From Facebook and Twitter to blogs and YouTube, technology has made us all publishers. However, while the public have been quick to adopt tech innovations, the same can’t be said for many media organisations.
During the 2018 Bloomberg Africa Business Media Innovators Forum, four technology entrepreneurs gave their take on how modern media platforms are shaping African media and their perspectives on what trends to look out for.
The entrepreneurs were: Uche Pedro, Founder of Nigerian online media company BellaNaija; Tim Kotin, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Superfluid, a Pan-African Data Analytics Company based in Ghana; Mamadou Gouro Sidibe, Founder of Malian social media platform Lenali, and Lesley Donna Williams, CEO of Tshimologong Project, Precinct a tech start-up incubator based in Johannesburg.
The transcripts below have been edited for length and clarity.
What is the current state of the media industry in Africa?
Tim Kotin: The role of media is evolving from one of news origination to one of curation and provision of insights. As a result of the internet’s expansion and the explosion of information, the most important value the media can provide now is no longer the origination of stories but the provision of insights and relevance. Individuals are looking for stories that connect with them on a personal level.
Lesley Donna Williams: Technology is disrupting the media space and we need to grow with it, and create a new kind of industry. Take for example, Blixer, a streaming platform being developed in the DRC for Congolese music. Or in Zimbabwe, where they are digitising the sound of the Mbira (thumb piano) to bring something new to urban music. Such projects are bringing uniquely African options to audiences through far-reaching technologies.
What can traditional media companies in Africa do to survive the ongoing technological revolution?
Mamadou Gouro Sidibe: The future of the media in the continent is inclusive. The user experience is the main thing that will generate revenue and investors must look at new approaches. Now is the biggest opportunity to invest in new technologies and new platforms.
Uche Pedro: Successful media businesses are those that build a sense of community with their clients. Platform fluidity is one of the ways the industry has transformed in the last few years. The days of just having a website are over; media owners who want to build strong connections with their audiences must be where the consumers are – on multiple platforms. I see a rise in citizen participation on the production of media as an opportunity for traditional media owners to partner with local communities to tell their stories. Traditional media producers can take advantage of the pools of communities on social media to enhance their digital presence and generate revenues. They can also use the emerging and large networks of citizen journalists to provide local content in the most relevant and engaging way. There is value in aggregating and personalising content. I have seen this done successfully through artificial intelligence and machine learning but there is still a need to create original content.
What aspect of the audience needs should traditional media companies seeking to innovate know?
Uche Pedro: Young people are no longer waiting to be included. They are creating their own platforms and their own content. This shift not only comes from a lack of trust in politicians but also a questioning of whether national broadcasters are speaking to the needs of young people. The lack of trust stems from the perception that media businesses on the continent have been incentivised to behave in unethical ways. With the use of technology and the reliance on local journalists, traditional media can win the interests of their younger audiences.
Lesley Donna Williams: It is important for creators of tech products to go to market with the minimum viable products. They need to make sure that what they have is market ready – is tested and can be scaled. They need to make sure that they haven’t built their product for 1000 people, only for 40,000 or 100,000 take up the platform.
What can African governments do to encourage innovation in the media sector?
Tim Kotin: From a policy perspective, there has to be a willingness to allow for exploration and innovation. Governments must provide enabling environments for businesses to foster collaboration between existing and start-up companies.
Uche Pedro: Provision of infrastructure and basic services should remain a priority. If entrepreneurs are unable to access electricity and connectivity, how can they run successful businesses?