Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Box is Coming

 Safaricom is launching their digital set-top box this Friday, 8th May, dubbed 'The Box'. When they first announced it I was ultra excited for what it might mean for the current media landscape in Kenya. But before I get into that let's see what features 'The Box' will have: powered by Android, in addition to being a television set top box, it'll offer video on demand to also provide internet access to users through a 4G SIM and wireless hotspot capabilities and other services like gaming.

There's much to unpack just from those few details, but what I wanted to focus on was two things that could be potentially related to each other: The Box will have an internet connection and will offer video on demand.

The current media landscape in Kenya is dominated by what some people call the Big 3: Citizen, NTV and KTN. These 3 command the lions share of the viewership something like 70%, new numbers are yet to be released since we went all digital. Nonetheless, I suspect that we're yet to see any changes to these numbers.

One problem that the incumbents suffer from is that they all offer similar programs in a similar fashion. *What comes next is a broad generalisation to make a point* Morning shows from 6 until about 9. Nigerian movie/soaps until 1. News between 1 and 2. Back to soaps until 4. News for 15 min. Children's programming till 5. 5 to 6 music time. Soaps again. 7 news in Kiswahili . Local programming of some sort. 9 news in English. Soaps/more local programming. 11 onwards CNN/Al-Jezeera/BBC until 6. Rinse repeat.

While each station has shows that set them apart from the others there really hasn't been any of them that has been able to set themselves drastically apart from the others programming-wise. (To be fair Citizen did, then the others, foolishly I should say, copied them)

This lack of differentiation is yet to hurt them financially as they still command the largest audiences meaning that advertisers who want to reach the largest audiences have to go through them. The real problem with this model is the lack of targeting.

In the analogue age, broadcasters commissioned content for a broad mass of people who watched just a few shows on just five channels. In lieu of further media choice, broadcasters had to focus their efforts just on the single dimension: primetime slots. And, while the 7:30pm slot is great, from an advertising perspective it means that much spend is wasted. The vast majority of buyers would prefer to reach tightly-defined, target consumer groups. By telling advertisers what viewers are watching, the AdSmart set-top box technology lets both national and local advertisers serve much more relevant advertising to particular categories of viewers.
In that paragraph you could replace "AdSmart" for "The Box". Digital migration has given us so much more choice when it comes to viewing, but what The Box has the potential to bring is very targeted advertising and justification of advertising spend.

Given Safaricom's broad network reach, they'll be able to collect highly specific data on what everyone is viewing. Far more specific than the generalisation given from statistically relevant, but small, samples we usually get. Combine this with the data that Safaricom already has on each user of its network and you're looking at a treasure trove of data for advertising.

Want to advertise specifically to 20 year olds or young children (4 to 10), when they give their full attention to the TV? It's not hard to build a profile of this kind of households: before 9 the TV is mostly set to children's channels. So you want to put advertising on those channels or on the channels and programmes they watch when the kids have gone to bed.

Finally given the connected nature perhaps they'll be able to overlay their own ads in programming for the free to air channels. This will probably get annoying quick unless done in a clever way but if you get something in return for it, such as access to certain channels or services for free I can see how people would bare with them.

All this data, who is viewing what and at what times will be available to Safaricom - and their various partners, I assume - in real time and this will help them out in the second, potentially bigger threat, to the big 3 and every other channel in the country really. Video on demand.

Given what they'll know about your viewing habits from watching other stations, this information could be used to make highly targeted suggestions on the VOD services. At least in the beginning, as they make the value proposition to customers. It'll be almost trivial to do so and not to mention potentially lucrative.

Something that I'll be looking forward to hearing during the launch of this VOD service is who they'll be partnering with for the initial launch. I don't imagine they'll be giving this to platforms that already exist, such as Netflix or Iroko TV, I suspect that they'll be launching their own distribution network, perhaps Saf TV, that will carry content from their partners.

I'd be surprised if BuniTV with their multitude of documentaries, movies and shows particularly the hit series XYZ show, isn't among the launch partners.

This VOD platform will also be a potential game changer for local production of video. Finally there'll be a viable option to distributing and monetising, via Mpesa, content that is produced in the country. I've argued for the longest time that piracy is not the real problem that creatives in this country face, it is but a symptom of a much bigger problem: poor and lacking distribution systems.

So what are the big 3 to do? Well first I'd be looking to partner with Safaricom on the video on demand platform. They all have local series produced for them that they no longer show, and back episodes of the ones they do. I'd put all of that on the service to make revenue but also to collect data on what viewers like. Finally they need to work at differentiating themselves further from each other, instead of targeting everyone, target one specific,  but large, group. This is easier said than done though.

Let's see what Safaricom announces on Friday. Meanwhile if you have any other thoughts or comments use the box below to leave them here. Peace!!!

Monday, May 4, 2015

What You Didn't Know about the National Music Policy

A lot of musicians in the the country have been complaining about their inability to make money from their art. The reason they give for this, well the one that comes out loudest, is piracy.

I have a different view from that but this is not the time for it.

Recently stakeholders from the music industry released the final version of the music policy document that they hope may become law or inform it in some way or form.

I took the time to go through it because I was worried about what the implications may be for technology.

I like what I've read, particularly on getting schools and institutions to take music more seriously than they currently do, where people consider music a "soft" subject. Getting people to appreciate the beauty of local music is something I can get behind. 

This doesn't mean however that I don't have concerns.

Let's start in Chapter 2 Section 10, Music Technology, Policy Statements

This phrase was originally in Section 11 phrased "The government will work with ISPs to ensure that illegitimate sites are less readily available than legitimate sites." Now it reads:
The Government will work with Internet service providers(ISPs) to ensure that on-line piracy is minimized.
The vagueness, language softened to seem less aggressive than the original, of this phrase is extremely worrying but even more than that I worry about how a law with phrasing like this may be used to suppress free speech. Further, who decides what is piracy and how to combat it? Around the world we've seen that the creative industry prefers to over reach than carefully consider each case.

Next we have this: 
The Government shall take measures to ensure an efficient digital copyright licensing system including supporting the administration of the private copying levy within the existing, new and emerging technology advancements.
This is a new addition from the original version released earlier in the year. Before I get into why this is problem for me, let's define what a private copying levy is. From Wikipedia:
Also known as blank media tax or levy, it is a government-mandated scheme in which a special tax or levy (additional to any general sales tax) is charged on purchases of recordable media.
What recordable media means that everything from cassettes all the way to flash drives and hard disks(or contains them) i.e anything that can store media/music. What this means is that all these thing are set to become more expensive. What this means for a country in which most of the population can't afford these things and is trying to jump head first into the information age I leave to the readers imagination. The worst thing about this law is that it assumes that every single one of these devices is used for copyright infringement and we need to compensate artists before even proving that. It's not fair to consumers.

Meanwhile the European Union's highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has issued a ruling say that such levies are a complex, unworkable mess, and should be abolished completely across the whole of Europe. Which I would point out some EU states have already started to do.

Let's move on to Chapter 2 Section 11, Copyright and Related Rights, Policy Statements

Let's begin with this:
The Government shall take measures to put structures in place for effective investigation, regulation and prosecution of offenders involved in piracy and other copyright infringement
There's nothing inherently wrong with this part per se, I'm just slightly concerned about how it'll be implemented and the punishment of small scale infringers. I've read of cases around the world of overzealous prosecution perhaps best illustrated with the case of Arron Swartz, who killed himself after the US government came after him for hacking after downloading thousands of publicly available documents using MIT's network.

Finally there's this:
Government will ensure laws on internet use are in line with emerging technological trends as regards to copyright and intellectual property
What are these trends? Would they care to spell them out clearly? It's not that I don't have strong suspicions on what they mean but I don't what to make my assumptions public until I know more.

As I said before I like the rest of the policy a lot but these four phrases give me pause from wholly endorsing it. What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Peace!!!

Updated September 4th to reflect the final policy document released in August 2015; adding information about Chapter 2 section 10