A number of African countries have begun the migration from analogue to digital television. Despite the infrastructural challenges and costs, countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and are in the process of making successful transitions.
“I think in the beginning, early 2000, you see China providing a lot of technical assistance [and] skills training. Before 2006 you hardly saw journalist from Africa and Chinese journalists coming together to talk about their philosophies and values,” Yu-Shan Wu, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, told CNBC Africa.
“Africans and [the] Chinese don’t really understand each other, they’re really trying to fill that gap. Whether the perceptions are correct or not, I think there’s this gap they’re trying to fill.”
Chinese digital satellite television provider StarTimes has however been heavily investing in Africa’s digital television (DTV) space, and in some cases, the owner of digital signal distribution rights.
While China’s involvement in Africa’s dtv migration could give financial and infrastructural assistance, it could also prevent countries from having full control of its dtv space.
However, according to Wu, this is an opportunity for African countries to create their own content and distribute it on their own digital platform.
“In an infrastructure sense, [China is] providing that platform, but I think it’s the next step, the content,” she said.
Industries such as Nollywood in Nigeria, which are internationally renowned but are purely locally produced, could greatly benefit from a local digital platform.
Currently, access to Nollywood films is either on Multichoice’s DSTV platform, through purchase or through iRokoTv, a recently established online channel that allows viewers to steam Nigerian and Ghanaian films.
These platforms are however limited to those who can afford them, and not easily accessible to the entire population.
There is also stiff competition on already existing digital television service providers, which have, for a number of years, provided primarily American film and television shows. This results in in a steady diet of more international than local television.
Adding more local content on to local digital television platforms could give the African film and television a substantial boost, but it also faces the risk of not being as positively received as viewers’ television diets could still remain primarily non-local.
Nigeria, like other African countries, has booming film and television industries that could thrive if placed on a local digital platform.
According to Wu, African digital television platforms will therefore have to think of innovative ways to attract viewers to local content.
“The question is how do you provide something new and different that others haven’t before, that people will remember you for? Because something always brands you,” she explained.