Rwanda successfully switched to digital broadcasting in June this year beating the June 2015 International Telecom Union switch off from analog to digital broadcasting.
However, production of local content remains low as television stations prefer foreign-sourced material.
The country has six new free-to-air TV stations, which are Family TV, TV One, TV10 and CNBC Africa and national broadcaster Rwanda Television.
Television stations say local content is expensive to source and the little that is available is of low quality. The skills and capacity needed to produce good quality material are also lacking in the country.
Most of the local free-to-air TV stations in the country still air mainly foreign programmes with very little local content, to the chagrin of Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (Rura) — the regulator.
Rura said the shift from analog to digital migration helped free up spectrum, which allows TV stations to have many channels. But more channels means greater demand for local content that is African and relevant to the current market.
“I believe broadcasting space has a lot of room for growth and we need to encourage African content providers,” said Patrick Nyirishema, the acting director-general for Rura.
Mr Nyirishema said that the region has relied on foreign content for too long instead of investing in local productions.
“Broadcasting gives our people and culture an avenue for expression, where they can create content not only for this country but for the region as well,” said Mr Nyirishema.
According to Kim Kizito, the marketing manager of TV10, the reluctance by operators to invest in more local productions can be attributed to low advertising revenues, which cannot support the programmes.
The Rwandan economy is still small and TV penetration remains low, which sees big advertisers shying away. It is estimated that the current TV penetration is at less than 10 per cent of the population.
The industry, according to broadcast media houses, is also dominated by people who claim to be content providers but who have no funding for their projects.
“Before local content providers work on productions, they usually demand for half their payment fees, yet most of their material is of low quality,” said Mr Kizito.
But Rura said that only TV stations that invest in local programmes to entertain, inform and educate their audiences will survive as competition heightens.
“People should be encouraged to create content that expresses our rich African culture and heritage. This content should also be distributed and shared in our countries and across the region,” said Mr Nyirishema.
The high cost of production is another contributing factor to the lack of local content.
Shooting a 15-minute documentary needs major investment in the pre- and post-production stages. This is because of the equipment and personnel needed.
Basic equipment like a simple hand-held video camera costs over Rwf900,000 in the market. Skilled professionals with experience in film-making are also few.
“There are very few skilled film-makers in this country,” said Allan Atulinda, a videographer for CNBC Rwanda.
Mr Atulinda tried to shoot a TV documentary about bar life in Rwanda, but those he shared the idea with discouraged him.
“This discouragment kills creativity and explains why local content generation is so low,” said Mr Atulinda.
Shema Katende, CEO of the soon-to-be launched Yego TV station, said that despite the low number of content providers in the market, some stations have picked up local productions and are optimistic of airing more.
Mr Katende said that market research shows that quality locally-generated programmes always attract more viewers than foreign content. But these local programmes have to be supported through advertising revenue.
There are currently two signal providers in Rwanda, the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) and the Pan-Africa Network — a joint venture by several broadcasters.
The two signal providers can carry channels from any broadcaster who wants to deliver content in Rwanda.