Wednesday, May 2, 2018

MultiChoice entertainment boss Yolisa Phahle warns Africa's TV biz: With more choices than ever, we have to find new ways of engaging better with viewers, as shiny substitutes Netflix, Facebook and YouTube are ready to eat our lunch in an instant.

MultiChoice's entertainment boss Yolisa Phahle has a warning for Africa's TV industry, saying that the TV biz across the continent will have to do more to engage better with viewers who have more - and more free -  content choices available than ever before, as shiny substitutes like Netflix, Facebook and YouTube "are ready to eat our lunch in an instant".

Yolisa Phahle, the CEO of general entertainment at MultiChoice, spoke yesterday on 1 May at the ongoing 5th edition of the Digital Dialogue Conference taking place in Dubai in the United Arab Emirate (UAE).

MultiChoice didn't invite any South African journalists or media to the conference facilitated by the satellite pay-TV operator, and there was no advance media advisory or notification.

The Digital Dialogue Conference is centred around gaining a better understanding of the future direction of the video entertainment industry across Africa as a whole.

According to the transcript of her speech that was provided in response to a media enquiry, Yolisa Phahle shared her thoughts with conference-goers about how "all of us who love African stories can respond to the uncertainties of what the digital future means for our industries and perhaps more importantly, what it means for our people and consumers".

"These days we have become so accustomed to hearing that old media, print, radio and television - essentially our industries - will soon be replaced forever by shiny new substitutes like Netflix, and Facebook. In my mind, however, the reality is really quite different," Yolisa Phahle said.

"The average person spends about 4 hours a day watching TV in Africa. They also spend 2 hours - and this time is increasing - online, consuming different kinds of entertainment, news and information."

"So if we look at how our industry is being impacted by the competition coming from Netflix, Apple, YouTube and even from Facebook and Twitter we have to wonder, but more importantly be proactive in creating what the future of TV, and traditional media as we know it, will be."

"Today, competition in our industries is different from the past.  It now comes from global companies. Netflix has 125 million subscribers from the United States to Africa, to India, to South America and all the way to Australia."

"Facebook - again a global company with over 2.2 billion users. These guys generate billions of advertising revenue, they are collecting probably the most valuable commodity of the modern age which is data and using machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand every minute detail about us from where we are, who we know, what we eat, watch we read, watch and as a result can predict what we will do next."

"They are largely unregulated, pay no tax and are starting to focus on Africa as a new frontier. They also don't create employment in the traditional pay-TV context such as call centers and sales agents," said Yolisa Phahle.

"What does this mean for our people? How will our publications, our radio stations and our film and television industry survive?  How will we make sure that the incredible economic value of Nollywood is directed back to Nigeria, that the exceptional animation skills of Kenya benefit Kenyans and that our languages, culture and history is preserved?"

"If you speak to any of the people involved in the early days of MultiChoice, one of the things they remind me of is the absolute necessity to not just understand what the future holds but to shape the future, to be a disruptor and if necessary even cannibalise yourself."

"Why launch GOtv when you already have DStv for example? MultiChoice Africa with its local partners was launched by people who were creating a media company not for the present, but one for the future."

"Back in the early 1990s by taking the most relevant, aspirational and highly regarded information and entertainment and finding new ways to marry it with technology to suit the needs of very specific target markets, they managed not only to define the rules of the game but also changed those rules by anticipating future customer needs and wants."

Investing even more in telling local stories
"Today we produce over 16 local content channels in multiple local languages showcasing local storytellers," said Yolisa Phahle.

"With your support we've created the Africa Magic Viewer's Choice Awards that celebrate African film making.We work with local broadcasters and local media so that East Africans can see what is happening in West and Southern Africa."

"For this reason, we are looking forward to investing even more in telling local stories, documenting our history and providing a platform for Africans to share African stories."

"Today in the midst of the digital revolution, collectively, we have the opportunity to not only tell stories that educate and inform African audiences, but the digital age means we are in a position to take African stories to the world, and create a global market for what we do."

"By using the internet and leveraging technology, we have the ability to reach audiences at a global level and the success of companies like Iroko TV, artists like Davido, actresses like Lupita N'yongo and the movie Black Panther are confirmation that the world is ready to consume African stories, celebrate African culture and embrace African languages," said Yolisa Phahle.

"This will take incredible focus."

Producers of resonant content will survive
"Today, we have more competition than ever. Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and a whole lot of other sources of entertainment and information are more agile, than we have ever been," said Yolisa Phahle.

"They are free of the huge infrastructural costs that we carry, they are free of the often challenging regulation that we operate under and will eat our lunch in an instant as they are now looking to carry news, commission TV entertainment and even broadcast live sport."

"In this new world we have to constantly improve the way we measure customer satisfaction levels, and customer needs, to ensure we provide existing and future customers with a seamless and exceptional service on multiple platforms," said Yolisa Phahle.

"And to talk more about news; increasingly news organizations are looking through the same prism as we are when it comes to understanding the future, and how best to navigate it."

"The BBC, for example, recently published a report called The Future of News which stresses the importance of focusing on news in terms of technology, stories or content and people. In other words, they too believe that digital, multi-platform, technology, relevant and well-differentiated content and a people strategy for talent and customers are the key to future survival."

"In the report, they make the point that trusted news networks will become even more valuable."

"As their report puts it: 'The internet is not keeping everyone informed, nor will it: it is, in fact, magnifying problems of information inequality, misinformation, polarisation and disengagement."

"At MultiChoice, our job is to keep everyone entertained, and to some degree informed as well. Our collective challenge is to cut through the clutter that is the internet and curate the stories of the day from multiple perspectives. As the BBC has said, the fundamental challenge facing all of us is what they call “the battle between news and noise”."

"To survive and grow, we have to find new ways of engaging more effectively with viewers when there are more choices than ever, more free content than ever and our customers are becoming more and more accustomed to receiving personalized content that talks to their specific requirements often seemingly for free."

"What we do know however is that people today consume more news and entertainment than ever and I believe this trend will continue. The delivery mechanisms will change, and in many ways digital is just another route to market, but the producers of the most relevant and resonant content will survive."

M-Net starting production on 'epic African stories'
"At MultiChoice our vision is to be the best African story teller in the world, and being able to tell the right story, at the right time to the right person is our absolute focus," said Yolisa Phahle.

"Whilst we may not be global players yet, the advantage that everyone in this room has, is that as Africans, we should be best placed to provide the most resonant and relevant content to our audiences and readers. So let's use this advantage to cut through the clutter."

"There is no way that English content will ever outperform Chinese content in China and no way that American content will ever outperform British content in the United Kingdom. Our job, is to make sure we work together to make sure African stories remain relevant in Africa."

"This year, we are planning to start production on a number of epic African stories. We've all enjoyed Vikings and Game of Thrones, now it's time to use new digital platforms to create a stage for Africa to shine on."

"It’s time to work with the best African talent to tell our own stories to the world and deliver the incredible economic benefits that Game of Thrones delivered to Ireland. This one show has delivered 110 million pounds for the Northern Ireland economy - over 20 million pounds per year of tourism, and established Northern Ireland as world-class location for film and TV production."

"Let’s undertake to bring this kind of prosperity to our continent and aim to use digital technology to entertain and inform the world."