Content and carrier are important, if in doubt ask DStv’s Maisha Magic

Tuesday February 24 2015

Maisha Magic had been on air for only five months and was still aggressively buying and developing content. It aired high quality local programming and paid producers often double or higher the usual market rate. It would need ratings higher than Citizen TV to justify those numbers, and yet it was hidden away behind a paywall. PHOTO | FILE

Maisha Magic had been on air for only five months and was still aggressively buying and developing content. It aired high quality local programming and paid producers often double or higher the usual market rate. It would need ratings higher than Citizen TV to justify those numbers, and yet it was hidden away behind a paywall. PHOTO | FILE 

By LARRY MADOWO
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Everybody with access to Internet is now a post-doctorate-level expert on digital migration.

To say it has been fascinating to watch would be the understatement of the year.

“Hey NTV, QTV, KTN and Citizen TV, even wildebeest migrate every year and they’re not bothering us,” several wannabe comics have posited. Okay, I’ll admit that made me chuckle.

For every action, there is a social media over-reaction. The ad hominem attacks on the broadcasters — derisively christened “The Analogue 3” — and on me have been unending. “Experts” who do not even know what DVBT2 stands for became overnight analysts on all matters digital migration, speaking with comical authority on why Nation, Standard and Royal media groups were “resisting change”.

“The three media houses have been and will always remain committed to digital migration and we are doing everything possible to get your channels back on air,” they said in a joint said in a joint statement.

Not being people to let facts get in the way of a good argument, most people still went to town with the lie that the three were opposed to digital migration.

BIG PICTURE

If anything, digital migration is a shot in the arm for the broadcasters. If done right, they will be available in every television household, unlike the current uneven reach because of limited frequencies.

“The competition is in content, not the platform,” former Information permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo told me on phone. “But you can’t force people to share content because the business model is not created by the Communications Authority.”

Dr Ndemo thinks both the broadcasters and the regulator are missing the point by fighting over the platform — how the channels are carried. But are they, really?

M-Net last week announced it was shutting down its Kenya-focused Maisha Magic channel on DStv after floundering in ratings.

“Unfortunately, Maisha Magic has not performed and grown as per our expectations,” regretted Patricia van Rooyen, CEO M-Net Sub-Saharan Africa. “Overall, the channel was unable to achieve the ratings consistency we needed to sustain the business and support our continued investment.”

Maisha Magic had been on air for only five months and was still aggressively buying and developing content. Though the channel’s staff think it wasn’t given enough time to grow an audience, there is a larger picture here.

A jaw-dropping 60 per cent of television owners do not possess a set-top box, according to an Ipsos survey conducted between February 17 and 18 this year. Among those that own those all-important decoders needed to receive a digital signal, 20 per cent are on DStv. It’s sister product, GoTV, has 37 per cent, StarTimes 23 per cent, and Zuku 16 per cent.

Maisha Magic aired high quality local programming and paid producers often double or higher the usual market rate. It would need ratings higher than Citizen TV to justify those numbers, and yet it was hidden away behind a paywall, out of reach of the people it targeted.

The competition is on content, not platform, but both are necessary to attract the eyeballs Maisha Magic lacked. It didn’t have a critical mass.

At the moment, and no matter how much this hurts some people, only NTV, QTV, KTN and Citizen TV have that mass appeal. The last time the stations pulled off the StarTimes and GoTV platforms, subscriptions dropped precipitously. The bungled analogue switch-off was designed, not to make them go digital, but to force them into using these same providers to reach viewers.

The reasoning is simple: most people would rather buy a set-top box from their Africa Digital Network consortium and receive their channels for free forever than pay monthly subscriptions for a pay TV service that doesn’t carry them.

“Our position is that we don’t have a neutral carrier at the moment,” Royal Media Services group MD Wachira Waruru told me. “PANG and Signet are both players and referees and we’re at their mercy.”

There seems to be a deliberate effort to diminish the economic and editorial influence of the “big three” media houses for some yet unknown reasons. Someday the whole story may unravel, and it may be too late.

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EDUCATION

Tanzania ditches English for Kiswahili 

I found high school chemistry to be complex and confusing.

But it was biology and its numerous physiological systems, organisms and their functions that my teen self was most perplexed by, eventually dropping it.

I’m trying to imagine how much harder learning science would have been if it were taught in Kiswahili.

I can’t wrap my head around it, but millions of learners across Tanzania will have to get used to it. The country is dropping English as a medium of instruction and replacing it with Kiswahili, according to various reports.

As a proud African, I admire the decision to use an indigenous language to teach. But as a citizen of the world, I worry about the diminished opportunities products of such an education system will be exposed to.

In an ever more globalised world, English is still the lingua franca for communication and business. The only other country that speaks Kiswahili so widely (if not poorly) is Kenya, and Tanzanians don’t even like us that much.

The average Tanzanian’s mastery of the English language often ranges between inferior to embarrassing because of the ubiquity of Kiswahili. How much worse will it be when impressionable young ones aren’t conditioned to speak it?

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YOUR EXCELLENCY SIR! 

So many titles, so little leadership! 

It is mostly in Africa where the phrase ‘Your Excellency’ is widely used to denote leadership and authority, especially in reference to heads of state.

American presidents, British prime ministers as well as miscellaneous Western kings and queens with immense power usually don’t even have any qualifiers before their posts.

Governors in Kenya, seeing themselves as mini-presidents, adopted ‘Excellency’ and ‘Honourable’ to denote their status when they came into office. But ‘Honourable’ members of the national assembly were not pleased, voting last week to strip them of both.

Members of County Assemblies may not call themselves ‘Honourable’ either, that is purely for MPs to make a mockery of. Kenya’s great elected representatives sat down to discuss titles and determine who can use what.

“Immaterial, irrelevant and a sign of bankruptcy of ideas” is how Council of Governors chairman Isaac Ruto (left) summarised the passing of the Bill. Hello pot, meet kettle.