The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents unique opportunities for innovations in the way that we live, learn, work and communicate.
Digital technologies can automate certain tasks, allowing people to concentrate on conceptualising new, less complex ways of doing things, freeing up time to develop more creative ways of addressing unique challenges.
The uptake of new technologies including artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics 3D printing, wireless technologies and the Internet of Things will have an unprecedented disruptive effect on societies and economies the world over, with a peculiar consequence for African states.
Sub-Saharan Africa has undoubtedly lagged behind in the uptake of digital technologies, with certain areas advancing much more rapidly than others, a case in point being mobile digital financial services (including M-Pesa in Kenya, MoMo in Nigeria and various e-money services closer to home). This has had a positive effect on the informal business sector, giving more people the ability to participate in the formal African economy, most notably, women, who make up 89.7% of the informal sector according to one International Labour Office report published in 2018.
Technology has also liberated the ways in which people access and share information. Internet connectivity has revolutionised human interactions. The advent of social media and the proliferation of citizen reporting means that content creators are able to access their audiences directly, and audiences have been able to be much more discerning about the kind of content they consume. This has become a particularly poignant point of consideration during, and in the wake of COVID-19 – which dramatically changed the way people interacted with one another and engaged in content production / consumption.
Content and consumption
The introduction and proliferation of over-the-top (OTT) media services such as Netflix, Showmax, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube and others means that audiences can access their preferred programmes for a much smaller fee than broadcast and satellite television services. The ability of these services to aggregate viewers’ preferences with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) means that access to content is much more focused and personalised. Long story short, the consumption of content has been disrupted. This has necessitated a change in content production ecosystems all over the world.
While there has been little study of the impact that OTT and video streaming platforms have had on the production landscape, it is fair to assume that these innovations have impacted consumer expectations in terms of choice, flexibility and navigation, which has significantly changed the production industry.
OTT platforms such as Netflix have host African titles and have begun to commission original series (through its African Originals arm) as part of their strategy to woo the African viewing public and bring African stories to a global audience. Much of this audience accesses the content on their laptops or mobile devices.
Where do we fit in?
What does this mean for us? While Botswana has a mobile penetration of 144%. However, our internet penetration sits at 47% (as of January 2020) - a figure which has gone up since the implementation of the National Broadband Strategy was approved in June 2018. The Vision of the Strategy is to connect every citizen, business and community to a high-speed broadband infrastructure at appropriate quality of services and affordable prices,” according to the BoFiNet 2019 Annual Report.
This means that while there is significant room for improvement, more Batswana are able to access internet services. According to a study conducted by BoFiNet, 91% of Batswana with internet access tend to consume video content online (on platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Facebook Live and Instagram Live) and a significant number have opted to subscribe to various OTT and internet protocol television (IPTV) platforms.
Interestingly, Batswana have also shown an interest in consuming local content – and 62% of this content is consumed on mobile devices. This presents a unique opportunity for local content producers to create work that meets audiences where they are. Content producers can earn a living from their work, engaging directly with their audiences through subscriptions or through streaming on distributor and aggregator platforms.
While international streaming platforms like Netflix are open to receiving content from Africa, there are several local content streaming platforms that Batswana can take advantage of and now more than ever before, local producers are able to access their audiences. BoFiNet is looking forward to launching an IPTV service in support of the local film industry for the purposes of stimulating the local digital cultural economy and to give local audiences greater access to Botswana content.
A strong argument can be made for the advantages of 4IR and its potential for innovation and growth across sectors; there also remain pertinent cultural and economic reasons for Batswana to lend our stories to the digital lexicon of the world.
*Mahatma Ramoloko is a BoFiNet executive