|Topic:||Winning digital audience|
|Title:||BBC Africa Editor|
As BBC Africa Editor, Solomon Mugera oversees the managerial and editorial direction of BBC Africa programmes. Before taking this position Mr Mugera headed the BBC Swahili service, where he started as a producer and presenter; this multimedia radio and online operation has staff located in the UK, Burundi, DR Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
Mr Mugera also worked with various other BBC services and programmes and H pioneered BBC’s live, interactive debate across the continent Africa, Have Your Say which started as Africa Live! in 2002. Mr Mugera was instrumental in the launch of the first ever BBC TV bulletin dedicated to Africa and led the launch of a similar programme in Kiswahili for East and Central Africa.
Before joining the BBC, Solomon worked for three years as a television journalist with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.
Nearly 60 per cent of Africa’s one billion people have mobile phones and this is transforming businesses, driving entrepreneurship, economic growth and the continent’s media landscape. A shift to mobile phones and other portable digital devices is fast overtaking radio broadcasting; these devices are becoming the mass medium for information, communication and social interaction. The challenge for mass media broadcasters is to develop ways to drive digital audiences to traditional platforms. Trends on social media now drive content for other platforms.
The growth of mobile phone subscription across Africa is phenomenal. The World Bank estimates that nearly 60 per cent of the continent’s one billion people have a mobile phone, more than in developed economies such as the United States and the European Union.
It has become a life tool which, says the World Bank, is transforming businesses, driving entrepreneurship and economic growth.
Mobile phone technology is also changing the media landscape across Africa. The UN predicts that the continent will become predominantly urban within 20 years. Over that time, 48 per cent of all Africans will be city dwellers. That number will continue to rise year on year.
A study in 2012 by the US based Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA) says increased urbanization and growth in technological development will bring about significant changes in the way people in Africa consume particularly digital media.
The report shows that mobile ownership is higher in cities. Nigeria is a case in point. In 2012, 85 per cent of residents in big cities such as Lagos owned a cellphone compared to 72 per cent of rural residents.
At this rate mobile penetration could reach or even surpass the 100 per cent mark in some cities within the next few years. And it will not be long before mobile phones and other portable digital devices inevitably become the mass medium for information, communication, interaction and other transactions.
The traditional method of broadcasting to mass audiences via radio is fast being overtaken by a shift, particularly by the young, to mobile-phone and internet platforms.
Take the case of Kenya where the number of mobile subscribers has risen to more than 30 million. However, according to the Communication Commission of Kenya, CCK, the rate of growth of one per c ent seen over much of 2012 shows the market “appears saturated and tending towards maturity.” That means nearly all adults in Kenya, which has a population of about 42 million, has a mobile phone.
The story is the same across most of Africa. Nigeria’s Communication Commission reports that mobile-phone subscriptions have risen to more than 100 million, the highest on the continent.
Figures from Ghana’s National Communications Authority show there are nearly as many mobile phones as the country’s population of nearly 25 million. That presents a penetration of 100 per cent.
Research shows that short message service (SMS) is still the most popular use of mobile phones in Africa. It facilitates interactivity, aids financial transactions and enhances communication. While it provides a platform for media content such as audio, video and text, SMS can be a direct and timely source of feedback and market intelligence for broadcasters.
The high growth of mobile-phone use across Africa is also driven by various factors such as the low cost of handsets and competition among mobile-phone service providers, ensuring better price deals.
The introduction of fibre-optic connectivity has enhanced mobile internet speed. Competition in the sector is also helping to keep connectivity costs relatively low.
Recent statistics by the Communication Commission of Kenya, CCK, show the number of internet users in Kenya continues to grow, reaching 16.2 million by end of 2012. This represents nearly 40 per cent of the population. The growth trend cuts across internet penetration and usage of broadband.
This increase is attributed to growing demand for internet and data services, including use of social media especially among the young. Competitive tariffs by the mobile operators could also have contributed to the growth in the number of internet users.
A recent World Bank survey on mobile usage in Kenya shows that the majority are young people between the ages of 18 to 29. This shift creates new opportunities for existing broadcasters to reach and engage with audiences. For the BBC, which has built a strong heritage in Africa thanks to radio, this shift to digital platforms poses both a number of opportunities and challenges. The debate is no longer about whether or not to tackle them, but how to do it in a cost-effective way that delivers reach and impact.
First, there are thousands of mobile handsets in the market. Their screen sizes and capabilities vary, from basic to feature to smart phones. Through an approach called Responsive Design, the BBC is redesigning its websites so that web pages can resize themselves depending on the type of mobile phone or device with which a user is accessing the content. The challenge is how to fit content that is designed on a desktop computer to various screen sizes and retain as many elements of the content as possible.
The African market is still dominated by basic and feature phones. Less than ten per cent of mobile phone owners have smartphones.
One of the BBC’s first language service websites to move to Responsive Design is BBC Hausa’s bbchausa.com. The service which boasts a weekly radio audience of more than 23 million, commands a huge following on its Facebook site which has more than 300,000 likes. The BBC Swahili service, with a radio audience of nearly 20 million, is also performing well on Facebook with nearly 90,000 likes. The majority of BBC Hausa and BBC Swahili digital audience access internet via their mobile phones rather than the desktop.
The second challenge for broadcasters is to how to strike a balance between the needs of traditional versus digital audiences. Research suggests that mobile users across Africa are rather different to BBC’s existing radio audiences. Whilst existing radio audiences tend to be rather older and predominantly male, African mobile users tend to be younger and more evenly balanced between male and female.
Do we need a different editorial proposition to capture the digital market? What sort of news is this audience looking for and in what formats? Journalists used to one form of production for radio are having to adapt their skills to new platforms. How do broadcasters juggle limited resources to serve new audiences as well as old ones?
As highlighted above, there is a difference between radio and mobile phone audiences. Programming content for mobile telephone is not the same as for radio and TV. They differ in duration, tone and delivery.
Beyond SMS, the rapid growth of online social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogs offer broadcasters with potential to drive digital audiences. It can help increase reach, engagement and interactivity with audiences. Social media are also helping generate content for other platforms. On several occasions, BBC Hausa service has learned about events happening in northern Nigeria through its Facebook page.
Take the case of Kenya’s elections last March. The polls passed off peacefully, a stark contrast to what happened when a dispute over the outcome of the December 2007 elections degenerated into violent protests.
While there was calm on the streets, Kenyans resorted what some in social media described as digital violence. BBC Monitoring observed how Kenyans exchanged offensive ethnic slurs on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social networks.
BBC Monitoring reported that the state National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) highlighted the use of ‘coded language’ and ethnic stereotypes to engage in ‘hate speech’ and stir ethnic intolerance.
Beyond politics, Kenyans and Nigerians took to twitter to taunt each other as their national teams braced for a World Cup qualifier match. With hashtag #SomeoneTellNigeria, Kenyans complained about how unfairly their team had been treated by their hosts ahead of the match, and began to mock Nigerians. The latter responded in kind with hashtag #SomeoneTellKenya.
Such trends on social media are a source of content for other platforms such as radio, TV and online. The challenge for mass media broadcasters in particular is how to develop capacity and technical ability to drive digital audiences to traditional platforms.