In this op-Ed Nigeria’s Uche Nworah examines how State-Owned Broadcasting Stations could stand the fierce competitive media environment in a fast changing world.
We live in exciting and interesting times. Major disruptions continue to occur across different sectors, driven by technology, innovation and globalisation both pre, during and most likely post- Covid-19 pandemic.
Tom Godwin, Executive Vice President and Head of Innovation at U.S.A – based Zenith Media while discussing the changing global business environment pointed out the mind-blowing disruption that is taking place in some sectors. He mentioned for example, Uber, the largest taxi company in the world which owns no vehicles. Amazon, the largest bookstore in the world which owns no bookshops. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer in the world which owns no inventory, and Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, which owns no real estate. He concludes that ‘something interesting is happening’.
Here in Nigeria, looking at the media sector, our own Linda Ikeji, before she started Linda Ikeji TV was easily Nigeria’s highest earning media personality, but without any physical structure and facilities. She commands audiences and revenue that long established media organisations can only wish and dream about. There are many other examples.
The disruption in the media sector has been unprecedented especially in the digital era. We no longer talk about broadcasting but digital broadcasting. The language spoken today is no longer that of programmes and programming but of content, content provision and distribution. The present broadcast media eco-system in Nigeria poses huge threats but at the same time presents big opportunities for practitioners.
In the digital broadcast industry, It will appear that state-owned media organisations are the most affected in several ways; (1) Global and national economic challenges have led to massive reduction in government subvention (2) Reduced subvention has triggered a wide expectation for more internally generated revenue that is not readily realisable
(3) Advertising revenue continues to decline as advertisers appear to favour media stations on cable networks (DSTV, GOTV, StarTimes etc) which guarantee wider reach and audiences. (4) With the existing licensing, operational and regulatory framework by National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), terrestrial television with its localised/limited reach appears ‘dead’, and will always struggle against digital broadcast media on digital platforms and cable. Terrestrial TV has no future and is almost ‘dead’. It’s now a ‘poor man’s TV’, poor men being those who don’t have DSTV, Startimes or GOTV decoders or those that their subscriptions have expired. Not many people like the idea of switching from terrestrial TV antennas to DSTV and other cable decoders. It’s untidy. One decoder box for all (whether state owned or independent TV) appears just the right solution.(5) State media with reduced subvention and reduced advertising revenue are not able to fund the production of quality content which attracts and helps retain viewership, neither are they able to attract and retain creative staff (6) In the new media eco-system of ‘Content is King’ as mantra, state – owned media are increasingly being driven into extinction. If state owned broadcast media do not wake up to the realities of the times, they may soon find themselves in the media graveyard, just like their newspaper counterparts. In the 70s and 80s, every state in Nigeria had a thriving state owned newspaper, today, perhaps only a handful including Anambra’s National Light, off-shoot of Daily Star from the old Anambra state still manages to publish (7) Many state owned media still suffer the choking effects of state control including editorial interference and control
(8) Just like the laws setting them up which may have become obsolete, state- owned broadcast stations suffer from near -colonial, and military era hangover extending to their bureaucratic organograms incorporating obsolete job roles. These now require updating. A lean and flat organogram is recommended
(9) The civil and public service mindset have made many state -owned state media to become talent graveyards. They lack the dynamism, creativity and flexibility required to compete in today’s digital media world (10) Other issues have been identified as hindering the survival of state-owned TV stations including the analogue nature of their broadcast equipment, over bloated workforce etc.
What can state-owned broadcast media do differently? How can they compete in the new media eco-system? To survive will require new ways of thinking, and new ways of doing things on their parts. Some of these challenges have to be addressed by the stations themselves. Others fall under operating factors in the external environment beyond their control.
For example, in Nigeria, only Lagos Television (LTV), and Ogun State Television (OGTV) are the two state-owned television stations on the DSTV cable platform. This situation is most unfair as it bestows on the two stations superior advantages of wider audience and increased advertising revenue. Other state -owned stations make do with the 3KW transmitter and regional licence that NBC permits. This surely cannot be said to be a level playing field as the disadvantaged state stations that are denied access on the DSTV platform still carry the same operating costs by way of paying staff salaries and allowances, equipment maintenance, content production, diesel and other costs. For example, at Anambra Broadcasting Service, despite investments by Governor Willie Obiano in new digital equipment, construction of new digital studios, renewed focus on quality content production and other improvements, it has not been possible to secure approval to host the ABS TV on the DSTV platform. This is despite repeated visits, applications and meetings with the DSTV management including submission on hard drive of content types produced by ABS as demanded by DSTV. The story has been and is still that there are no new available channels on the DSTV platforms, but we see new channels being added every day with some platforms having up to 3.
The argument in some quarters that state-owned broadcast stations are heavy on propaganda and do not produce quality content is pre-judgemental and biased. In a free market place where the playing field is level, let the audience and advertisers determine that. With the ongoing efforts by the Federal Ministry of Information to launch an audience measurement system, it will be easy to make objective judgements. Let the market determine which station survives and which goes under. After all, we can not give all thumbs -up to all the channels on DSTV as having super contents.
Also, arguing that state-owned broadcasting stations are not yet ready for digital migration to the DSTV and other such platforms shortchanges and punishes those who are. All should not be painted with the same brush.
To survive, state -owned broadcasting stations may need to introduce other services and earn side income. Industry watchers have suggested selling or syndication of their content. Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) has launched the Miss Anambra beauty pageant, publishes magazines, launched ABS Film Academy, promoted music and cultural events etc to earn additional revenue.
The regulator, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the National Assembly, the Federal Ministry of Information, the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), Radio and Television Workers Union (RATTAWU) and other stakeholders should intervene by making it a matter of policy for DSTV and other cable platforms in Nigeria such as GOTV, StarTimes etc to allocate channels to state – owned TV stations on their respective platforms. This is an existential matter for state-owned broadcast media, and is the only way to ensure that no one is left behind in the emerging media eco-system. This will also help open up the space for fair competition, promote creativity, and guarantee increased employment, stop loss of jobs and enhance wider participation of youths in the creative economy at the state levels. If this is not done, our teeming youths who want to play in the media and creative economy will continue to migrate to Lagos. Can Lagos provide jobs for everybody?
To reach a wider audience, we at Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) have had to resort to online streaming via our Facebook, Youtube and Instagram channels, including our website (absradiotv.com) some of our TV and radio content to satisfy the yearnings for home content by Ndi Anambra in the diaspora and other target groups. Other state TV stations could also adopt this model although it has huge cost and other implications. Also, the audience do complain of data streaming costs.
Opening up the cable TV space for state-owned TV stations to play in should form one of the key proposals in the ongoing consultations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) which is seeking to review the 6th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.
Nworah is Managing Director / CEO of Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) Nigeria. This piece was originally published under the title State-Owned Broadcasting Stations and Media Ecosystem