It was two days of brain storming and knowledge transfer for select African nations, in the first week on May, as MultiChoice African hosted the 2018 Digital Dialogue conference in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate (UAE).

In attendance at the conference, which was the 5th in the series, were delegates from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya, who listened and exchanged knowledge with experts on the digitalisation as it affects Africa.

The 2018 Digital Dialogue Conference is a platform facilitated by MultiChoice Africa to foster a better understanding of the future direction of the video entertainment industry in Africa.

Established in 2012 to create a better understanding of Digital migration and its impact on Africa’s digital landscape, the Digital Dialogue conference has become an independent and growing platform towards “fostering a better understanding and building knowledge on video entertainment and digital terrestrial markets, while creating necessary conversations with thought leaders about various industry-related issues,” according to the organisers.

Setting the ball rolling at the dialogue, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Video Entertainment, MultiChoice African, Yolisa Phahle, said the rapid advances in digital technology in Africa had created new opportunities, while charging Africans to embrace digital technology as it will “change how people consume our products.”

Phahle said Africa should use the opportunity of digital technology to tell its story using content. “In the midst of the ongoing digital revolution, we collectively have the opportunity to not only tell stories that educate and inform African audiences,” she said, adding: “We are in a position to take African stories to the world, and create a global market for what we do.”

The MultiChoice chief said by using the internet and leveraging technology, Africans “have the ability to reach audiences at a global level and the success of companies like Iroko TV, artistes like Davido, actresses like Lupita Nyong’o and the movie, Black Panther, are confirmation that the world is ready to consume African stories, celebrate African culture and embrace Africa.”

The CEO said as the world looks to the future of news and media organisations, “the conversation is focused on three words: content, technology and customer, which we believe will continue to be essential for any news or media organisation that wants to survive and grow in the future.”

Femi Odugbemi, CEO of Zuri24 Media Limited, in his presentation, told a story of how the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, “rose from ordinary passion to multi-billion dollar industry.”

Underlining the impact Nollywood has made in the global entertainment industry, the filmmaker said: “If there has ever been an industry that created digital dialogue from the word go, it would be Nollywood.”

While reflecting on Nollywood’s growth since 1992 when the first film, ‘Living in Bondage,’ was released, to 2014 when the Federal Government declared it a $3.3 billion sector, Odugbami said in 2016 Nollywood’s combined box office “topped a staggering N3.5 billion ($11.5 million), and in 2017 Nollywood was named one of the priority sectors identified in the Economic Recovery and Growth plan of the Federal Government of Nigeria with a planned $ 1 billion in export revenue by 2020.”

The filmmaker said digital solutions opened up a number of possibilities across Nollywood’s sub-sectors, especially in the areas of distribution, production, manpower and governance.

“Beyond the big screen, small screens are creating a world of opportunities to 130 million active GSM subscribers of which 25 per cent can spend N1,500 per month on movies, equating to a staggering annual revenue of N585 billion ($ 2 billion),” he said.

According to him, filmmaking in Nigeria was becoming “more sophisticated because of the growing options that digital filmmaking avail filmmakers, such as applications that can create a virtual rendition of a scene,” adding there was a “new thinking in Nollywood that is reshaping the industry and gradually creating formal structures that allows filmmakers to access public and private funding to address the business of filmmaking.”

Ghanaian-born science fiction writer, Jonathan Dotse opened the eyes of participants to the rise of “Afrofuturism in Africa’s creative industry.”

He said Afrofuturism was experiencing resurgence with the thirst for new perspectives on African stories, in relation to technology.

He said Afrofuturism had caused “a re-awakening of self-identity among African youths and its potential to grow the strength of socio-political movements seeking to boost African representation in media.”

Dotse also expressed his belief that Afrofuturism will ignite and grow engagement of youths in science and technology and increasing accessibility to the tools of digital media creation and dissemination.
Also address the conference, futurist and innovation expert, Paul Papadimitriou, said digitalisation had changed lives and businesses.

According to him, technology affects people, their behaviours, “how we transact, communicate ideas, gather ideas, love, and consider the world.”

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He said the challenge for pay-TV companies was “to shift the focus from content delivery systems to understanding its consumer through primary data.”

Papadimitriou said with the advent of 5G, “African consumers will watch TV on all platforms simultaneously.”

Anthony Lilley, professor of creative industries at Ulster University in Northern Ireland and the Director of Magic Lantern Productions, underlined how society uses technology to tell stories and make cultures.

He shared insights on the effects of technology on a range of industries, saying: “The human experience has always been connected to technology. Whether you’re telling a story at the fireside or via digital media.”

On how it works, he said: “Digital is more about how we human beings and society connect with each other. But how do you grab attention, create meaning and tell stories? How do we engage with people’s passions and what does it all mean for our culture? The answers to these questions can be answered by three major factors affecting content businesses of today: video on-demand, personal/mobile and that we are inundated with data and intelligence which can do new things.”

In their presentations, Gerhard Petrick, Deputy Chairperson of the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA); Michèle Coat, Radio Communication Engineer at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); Peter Barnet, Chairman of CM-WiB at Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) and Greg Bensbert, General Manager of Digital 3&4 at ITV, warned against further delay in digital migration in Africa, saying it would have long-term consequences on the economy.

According to Petrick, speaking on the transition to DTT in South and Southern Africa, “good progress has been made by selecting and implementing the most advanced and spectrum efficient technology for terrestrial broadcasting.”

He said, however, that significant work remained “in yielding the digital dividend, with only a few SADC countries having cleared the dividend bands.”

The SADIBA chief illustrated how network costs can typically be derived, stating that Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) cost per service should be substantially lower than analogue network costs.
Coat stated that the ITU facilitated the planning of the migration to digital and the coordinating spectrum requirements, which she said included a follow-up to the Geneva 2006 (GE-06) conference to plan the digitalisation of broadcasting and associated frequency use for 119 countries in Europe, Africa, Middle East, Central Asia.

She confirmed that the remainder of the UHF band (470-694 MHz) was earmarked for broadcasting in future while the digital dividend (694-862 MHz) bands to be released in the switchover from analogue to digital TV would play a critical role in delivering broadband wireless access.

Barnett gave a review of new developments in DVB – the industry-led consortium of about 160 of the world’s leading digital TV and technology companies, drawn from broadcasters; telecommunications network operators; regulators and manufacturers who collectively draft the satellite system standards.

Peter also shared an update of the DVB, including DVB-S2X, which offers Extended SNR (C/N) range, finer granularity from additional MODCODs, Additional roll-off values, Channel bonding. And will be available for DTH from early 2018. He also mentioned DVB-SIS – Single Illumination System- a cost efficient delivery of DVB broadcasts onto IP networks and will use 1 transponder to feed both terrestrial transmitters and DTH receivers.

Bensberg gave some insights from his digital migration work as a key technical and regulatory adviser to UK government ministers during the switchover and future demands of technology changes.
Using the UK’s 2005 Analogue Switchover (Digital Migration) as a case study, he said after migrating to digital, all public service channels in the UK became available to all viewers with more than 20 other new channels created, e.g. Sky News.

Petrick concluded the panel discussions by stating: “The opportunity cost of not yielding dividend bands has a significant negative impact on countries that haven’t implemented digital migration. These bands will play a critical role in providing broadband wireless access and allowing citizens to participate in the economy.”

Speaking to journalists after the conference, Mr. John Ugbe, Managing Director of MultiChoice Nigeria, said, just like organising the Digital Dialogue, the company has been engaged in many social responsibility programmes.

According to him, MultiChoice focuses on education, health, youth and economic empowerment.
“Our MultiChoice Resource Centre project is our education initiative that we have been active with for over 14 years. What we do here is work with the governments in each state to select beneficiary schools. We then provide audio-visual equipment (which include a dish, decoder with educational channels, TV, generating set, tables, chairs, UPS), to bring learning and the school’s curriculum to life.

We set up our education package in the chosen schools, train the teachers on how to select relevant programmes intended to illuminate and animate information that would otherwise have remained theoretical or textbook based,” he said.

Ugbe said MultiChoice had supported the Sickle Cell Foundation “ because the statistics of how Sickle Cell Anaemia affects Nigerians paints a dire picture. The Foundation seeks funds to carry out research, treat and inform sufferers. Their key objective is creating awareness on how to minimise its effects, research on how to avoid and ultimately cure the ailment. On our part, we offer support through creating awareness, which we do on an ongoing basis through educational videos, community outreach programmes, fund raising and other initiatives to support them in what they do.”