In June last year, Rwanda became the second country in Sub-Saharan Africa to switch from analog to digital TV broadcasts, well ahead of the June 17, 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Before the advent of digital migration, the country had for decades relied on the national broadcaster, Rwanda Television (now TV Rwanda) as the only free-to-air local TV station.
TV1O then came in as the first pay-TV channel, followed in 2007 by the arrival of Star Africa Media, better known locally as StarTimes. However, the two channels were happy airing foreign content.
This switch to digital broadcasting boosted TV penetration in the country, and as of today, over 20 private TV licenses have been issued. Sadly though, this boom has not been reflected in content, with most of the stations still rooted in foreign programming.
The generation of local content for the many TV stations has however failed to take off meaningfully, with industry players asserting that it is an expensive undertaking; out of reach of most TV stations.
According to Hezekia Watta, the founder of Ol Wonders, an all-round communication and media production agency based in Kicukiro, a City of Kigali suburb, the switch to digital broadcasts opened “a floodgate of new opportunities for local content developers”.
“Opportunity, because these twenty TV stations don’t have enough content, the national broadcaster included. When I say content I mean local content,” Watta says.
Watta further notes that in the absence of local content, most of the new players in the TV sector run the risk of “walking in blindly.”
“Why? They are likely to fall into the temptation of downloading copyrighted foreign content from the Internet and broadcasting it. Those who buy content are safe, but those who just download it risk being sued. So it builds the case to develop local content.”
“I’ve seen this in the region, where TV stations buy mostly two sets of content; Mexican soaps, and Nigerian movies. You rarely see them airing a Hollywood blockbuster, for fear of being sued. This has in turn compelled them to develop their own content,” he further explains.
Because of this need for locally generated content, production houses inevitably came.”
According to Kennedy Munyangeyo, the Director Rwanda Television, “you can be fully digital, but still there is a challenge. The challenge for all African broadcasters is that of content. We have to look for content providers to feed the TV. As a TV station, you can’t always create your own content. You have to outsource. As a public broadcaster we need local content even more.”
Munyangeyo adds that a national broadcaster like RTV needs to have about 60-70% local content to live up to its billing.
In this regard, RTV has been outsourcing some local content lately, beginning with programmes like the series, Seburikoko, from Inyarwanda.com, and the Sakabaka series from the Indorwa House.
Among the local TV production houses that are priming themselves for this “floodgate of opportunities” presented by the digital migration trend is Ol Wonders, which boasts four creative divisions: strategy, creative design, audio, and pictures.
According to Watta, the founder and managing director, Rwanda has a comparative advantage over the region to generate and host not just local, but even international content.
“One Rwandan individual can communicate with all other Rwandans, but also with all neighbors, namely Uganda, the DRC, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania. Because a Rwandan can speak French, can speak English, can speak a bit of Swahili, and the whole region speaks Swahili.
“Because of Kinyarwanda, we have special access to Burundi as well, whose language Kirundi is much similar to Kinyarwanda. The same Kinyarwanda also gives Rwandans a little access to Goma, in Eastern DRC. That is just Kinyarwanda and Swahili. When you go French, now we have access to Burundi and the DRC officially, and not just those two, but the whole Francophone Africa. When you go English, we can speak to Ugandans, Kenyans, and Tanzanians, and we speak to the whole African Anglophone population.”
He explains that that was the reason he put his huge investment in Rwanda, not Uganda or Kenya.
Currently, Ol Wonders has two local productions; Agacube, and Champ wa Mic currently airing on local TV channels.
“Agacube is recorded in Kinyarwanda, but I can use the same actors to voice-dub the program in studio in Kiswahili, meaning now I can sell it to the region. I can have the same program voice-dubbed in English, then sell it to the whole Anglophone region. I can still use the same Rwandan to voice-dub it in French, and be able to access Francophone Africa.”
Watta describes English and French as world languages:
“If I was in Kenya, I would have to look for a different guy who knows French to voice that, and a different guy who knows Kinyarwanda for it to make sense in Rwanda. That’s why content can thrive in Rwanda”, he says.
Watta contends that the local broadcast scene can hugely benefit from the RwandAir tagline, “Fly our dream into the heart of Africa”.
“What is the heart? All the blood goes through, and from the heart. We can get content, voice-dub it, and take it outside. We can process it as the heart, and channel it out.”
Watta believes there are immediate gains that accrue from this digital explosion.
“It will bring new job opportunities for the youths, especially the youths engaged in creative expression. This is the generation that knows what to do with music. We are in a generation where a musician can make millions of dollars because of just one hit song. We are in the generation of ICT. Our forefathers were preoccupied with land to the extent they even killed each other for it. We are in the software generation”, he notes.
Against this knowledge, Ol Wonders has invested quite heavily in state-of-the-art studio suites from which a simple idea can be explored fully into a multi media creative expression with audio, video and animations.
One of the key innovations the company brings to the local film scene is the green room technology, in which one does not have to go filming on location.
Anything, from a music video, TV drama and sitcom, advert, or movie can be shot from the confines of this one large, green-painted room, a fact that completely eliminates location budgets in film making.
One no longer has to incur overhead costs like transport, and hiring ideal venues. All that one needs is a good graphics designer to then computer-generate the desired sceneries like a street, forest, landscape, rain, snow.
The technology has been lauded for drastically cutting TV production costs and the logistics that go into shooting on location.
Furthermore, local music videos, which are a key feature of local TV programming are the other beneficiaries.
Already musicians like Jay Polly, Amag the Black and Riderman have used the facility, whereas before they would have been forced to travel to South Africa to shoot their videos.