We have the demand for local content, why not upload it?
This is an article on the rise of (digital) local content in East Africa that I wrote and was published in this week’s edition of the East African Newspaper. You can read it here>. Below is the full unedited version:
It seems that lately everyone has been talking about digital â€œlocal contentâ€ and the massive opportunity it represents. It seems only logical that this should be the case as the convergence of increasingly ubiquitous broadband internet, digital television and mobile telephony in East Africa all create the right factors for local content to thrive. But what exactly is local content and where does it come from? I tend to think that local content is all around us. In fact, it already exists hitherto in many analogue formats such as books and video tapes. But local content is so much more than mediaÂ â€“ its also our cultures, software, government services and educational materials. In a nutshell, its everywhere, but largely either not (yet) in a digital formats that are universally accessible to all, or has yet to be developed from scratch.
East Africa is at the very cusp of a local content gold rush which has all the underpinnings of the much hyped â€œdotcomâ€ boom of the 1990s. At the time, anyone with even a smattering of an internet idea could be rewarded with millions of dollars in venture funding without so much as a viable business plan â€“ all that mattered was the â€œbig ideaâ€ and flipping the business for a tidy profit during an Initial Public Offering (IPO). True to form, many ofÂ these dotcom businesses did eventually crash, even as their founders naively shouted at the top of their lungs that the â€œnew economyâ€ had arrived and this had changed business rules forever. â€œBricks and mortarâ€ was the term used to refer to â€œold economyâ€ businesses that didn’t â€œget itâ€ and we’re doomed to failure. Therefore, could it be that we are about to see an East African dotcom boom driven by local content? I certainly think so.
One of the great things today unlike the original dotcom boom is that we have lots of content platforms through which local content can be published for free, or nearly free. This is especially ideal considering the large amounts of investment that are normally required to build a content platform, instead of simply utilizing one. Consider the investment it would take to build a Facebook or YouTube where millions of users can upload video and audio content for free? Its staggering! Facebook is currently the content platform of choice for over 400 million users and counting – its no longer a fad, its clearly a defining moment in Internet history. Recent statistics also confirm that Facebook is one of the most popular web sites in many parts of Africa. The East African blogosphere has hundreds if not thousands of active bloggers who cover almost every conceivable topic within a local content context. To cap it off, East Africa has over 30 million mobile subscribers and each of their mobile phones is potentially a platform for the distribution of a myriad of local content.
Going forward, the big issue for local content is not how or where it will be published but rather if market appetite can be adequately met. Content has to be of high quality, context and relevance if it is to succeed, let alone it being local. If these three factors work then there will be an almost insatiable appetite for local content, in all its forms. We have already seen how local content onÂ East African television already has a massive following across our collective borders. On mobile content, ringtones of the local variety already outpace international ones in total downloads â€“ the truth is we do love our local stuff! These emerging trends go to show that the more local content is re-purposed or generated, the more the demand will be. The local content gold rush is only just getting started.