Digital broadcasting needs support, collaborations
Uganda’s shift from analogue to digital broadcasting sparked great anticipation across some sections of the TV viewing public as a turning point in Uganda’s television industry.
The broadcasting industry regulator Uganda Telecommunications Commission (UCC) promised the TV viewing public tremendous improvement in the quality of pictures as well as content.
Besides the introduction of set top boxes and the corresponding increases in people’s monthly expenditures, the viewing public is yet to witness meaningful changes in the quality of programming.
While the past couple of months have witnessed the mushrooming of new television stations and shaken up the industry as seen from the poaching of staff from major stations, many new comers are struggling to cope with the new demands of the television media landscape.
According to UCC, Uganda had more that 70 operational TV stations by the end of June last year. The recent launch of television stations such as Kingdom TV, Dream, Delta, Believe, Shilo, BBS and ABS has certainly pushed the number a notch higher.
While most of the new stations appear to have set out to operate in the traditional format of delivering news, entertainment and other local content programmes, many have underperformed on this front. Top TV’s deliberate move to point the TV camera in its Radio studio captures the desperate low level of capacity.
Others have blamed the lack of understanding of ethical codes of conduct among the managers of ABS TV owned by Pentecostal pastor Yiga Abizaayo in the production of the largely obnoxious Kalondoozi programme that breeched privacy rules to try to attract viewers.
Other analysts argue that many of the entrepreneurs haven’t conceptualised the real benefits of digital broadcasting. As UCC’s Executive Director Eng. Godfrey Mutabaazi has pointed out repeatedly over the past couple of months, digital broadcasting would create an opportunity for diverse groups of content creators such as artists, teachers, independent journalists, sportsmen to package their content and sell it to television stations.
So rather than scramble for a frequency to run a station 24 hours a week, one would concentrate on developing high-quality content and have it aired by the available stations.
Experience perhaps from existing stations suggests that running a TV station is not a piece of cake especially in the Ugandan market where skills, capital, and the businesses to support the industry through advertising, are in critical short supply.
For whereas UCC set local content quotas for TV stations at 70% with emphasis on drama (50%), documentaries (10%), sports (5%) and children (5%), recent statistics show that majority of the local channels do not even meet half of that policy requirement. 2013/14 statistics from UCC on local content showed that NBS TV was the best in local content provision at 34% followed by Top TV at 21%.
Julius Lugaaya, a partner with Theatre Factory, one of Uganda’s artistic production houses, argues that the deficiency in local content on our televisions arises from the lack of seed funding that would support content creators to invest their time in putting together meaningful programmes.
“Most TV stations currently pay between Ushs500,000 and Ushs800,000 per episode.
This is ridiculous. You cannot produce an episode with this kind of money. It costs US$200 (Approx. Ushs700,000) to hire a professional camera for a day. On top of this you have to pay the artistes as well as meet all other related costs.”
Lugaaya calls for the creation of a fund that can be used to provide grants to support local content creators the way other countries such as South Africa does it.
“If you do not support someone to write a script and meet the costs of putting together a production, we shall go in circles.
Lugaaya cites the lack of experienced and well informed managers running TV stations for the poor quality of work on our local Televisions.
“If you take a production to some of our Televisions, the manager will usually ask for a demo. [a summery of the production]. Unfortunately, because most of the managers do not have an idea about the cost of producing these shows, they tend to think we are asking for too much money for the show.
And what some usually do is they take the idea and try to produce it themselves but end up spoiling everything because they do not have the experience, artistes, the scripts and art to put together the show.”
Besides creating an industry wide fund, Lugaaya argues that Television stations themselves need to create budgets that cater for local content production outside their own studios.
“The challenge we still have in most of our media outlets is that the owners still run them as personal entities without proper management and budget systems,” argues Lugaaya.
Given its infancy, Lugaaya argues that television stations need to build partnerships with the local hospitality industry in order to minimize the costs.
“The other option to supporting local content production is through building partnerships with production houses and the relevant businesses such as restaurants, entertainment places and hotels that can support artists through swap deals in exchange for publicity,”
For others however, the government and others that wish to see the development of the industry, there is a critical need to support skills development in terms of writers, animators, cameramen, directors who are crucial players for the success of television.
“While UCC should be commended in supporting local content production under its annual Uganda Film Festival, it needs to go a step further by supporting the development of film schools where the talent and skills are nurtured,” argues Lugaaya.
As one veteran artiste Musoke Ganaafa can attest, televised drama has the potential to unlock the untapped development potential of Uganda while also addressing many of our debilitating challenges in the health, education, business and agriculture sectors.
While speaking at a recent function to debate the newly adopted development framework under the Sustainable Development Goals, Ganaafa alluded to the power of drama as having been a key in the early gains Uganda made in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the 1990s.