African Podcasting Spreads Its Wings Despite the Barriers of Poor Internet Quality and High Data Costs

London — Podcasting in Africa has begun spread across the continent and is being adopted by both independent podcasters and more established broadcast companies. This week Russell Southwood spoke to Maurice Otieno, Executive Director, Baraza Media Lab about independent podcasters and the challenges they face.

The researchers for Baraza’s ‘Is this mic on?’ report published in December last year spoke to independent podcasters in 12 African countries: Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. Although a relatively small number of producers, the geographic spread shows the widening interest in podcasts as a media channel.

Unrelated to this report, Kenya heavyweight media companies the Nation Media Group and The Standard (a weekly podcast) have both launched podcasts of their own. Apparently Capital FM is working on its own one and has already used two syndicated podcasts. Trace TV has a syndicated podcaster called Kaz who is probably one of the leading voices by audience numbers. As events elsewhere show, a good podcasting ecosystem needs both established and independent podcasters to thrive.

As you’d expect, the majority of the podcasters sampled are below 35 and whilst the majority are male there are a significant number of women podcasters like Vickie Remoe from Sierra Leone. The most covered topics include: self-help and personal (21.5%), culture and arts (10.8%), business and leadership (10.8%) and entertainment (10.8%)

So what attracts podcasters to the form?

[Audience feedback] is what excites me the most.”

Gushin Emce Gush, Kenyan journalist and podcaster (Dandora HipHop City)

“‘Oh, they notice!’ Because I didn’t think anyone [would] notice. So when someone noticed that I was like, ‘Oh, okay, okay. I have to do this right. I have to commit to this a hundred percent.'”

Munira Kaoneka, Tanzanian podcaster (Kaya Sessions), on her audience noticing her absence from podcasting

For those coming from traditional media, podcasting seems to have less constraints and offer more opportunities for experimentation:

“I got started because my background is in television. So I’m a broadcast journalist. And the problem that I had was that my TV show is only about 25 minutes, but we were having really, really fantastic conversations that I felt like I’m cheating the public out by cutting out this content.”

Vickie Remoe, Make Sierra Leone Famous podcast

But some of the same old barriers still exist for independent media: “Our facility SEMABox offers a podcast production institution. Production has to be to a high standard but you also need to have an understanding of distribution channels and how people consume media. You have to understand the level of research needed in your particular topic and make sure it is well researched and well articulated. You have to have a good audio production otherwise you lose the listener.”

High data prices remain a recurring problem: “It’s not a matter of lack of interest but the high cost of data. People have smartphones. In Kenya 85% of them have smartphones and you can use the smartphone as a platform to distribute content.” Outside of places like Kenya there remains the issue of inconsistent internet connections which undermines both online interviewing and listening.

However, Otieno believes that with 5G coming in Kenya, higher speeds and lower prices are on their way But also there will be more recording infrastructure across the continent: “Podcasting will be a mainstream media channel in 3-5 years time.”

In Brief

Netflix has announced that the MTV Shuga full library is now available for streaming on their digital platform. The Pan-African series initially launched in Kenya, and has since expanded into Nigeria, South Africa and Cote D’Ivoire. The show’s success includes two seasons in Kenya, four in Nigeria, two in South Africa and two in Cote D’Ivoire; all of which are now available on Netflix. MTV Shuga is a multiplatform edutainment campaign initiative from the MTV Staying Alive Foundation that has integrated pop culture, trending music and youthful storytelling to positively impact and change behaviors of young people for over a decade. A 2017 study by the World Bank proved that viewers of the television drama were twice as likely to test for HIV – while the show’s storylines, touching on HIV prevention, gender-based violence, safe sex and more, have educated a growing fan base across the world since the show debuted in Kenya in 2009.

Nigeria: Amazon Prime Video is looking to Nigeria in search of content. Sources told BMA that it had secured crucial deals with Nigerian production studios – deals that could shake up the industry in Africa’s most prolific filmmaking hub. For example, inkblot Productions and Anthill Studios have secured exclusive streaming agreements with the US giant in recent months, claiming that the partnerships will fundamentally change the way they operate. According to Chinaza Onuzo, co-founder of Inkblot Productions, the studio behind local hits “The Wedding Party” and “Up North,” the company has secured a three-year licensing deal that will last until 2024. Inkblot’s forthcoming films will be released on Amazon’s platform following their cinema showings.

South Africa: The business rescue practitioner (BRP) for the cinema chain Ster-Kinekor Theatres (SKT) has announced that the company’s creditors and shareholders approved and adopted a business rescue plan that will see the company receive a US$16.5 million senior debt facility. On Thursday, 99.75 per cent of Ster-Kinekor’s creditors and 100 per cent of its shareholders voted in favour of the plan during two separate virtual meetings. “The plan is obligatory on all parties, and execution will begin immediately,” Smyth added.

Nigeria: In an interview with Broadcast Media Africa prior to The “Broadcast And Digital Media Convention – Nigeria (22-23 March 2020) Guy Murray-Bruce, President, Silverbird Communications said: “Given the astronomical cost of funds, the Nigerian audience has now acquired a taste for high-end content that local broadcasters are not equipped to replicate. This is perhaps the major hurdle confronting us at the moment, but we at Silverbird are bracing up to it and promise to bridge the production quality gap. However, a combo of incentives by way of duty waiver for the importation of broadcast equipment and tax rebates will have to be offered by the government.”

East Africa: DStv’s Maisha Magic Movies will feature 45 films from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to showcase the East African film industry this month. The films will include dramas, telenovelas, thrillers, and comedies.

Walt Disney Co. will launch a lower-cost version of Disney+ with advertising later this year as a way to accelerate the growth of its flagship streaming service. According to Disney, the new service would debut in the United States in late 2022 and expand the following year internationally. Price and timing will be announced at a later date.