People say that Africa has great potential and there are loads of opportunities. It is merely a matter of how a company goes about doing its business. Michael Bratt sat down with Colin Lawrence, distribution director for BBC Global News and Dmitry Shishkin, digital development director, poolside at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton to find out just what the British broadcaster is doing right on the continent.
Both men were in South Africa to attend Discop Africa, a gathering of film and television industry players from across the continent. Of the event Lawrence says, “We wanted to come down and talk to some of our peers about what is going on in the market. Discop is very relevant, not just for South Africa but also Sub-Saharan Africa as well.”
At the gathering the BBC also revealed two new product offerings, BBC Minute CatchUP and BBC Drop, and had the opportunity to tell everyone there a little more about each one. Minute CatchUP is a media player, built specifically to work optimally with smartphones, which can sit in any online page and allows the user to hear and share the latest edition of BBC Minute. It has already gone live and is at present in a test phase.
The factor which could well mean it is a massive success on the continent is that it was built by digital innovators from Africa, a Cape Town based digital team called RLabs. Commenting on the BBC SA partnership, the first of its kind for the BBC outside of the UK, Shishkin says, “To create an African relevant product in West London is daft. We have to go into the market and hear from local experts and partner with them.”
A trusted brand in Africa
BBC Drop is expected to go live in the coming weeks. It too was crafted in partnership between the BBC and an African digital innovation team, Ongair in Nairobi, Kenya. Drop is a platform that shows users BBC news content specifically tailored to them. The user inputs a few of their favourite topics and social media preferences and Drop uses this information to continually learn what the user likes and dislikes, providing them with the most relevant content.
These two new offerings from the British broadcaster are backed by a media organisation that is an incredibly powerful brand with a long history. “We continue to be a very relevant media provider in various mediums, we’ve been modern, innovative and from a commercial point of view effective at managing good business to business relationships,” Lawrence says.
Shishkin adds that, “We have a long legacy and heritage of covering Africa. We have a very intimate connection with Africa. We are the most trusted brand in Africa, the most tweeted news brand in the world. We have more boots on the ground in Africa than any other news organisation.”
Live blog for Africa
The presence of the BBC in Africa was boosted by the April launch of the British broadcaster’s innovative product, a live blog for the continent. Every employee on assignment in the 48 countries the BBC has a presence in, can write about their experiences living in and covering Africa.
Lawrence and Shiskin also commented on the African media landscape and just how important digital is in connecting with a very cellphone biased audience. “Pay TV in Africa is growing, but it’s only a fragment of the connection we can have with digital. It’s a world away from how people have approached other territories” Lawrence explains.
Shiskin adds that “the age of destination websites is probably about to be over. People are getting their news on the platforms where they spend the most time on. Our job is to find a way to get into the way consumers interact with their mobile phones and ensure BBC content appears seamlessly on their phones”. Shishkin used the example of people who look at the latest information on Google News. He explains that they might open 10 tabs from Google News but they will only remember one thing, that they got their news from Google News, not the actual websites that the news came from.
This is why the BBC is focusing its development on two things, firstly delivering great content, which will allow the audience to remember the news organisation it came from, and secondly on bringing news to audiences via chat apps. Shishkin also says that there is still huge opportunity to partner with local tech companies in Africa on future projects.
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