Thursday, June 20, 2013

Seychelles grapples with digital ‘revolution’

By Howard Thomas

VICTORIA, Seychelles – Media managers need to have a holistic understanding of media management to cope with the current profound and rapid changes affecting their industry, says the Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) Antoine Onezime.

Onezime spoke in the Seychelles capital Victoria a week ago as he welcomed Howard Thomas and Trevor Amos, who taught a five-day short course, the Essentials of Broadcast Management (EOBM), in Victoria for SBC staff on behalf of Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership.

This was the second EOBM course run by the Institute in the island nation in the past two years. The SPI is the only university-level institute in Africa which specifically educates and trains media managers and leaders from across the continent.

The relationship between the SPI and the SBC goes back several years back when the broadcaster sent many participants to the Institute’s media management courses all the long way to Grahamstown, home of Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Onezime acknowledged that the latest EOBM course, which was tailor-made for the SBC, took place under a backdrop of sweeping technological changes that were impacting the media industry, requiring a new set of skills and understandings by media managers.

He agreed that the Seychelles was not alone in Africa in grappling with the uncertainty of the digital multi-channel environment and its accompanying mobile telephones and mobile television. The fundamental challenge for media companies such as the SBC, he said, was to acquire relevant and compelling content and the finance to fund it.

Indeed, digital terrestrial transmission (DTT) was a feared unknown on the horizon two years ago and yet in 2013 it has become a reality, with the SBC already running two test television channels. The broadcaster faces the same challenges as most broadcasters in Africa: where to find relevant content with which to fill the channels and how to pay for it.

Amos, the Head of the Department of Management at Rhodes University, kicked off the EOBM course. In an experiential session, he conducted interactive exercises that aptly introduced the delegates to how they could manage change at the SBC.

Thomas, a veteran media management trainer and long-time guest lecturer at the SPI, then ran most of the course. He taught a range of modules including audience interaction and measurement, media ethics and editorial independence, advertising and marketing, content management and budgeting.

The SBC is the only operator in the country. With one television station and one radio channel, it faces a major responsibility to deliver a credible public service to the nation, more so now after the arrival of DTT and the media explosion of social networks, smart phones, instant messaging music downloads and personal blogs used by its audiences.

“We began to feel as if we were in a race with the audience and they were ahead of us,” commented Céline Pillay, a senior Programmes Officer, noting that the SBC’s viewers and listeners only needed to buy a smart phone to be connected to the world of digital media.

But the SBC needed money, expertise, time and planning to become a player on the digital media landscape. In the words of Senior Engineer Ralph Paul: “You can’t compare the purchase of a smart phone with the whole infrastructure needed to provide digital content. We have to get transmitters, which involves a whole chain of events, as well as all the content needed in special formats.“

The SBC does not carry out formal audience research because the costs involved do not justify the end result. The broadcaster has its own ways of connecting with its audiences, not least the fact that the Seychellois are highly vocal in their appreciation and criticism of any programme.

If audiences don’t like a programme, the SBC soon knows all about it. In addition, a mere 5% of revenue comes from advertising, which makes costly and complex research a non-priority for the SBC on this island nation of 90 000 people.

However, interesting debates arose during the EOBM course on the potential of using social networks by the SBC to develop better knowledge and understanding of the emotions of its audiences to its programming.

Most delegates agreed that the course had prepared them to face the challenges that have been spawned by DTT. “I don’t expect to know the future, but I appreciate the courage to face it. This course has given me the understandings and skills of how we can at least better prepare and handle these changes,” Principal Editor Will Jacques said.

Thomas said: “Even though I have run this course in Seychelles before, this time I had different people from different operational areas on the course. The new issues they brought contributed greatly to the overall learning experience.”


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