By Busi Ntuli
It took me about a minute of serious reflection to decide whether or not an African content focused company was a good idea. I took a further two, very long seconds to consider the pros and cons of starting such a company with a guy I was dating. It eventually became very clear to me that TransAfrica Media was a brilliant idea.
Back in 2000, local African Radio and Television stations were inundated with foreign content. Not that much has changed but it’s much better. There were various factors contributing to the scarcity of African content. The buzzword was lack of skills but we secretly felt it was more of an issue of will, than skill.
Foreign content producers took advantage of this lack of will and did a damn good job at promoting their content as being far more superior to African content. African media and its local consumers believed it and expected it. A significant number of musicians emulated foreign influences when producing their crafts.
It was common and in many cases still is, for foreign content producers such as the BBC and Voice of America to provide their content to radio stations for free. At face value it makes sense to accept free “international” content, but in essence, there was and still is, a lack of appreciation by African television and radio stations, that they were short selling themselves – especially because there was no reciprocity. In other words, foreign content was being promoted in Africa; however, African content was not being promoted in Europe and America. The sad result , was that African entertainers, from musicians to actors, were big fish in small ponds. On the other hand; their foreign counterparts were big fish in big ponds. They were after all, enjoying acclamation in their own territory and across Africa.
Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, African content did make it to the global market. Yes, content on famine, war and corruption took center stage. Oh yes, let me not forget our big stars – the Big 5. How did we know all of this for sure? We conducted extensive research with the assistance of one of the world’s leading management consulting firms, Bain & Company. The research conducted, helped us put together, a compelling business plan on paper. I say “on paper” not because I am rubbishing the final business plan. I say it because as every business owner will tell you, a business plan is an important tool that guides your journey into growing your business. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee the success of your business. Once the business plan is in place, the real work starts. Our business plan was to initially syndicate original, quality and African focused content.
We took trips around Africa, meeting radio station managers, listening to the content they churned out and asking the million-dollar question. Why foreign content feeds? Their answers were a face-to-face confirmation of our research findings. “Creating content is expensive. “We don’t have the resources”. “ The quality of content from foreign feeds is of higher quality” “We don’t have an alternative”. These and more, were the reasons given to us by station managers across the countries we visited. It took all but the very same minute it had taken me, to convince many of the stations managers we had visited, that it was time for an African content feed in African radio stations, by Africans for Africans. In these meetings, we sold an African alternative to the likes of Voice of America and BBC. The offering was bought, lock stock and barrel. Transafrica Radio would create and syndicate African focused content to their stations at a minimal fee. In no time we were syndicating a handful of shows to radio stations in Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia just to name a few.
Our content included ‘The Business Update’, a business news program, focusing on all business news in Africa. (Funny enough, the now SA award winning author and radio presenter, Victor Kgomoeswana’s book “Africa is open for Business”, was inspired by this very show. Victor had worked for Transafrica Radio with me, “the high-heeled” control freak over his shoulder, urging him to find positive business news that would sell Africa in a positive light. Don’t take my word for it, read the book and his acknowledgements on the book. There was also “African Pioneers”, a one-on-one interview show with Africa’s movers and shakers in any field, “African Explosion”, a fast paced youth-focused music show covering music, personalities and events that the youth were interested in, “Africa Unite”, an hour of Reggae and Ragga music. “Soccer Beat”, aimed at promoting African Soccer, its players and teams. “African Top 40 Hits, “The Big Switch” an RnB music show- and lastly, “Your life”, a program covering all issues around life e.g. music, travel, banking, parenthood, student life, career etc. We invited experts depending on the topic at hand so as to give the show authenticity.
My Voice of Soweto and YFM experience came in handy. You will be surprised who has been part of this journey. The syndication business was successful but we came across obstacles. Big obstacles.