Rwanda TV industry records losses after digital migration

Saturday March 5 2016

The number of Rwanda TV stations has grown, but viewership has dropped due to the cost of decoders. PHOTO | FILE

The number of Rwanda TV stations has grown, but viewership has dropped due to the cost of decoders. PHOTO | FILE 

By Jean-Pierre Afadhali

Despite an increase in the number of TV stations, thanks to digital migration, the relatively young television industry is struggling as many subscribers are not spending on TV, while some players are struggling to stay on air.

Key issues cited by players and viewers of local TV channels include poor content, cost of subscription which leads to viewers shunning their programmes and reduced expense on the visual platform.

According to recent data on Pay TVs subscription released by Rura, the telecom and transport regulator, of 172,659 registered users on Star Africa Media, the biggest player by market share, only 37,723 are active.

Star Africa Media leads with 89 per cent market share, followed by Tele 10 with 10 per cent and Azam Media with 1 per cent as of September 2015.

Lee Ndayisaba, director of Clouds TV, a six-month-old station said Rwanda is not lagging behind in TV viewership, but there are a number challenges the young industry faces. One of the hurdles he cites is the lack of professionals to produce high quality content.

“Graduates are more theoretical than practical, so practical skills being shared with students in universities are still low. That’s something that I think relevant authorities maybe are addressing,” he said.

Given limited audience some wonder if local TV stations will survive as most of them depend on advertising revenues and sponsorship, while their costs of investment are high.

Recently Royal TV, a subsidiary of Afri Reliance Holdings Ltd acquired a 100 per cent stake in Lemigo TV.

In a documentary, “The journey from Lemigo TV to Royal TV”, the broadcaster said at the beginning it was challenge as they didn’t have equipment and producing original content was not straightforward.

According to the same documentary, “Some said the private TV would only air music and films.”

Rwanda Today has learnt that there are companies that have licenses but have not yet launched their TV, while others are soon going on air.

Yego TV, a private TV has also stopped operations, but could resume in future according to a source.

Hussein Kamanzi, marketing director at Stars Media Africa said citizens’ purchasing power is not an issue that affects local TV industry; instead players will have to produce very good content to attract to viewers.

He said there is one popular private TV station because of its local news programmes. “Create good content and compete with international channels,” he added.

Julliet Karitanyi, a radio broadcaster with knowledge on TV and filmmaking said for about two years she doesn’t own a TV set because she doesn’t like local content.

“I will buy one when I can afford DSTV (Pay TV with higher subscription fees compared to others) to watch the international content I like,” she said.

Ms Karitanyi said she consumes news and other information over radio and Internet. According to the country’s poverty profile report released last year, the percentage of households with a TV set was 9.9 in 2013/14. The number has relatively increased but it is still very low.

According to GEO Poll, a mobile survey platform that uses mobile to measure industries performance, Top 10 stations in Rwanda by audience share October to December 2015 include, Rwanda TV with 56.7 per cent, TV1 22.0 per cent, TV 10 at 10.4 per cent, Lemigo TV at 5.2 per cent, TV5 2.6 per cent, Canal+ at 1.2 per cent, MTV at 0.8 per cent, Family TV at 0.5 per cent, France 24 at 0.3 per cent and Citizen at 0.2 per cent.

RTV, the public broadcaster being the first TV in the country has more than 20 years of experience and support from government.

However, Mr Kamanzi said there are other market driven issues. “You will never tell a Rwandan that a kid can watch a TV and the same time in the morning goes to school. “They say they don’t subscribe because kids are not there, apparently they only buy subscription because kids are at home.”

Some local channels have now gone on free-to-air platforms which means they can be watched without monthly subscription, however the service is available on some decoders which cost more than the ordinary ones at Star Media Africa.

Their Star Media Africa decoder costs Rwf35,000 while others are now Rwf8,500 with a one month subscription.

Industry experts say being on free-to air platforms boosts local channels’ audience. But Star Media Africa says they cannot be available on all decoders because its a business.

“We do business so if we are doing business don’t tell me to put free things on air,” explained Mr Kamanzi.

It could be difficult for local TV companies to convince advertisers if they don’t have popular programmes that will keep the audience glued to TV screens.

“The business of the TV is about how many eyeballs I can keep glued to the screen. So if can keep the eyeballs and then the advertisers will notice that actually I have the eyeballs and then they will be interested in reaching out to the eyeballs that I have kept,” explained Mr Ndayisaba.

Ndayisaba who led a TV station in Tanzania added that after digital migration in Tanzania viewership went down to zero because people didn’t have decoders, as result advertisers put their money to radios.

The business rebounded in less than six months, TV stations came up with ideas to bring back the audience and that worked.

“When you invest in television, you have to be very persistent, very patient, you have to be very creative and a lot of knowledge is required in how TV should operate,” said Ndayisaba.