Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution’s recent decision to renew a rep deal with Programs4Africa (P4A) highlights the increasingly buoyant program sales business in sub-Sahara Africa, as well as the ongoing difficulty in doing business in the region.
The deal renewed an October 2005 pact that gave P4A rights to sell the studio’s film, TV and other products in sub-Sahara Africa outside of South Africa.
“The region is seeing significant double digit growth,” Michael Schlagman, the managing director of distributor Programs4Media (P4M), which launched Programs4Africa (P4A) two and half years ago to focus on selling product to Africa.
But he also acknowledges that outside of South Africa, which has long been the largest African market, sub-Sahara Africa remains a difficult region to do business. Corruption, extremely small acquisition budgets and widespread piracy are among the factors that have encouraged major distributors to either ignore the market or to use outside companies to handle their product.
Despite the region’s reputation, however, Schlagman and sales director Tracy Vaughan stress that companies who understand the market can produce profitable results and that program sales prospects have improved in recent years, thanks to reduction of piracy, the growth of vibrant commercial television business in some markets and the willingness of some distributors to make more programming available in the market.
“It was a catch 22,” Schlagman says. “Because there wasn’t a lot of income, there weren’t a lot of resources put into developing the market and as a result there wasn’t a lot of programming available that could help develop the TV business.”
P4A has tried to break out of that vicious circle by investing in the market and devoting the time needed to build up sales. Over the last two years, it has inked deals in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and The Seychelles, making programming from Twentieth Century Fox the most widely distributed in the region.
Nigeria and Kenya have emerged as the largest sales territories in sub-Sahara Africa outside of South Africa, but Uganda and Zambia are also starting to open up, Vaughan notes, thanks to a number of entrepreneurs who have invested in the commercial TV sector.
Ghana also has a vibrant commercial TV market but broadcasters in that country are still reluctant to pay for programming, forcing most deals to be done on a barter basis for airtime.
Newer pay-TV platforms are also popping up, including the Entertainment Highway platform in Nigeria, which launched in 2006.
The recent government decision to grant new pay TV licenses in South Africa could produce additional competition. Vaughan expects some of those new pay TV platforms in South Africa to expand outside their homeland into sub-Sahara Africa as the incumbent pay TV provider M-Net has done.
Vaughan and Schlagman stress however that corruption, piracy, state control over the media and other problems continue to make the region a difficult place to do business for companies don’t have P4A’s expertise.
“There has been some liberalization but pace of deregulation has been much slower than anyone would like,” Vaughan says.