CNBC Africa (Channel/ABN)) was launched 15 years ago, on June 1 2007, with a lot of fanfare from its headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa (SA). It was a night of celebration after a 30-month planning and setup period. For the first time, an African news network connected guests from Cape Town, Nairobi, Lagos, Abuja, London, New York and Kuwait in a conversation with SA President Thabo Mbeki who was seated among a 100-strong audience at our studios in Sandton. While the questions to the President did not really test his statesmanship, what was clear was that a star was born to champion African business, leadership and economic stories. For too long, the news about Africa sadly highlighted corruption, crime and abject poverty; largely a lens of western media. Seeing this gap, CNBC Africa’s mission was to showcase the continent in light of its challenges but more importantly its great opportunities. The launch was also a sneak preview into convergence and the future of digital, media and technology; perhaps the only TV station to be server-based in 2007.
At CNBC Africa’s pre-launch press conference in November 2006, Co-Founder and Chairman Zafar Siddiqi made the following statement in the presence of then Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Samuel Shilowa and Geoffrey Qhena, CEO of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC): “We believe that the launch of CNBC Africa will be a milestone in African television broadcasting that will fill a gap in the information needs of audiences. By focusing on the financial, business and economic news of the region, our aim is to provide a platform to an ongoing inter-African discussion on globalization, employment, career, business and investment opportunities, living standards, infrastructure development, and other relevant issues. This is the first channel of its kind that caters to the information needs of the average viewer, as well as to business and investment communities by providing meaningful analysis behind the headlines relating to how current events can impact our lives.” Premier Shilowa welcomed us to the dynamic South African province of Gauteng which, through a very turbulent journey, has been our home.
Over the last 15 years, CNBC Africa has produced eight hours of original content each day to include an analysis of the markets, commodities, currencies, corporate results, policy changes and in-depth interviews with government leaders, bureaucrats, business leaders and movers and shakers with an interest in Africa. Bringing African voices into a unified platform was a first as analysts and newsmakers had the opportunity to be heard across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). With close collaboration with its international franchise partner, CNBC International, the channel is a perfect blend of African and international news with African viewers having the opportunity to hear directly from exchanges and bureaus across the world giving wholesome global news, making CNBC Africa the most comprehensive business network reaching over 26 million viewers through various distribution platforms in SSA today.
CNBC Africa has covered markets news from all major exchanges in Africa to include the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the Nigerian Exchange Group (NSE/NGXGroup), the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), the Côte d’Ivoire-based Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières (BRVM), the Rwanda Stock Exchange and many other smaller ones. For many years, the Channel operated from its own studio in the major exchanges giving first-hand reports and analysis on listed company results and new issues. The Channel’s objectives for this were i) providing a credible television platform for all exchanges in Africa to showcase their value proposition, and ii) financial and capital markets literacy for the general public which over the years was achieved through a number of programs that were broadcast.
One of the feathers in CNBC Africa’s cap was the coverage of African and international events. The Channel was the host broadcast partner of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Africa and also broadcast the African debates at the WEF in Davos. The Channel was also the broadcast partner for forums held by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP) just to mention a few. Other major events included the Mining Indaba and a lot of industry and country-focused events across SSA. Through its strategic presence at the Kigali Convention Centre (KCC), the Channel covered all events at the KCC. ABN also launched the All Africa Business Leaders Awards in 2012 which are today the most coveted and prestigious business awards in SSA.
Like any business, CNBC Africa has its share of challenges and has been through a tumultuous journey since 2007. The first real challenge came in 2008 when the global financial crisis impacted financial institutions and markets all over the world. Advertising revenue dropped significantly and soon after launch, the Channel was forced to consolidate which impaired its geographic expansion plans. This was shortly followed by disruption caused by technology, in the media sector in general and television in particular. Traditional viewership and the consequent fragmentation of the advertising spend between conventional and digital media had a further impact on traditional businesses that were set up at higher costs than new online channels that were designed specifically for ‘Over The Top’ (OTT) platforms. Competition just got more severe. The Channel adapted well to future challenges and launched CNBC Africa online which is its livestream broadcast via various internet platforms including but not limited to YouTube. This phase afforded the Channel to remodel its operations, invest in digital transformation and emerge as a leaner but more efficient operation.
Covid-19 cases first arrived in SA in March 2020. The uncertainties caused by the pandemic were unlike any other disruption in the last 100 years. The world changed and consumption patterns continue to change. CNBC Africa reinvented its offerings and adapted to the disruption once again and despite all the challenges, re-emerged stronger.
The ABN Group has been conscious of its responsibilities towards the communities in which it resides. The Channel has participated in many pro bono campaigns with NGOs and other organizations like UNICEF etc to raise awareness of the various challenges being faced in SSA, and aggregated thought leaders to support initiatives. ABN also set up the ABN Education Trust in 2011 with a focus on i) university education for children (particularly the girl child) from previously disadvantages families as well as children of our staff, and ii) orphanages that had no formal support. Over the last 10 years, ABN has assisted over 50 students to graduate and has provided over 250 internships to young Africans for invaluable workplace experience. ABN has also used sports as a means to create awareness of the challenges faced by so many children and has hosted the CNBC Africa Golf Challenge every year. An important activity at the event is an auction, the proceeds of which are contributed to the ABN Education Trust.
In the words of CNBC Africa’s Co-Founder, Rakesh Wahi, “throughout these 15 years, the consistent factors that have helped us traverse the journey, relatively unscathed, have been the loyalty of our viewers, the invaluable support of our advertisers, service providers, bankers and stakeholders, the shared vision by our partner CNBC International, and the patience and belief of our Board and shareholders. I thank each and every one of them for withstanding the test of time and remaining rock steady in their faith in the vision behind this project. More than anything else, on behalf of Zafar Siddiqi, Sam Bhembe, Sid Wahi and Roberta Naicker, I thank each member of our executive management and staff, for their hard work and commitment to bring us to where we are today. Thank you all”.