SA now on world map
Broadcasters and producers can bypass couriers and satellite
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.