening now is that convergence is becoming a more acceptable concept as there are more and more realistic deployments, and it makes sense to the market.  The iPad phenomenon is being matched by tablet computers from Samsung and Sony, offering the end-customer singular devices for multiple applications. It can be debated who went first!

Viewers are only just beginning to realise that technology has now made their voices louder (through Facebook, Twitter etc), and that they do not need be a broadcaster to develop and deliver content (thanks to services like YouTube). They are also finding that their individual preferences can be met much more easily (through services like Hulu and Joost), and that there are alternatives to the traditional options in the market. The net effect is a more engaged consumer.

What role do you think online video will eventually take within the overall mix of television technologies in Africa?

Online content will always be the source of entertainment consumption on an individual basis at a specific point in time for the consumer. The viewing style is a very personalised preference and therefore requires huge servers to “host” these individual preferences.

This will ultimately see operators rolling out services in the same way as traditional video platforms have rolled out, that is to say by addressing the broader market segments first. I would however expect that the adoption rate would be much faster than previous technologies, and operators would be very quickly pushed by the market as online is a one-to-one market.

How do you believe content providers can best tap these new opportunities?

By really listening to the market and addressing the individual requirements of each individual within the market.

How quickly do you think viewer behaviour will change?

To begin with, behavioural change will be slow, but it will grow exponentially and operators will need to be cognisant of the required growth rates.

Which markets do you think offer some key insights into the future direction of Africa’s broadcast market?

India is quite an interesting one based on its segmentation within the same geographic space. This seems to parallel the South Africa experience.  They are an emerging market, with some First World solutions (for example call centres and software), and have similar challenges in terms of rolling out infrastructure whilst also increasing the economic activity within their home market.

Oscar will be speaking at the AfricaCast 2011 event taking place in Cape Town, South Africa on 9th-10th November 2011. For more information and to register, please click here

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