SA now on world map

Broad­cast­ers and pro­duc­ers can by­pass couri­ers and satel­lite

Finweek English Edition - - Portfolio Punts -

WHILE MOST CON­SUMERS world­wide have gone dig­i­tal in their con­sump­tion of me­dia, it’s an anom­aly of the broad­cast in­dus­try that much of the stor­age and dis­tri­bu­tion of con­tent are still me­chan­i­cal and ana­logue pro­cesses. Chances are that when you’re watch­ing a se­ries pro­duced in the United States on lo­cal tele­vi­sion, a tape of the show was phys­i­cally couri­ered all the way from Los An­ge­les to Jo­han­nes­burg and at the end of the broad­cast it will gather dust some­where in a tape li­brary.

The only al­ter­na­tive to that sys­tem of me­dia dis­tri­bu­tion in South Africa is via satel­lite net­works, which have been ex­pen­sive and ca­pac­ity con­strained. Un­til now. BT Global Ser­vices re­cently ex­tended its Global Me­dia Net­work (GMN) – an end-to-end fixed net­work ded­i­cated to the broad­cast and me­dia pro­duc­tion in­dus­try – to this coun­try.

SA is now con­nected via un­der­sea ca­ble and fixed line net­works to 16 pro­duc­tion cen­tres and me­dia hubs, in­clud­ing Los An­ge­les, New York, Lon­don, Tokyo, Mum­bai and Hong Kong, which ac­count for 85% of the world’s film and TV pro­duc­tion. The GMN ex­tends to more than 70 lo­ca­tions in 10 coun­tries.

Keith Mathews, coun­try busi­ness man­ager at BT, says though cur­rently there are se­vere ca­pac­ity con­straints on satel­lite net­works from Africa and fi­bre net­works are also ap­proach­ing ca­pac­ity, the sit­u­a­tion should im­prove dra­mat­i­cally within a year to 18 months as var­i­ous ca­ble projects con­nect­ing SA and Africa to the rest of the world come on stream. “Apart from driv­ing down

costs, be­ing part of the net­work means lo­cal pro­duc­tion houses can now ef­fec­tively com­pete for global con­tracts. SA has high lev­els of ex­per­tise in TV, film and ad­ver­tis­ing pro­duc­tion and post­pro­duc­tion,” says Mathews.

BT de­liv­ers more than 2 900 head­line events each year, in­clud­ing 500 in high-def­i­ni­tion – in­clud­ing the FA Cup, Wim­ble­don, rugby, Big Brother and Strictly Come Danc­ing. The GMN should also pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for SA’s grow­ing me­dia mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly fol­low­ing the al­lo­ca­tion of four new pay TV li­cences.

BT’s Martin Springer, busi­ness man­ager: new me­dia, says one BT client in the Mid­dle East (a small broad­cast house) now earns greater rev­enue from Arab em­i­grants in the US down­load­ing con­tent than from lo­cal broad­casts.

“The GMN, digi­ti­sa­tion of film and video archives and ser­vices, such as BT Mo­saic (an on­line con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem) will fa­cil­i­tate al­ter­na­tive rev­enue mod­els for SA broad­cast­ers, – such as IPTV (tele­vi­sion over the In­ter­net), mo­bile TV, video on de­mand and HD,” says Springer.

Given the mas­sive roll­out of fi­bre in­fra­struc­ture in metropoli­tan ar­eas in SA, IPTV is closer to be­com­ing re­al­ity. How­ever, a lack of last-mile in­fra­struc­ture prob­a­bly means an IPTV ser­vice is at least a year away.

Apart from ar­chaic dis­tri­bu­tion meth­ods, the digi­ti­sa­tion of TV and film con­tent – an ex­pen­sive and la­bo­ri­ous process – has also been slower than ex­pected. A mil­lion or so TV and films have been pro­duced over the years but only a frac­tion of those ti­tles are avail­able on DVD or down­load. Unesco has fore­cast that 80% of the 200m hours of the world’s TV and ra­dio archives and li­braries are doomed to dis­ap­pear by 2015 through ne­glect and age­ing.

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