The media is dead, long live the media

If we, the people, kill the traditional media, we will be quick to embrace the new media.

If we, the people, kill the traditional media, we will be quick to embrace the new media.

That’s why the death of a monarch, in ancient time, was sad but there was quick joy of accepting a new one, hence old phrase: “Le Roi est Mort; Vive le Roi” (French for ‘The King is Dead, Long Live the King’)!

Last month, it was interesting to follow some of our local veteran media professionals discussing the topic, ‘the viability of media as business’, on Rwanda Television.

The theme was prepared and communicated in advance by popular TV host Eugene Anangwe, and his guests were brilliantly chosen: the top gatekeeper of the public broadcaster, the boss of a privately-owned broadcaster, a veteran business writer (the only lady on the panel) and a government official dealing with regulation but who’s been closely working with the media for two decades.

Certainly because of programming and time constraint, a good number of issues were tackled, but nothing could be exhausted: viability, funding, regulation, revenue sources and models, content, programming, recruitment of capable staff and retention, subsidies, competition, role of the government and private sector, etc.

During the show, viewers were very active on social media, especially on twitter, agreeing or disagreeing with one point or another, others lambasting or applauding this or that panelist, etc. And some simply bringing in fresh ideas.

The show ended around 10p.m, but on twitter exchanges went on until the wee hours of the morning, this time with the participation of panelists and the host (who couldn’t use their gadgets while on air) as part of the online conversation.

Two main points kept coming up: a) many people asked for another round. I think the host will handle this, but it also needs a wider platform for brainstorming than TV; b) media, especially the private one, is not viable.

As much as anyone may want to disagree or agree with this last point, it is in total contradiction with the recently published report: ‘Entertainment and media outlook: 2017 – 2021: An African perspective’ by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), released mid-September.

The report (which sampled four countries: South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania) revealed a bright picture of media growth in Africa for the next four years.

Figures in the region indicate that in Kenya the entertainment and media industry registered $2.1 billion in 2016, forecast to grow at an 8.5 per cent totaling $3.2 billion in 2021.

In Tanzania, revenue stood at $504 million in 2016 but is set to more than double to $1.1 billion in 2021, indicating a 17.2 per cent over the coming five years.

This PwC report points at the media in different and new segments: Internet, data consumption, television, cinema, video games, e-sports and many more.

We are probably yet to embrace the new media. And unlike those ancient times, the monarch doesn’t necessarily have to die for a new one to get the throne. They can cohabitate as it has worked elsewhere, even just across the bridge as indicated in the above mentioned report.

While discussing the viability of media as a business, we probably missed out one little but crucial thing: ownership.

In the age of the new media, the most astute and creative entrepreneur can win and examples are plenty. Not coming from Los Angeles, but (third world) Lagos or Mumbai, Johannesburg or Nairobi.

However, with our old monarch, if TV, radio, newspaper and online are not government-owned then they are in the hands of billionaires and, if not, they are doomed.

The old (traditional) media is simply not viable as business for short-to-medium term.

If it was, public media wouldn’t need regular subsidies for them to survive since they also get the lion’s share from government advertisement. And these subsidies are not there to curb the threats of private media, they were there before and always will be.

Those who invest in the media do it for long term, and their motivation is not necessarily profit making. One of the first broadcaster to declare bankruptcy in this country wasn’t belonging to a small businessman. But neither was Murdoch. In the real life it doesn’t mean closing shop.

Media is a public good and need.

The very public should find ways of paying for it, perhaps with the help of opinion leaders in communities, media entrepreneurs and any other interested parties.

We must devise ways of praising both traditional and new media, because wherever this spirit thrives big fish do not live at the expense of small ones.

If these ways are not found, there will be chaos of everyone creating content and hungry consumers of real media will remain at the mercy of the mediapreneur day-dreamers, small league players but, most especially, of big boys putting their hard earned money in the media for…well, your guess is as good as mine.

The writer is a media consultant based in Kigali
Twitter: @semukanya

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.


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