"Building a Successful
African Digital Media
A paper presented @ The Africa Technology Business Forum
London - 22nd June 2016
Rotimi Pedro – CEO, BTVA Limited
As a seasoned media entrepreneur in Africa with fresh investment in the African digital media
space, I pondered upon what new insights I could share with global technology leaders to add
value to the deliberations at this Forum.
After all, I am more at home in the predictable world of conventional media than in the
frenzied 24/7 world of INSTANT digital media headlines, bylines and deadlines.
Mention is continually being made of the inevitable rise of a new African dawn and since the
end of the Cold War, most of the African continent has made considerable progress in law
and order, development, and governance. The Africa of today is hence, in general, more
stable, prosperous, and democratic than it has ever been in the past 50 years.
Therefore, for tech investors, despite some of the recent economic slow-down in key markets,
now is the optimal time to approach the “New Africa”. However, this is easier said than done,
especially without readily available data on the opportunities and hurdles that may be
encountered along the way. The early railway pioneers who struck out into Kenya’s uncharted
territory often ended up inside a lion, and as a global tech investor, you put your brand at risk
of a similar fate if you enter this immensely complex and fragmented region without an
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to address this distinguished Forum and intend to utilise
same towards achieving it’s overarching purpose - to shape conversations on digital
transformation in Africa and chart a new and much more resourceful narrative about the
To set the context for my remarks, I would like to begin by describing the current digital
landscape with an African proverb that has since become part of the mission statement at
” Until the lion has his own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the
story” – Author Unknown
Considering that we are constrained for time, I will briefly outline the profound nature of ICT
on the African media landscape, and focus essentially on common pitfalls to avoid in building
a successful digital media brand on the continent hoping that this will assist potential investors
achieve winning business modelling in the near future.
In this report, we introduce Altimeter’s O.P.P.O.S.I.T.Eand models that not only improve the DCX but also the journey and experience for all
AFRICA’s DIGITAL LANDSCAPE
Define the goal for your digital offering or brand
extension and why the African digital customer
experience is instrumental in delivering value to
stakeholders and shareholders. Align objectives with
key short- and long-term Milestones
Also there is no substitute for local knowledge.
If there is one idea underlying all other “rules,” it is that,
“Do not take your media service into any African
market without a good budget for research and insight
of how to adapt it to local need.”
Had the local experts been consulted, the railway line
through Tsavo might have provided lunch for fewer
RULE 1: : Know
your Market in all its
Complexity and define
your Objectives :
Define the purpose of the digital
offering and align stakeholders around
the delivery road map
At the core of our business model at BTVA is
strategic investment in our journalists; they are the
mainstay and future of the news business; and by
building journalism capacity, we intend to
consistently unleash talent, build human capability
and invariably close the business information gap.
behavior, trends, expectations, and values reveal
new opportunities to earn relevance in every moment
of truth throughout the customer journey. By walking
the path of digital customers, strategists uncover
ways to eliminate existing friction while introducing
innovation along the way.
Begin by mapping the customer journey and also
identifying missing touchpoints. Interviews, research
and data, journey mapping, and observation allow
strategists to better understand and empathize with
digital customers to uncover and guide meaningful
investments towards a new customer experience.
RULE 2: THE PEOPLE:
UNDERSTAND DIGITAL CUSTOMER
Quite a number of international
marketers have expected that
their principal competitors will be
other internationally recognised
brands, only to come up against a
local operator with all the
connections, experience, and
ruthlessness to make their
business models unworkable. In
addition, customs and informal
markets in some sectors make it
difficult for multinational brands
to survive, let alone prosper.
The lesson here is to take African
markets seriously, with regard to
both the potential rewards and
the challenges to be overcome.
In other words — yes, going into
Africa will be worth it, but no, it’s
not going to be easy.
RULE 3: It’s Time to
Take Africa Seriously
It is important not to
underestimate the local
Working in concert with ICT is a must; adopting the right
approach requires strategists to think about technology’s role
in the customer journey. However, technology is not an end-
all solution. It is an enabler for a larger digital transformation
purpose and vision as it facilitates intuitive, frictionless, cross-
channel and personalized customer engagement.
As individual users in a cell access the internet through apps
on their smart devices, the radio base station determines
when they are served. The higher the cell load, the longer
users must wait for the radio resources they need to send and
receive data. Time-to-content becomes increasingly variable
and, beyond a certain level of cell load, user experience
deteriorates sharply. This level is typically reached well before
the cell capacity is fully utilized.
High load in less than a tenth of the cells in a metropolitan
area can affect more than half of the user activity over the
course of 24 hours. This is not necessarily bad news – with an
efficient way to identify highly loaded cells, focused
improvements can be made to enhance overall user
It turns out that time-to-content is strongly correlated with
cell load, which can therefore be used to estimate time-to-
RULE 4: TECHNOLOGY:
Re-evaluate front and back-end systems
for seamless OMNICHANNEL
Two broad and diametrically opposed assumptions dominate thoughts on general investment in Africa and the media sector is not
different: African consumers are either assumed to be unique in every way or just like consumers everywhere. In fact, the truth lies
somewhere in between.
Many of the concerns and challenges faced by rural Africans would be familiar to a New York banker. African and Western
perceptions could differ widely or similar depending on circumstances and only strong research and insight will help you tell the
Gathering data helps businesses develop a domesticated digital strategy that invests in and optimises touchpoints and engagement
for connected, mobile customers. Companies must continually adapt to technology and consumer trends, behaviors, expectations,
and values to perpetually iterate on, and optimise the customer experience. Insights must inform ongoing digital transformation
in every group while simultaneously introducing new areas of necessary expertise.
The lesson here is that life in Africa is unique in many ways, and many of the daily challenges faced cannot be conceptualised by
outsiders. There is, however, the risk of oversubscribing to the “This is Africa” philosophy.
Rule 5: INSIGHTS AND INTENT:
Gather data and apply INSIGHT and INTENT toward strategy to guide your
digital media offering. Don’t presume to know what your Consumers want.
The problem of poverty in Africa is often oversimplified (i.e., “Africans
are starving”) to expedite the perceived solution (i.e., “the world should
send food”). The reality is far more complex. The IMF definition of
poverty — an income of less than U.S. $1.25 per day — obscures the
fact that in Africa, income is not the whole picture. Informal markets,
social networks, subsistence agriculture, microfinance, and many
other factors often bridge the gap between income and livelihood,
allowing that $1.25 to go a lot further than you might expect.
Lesson here: Economic constrictions do not always define consumer
motives, even in the lowest income groups. A premium brand can
survive and thrive if it meets consumer needs well enough to justify its
• RESPONSIBLE • ACCOUNTABLE • CONSULTED
• SUPPORTED • INFORMED
Rule 6: Understand the
Complexity of Poverty
That $1.25 may go a lot further than you
Detailed execution is as important as the vision that
guides it. The digital transformation roadmap relies on
key leaders and practitioners to drive and learn from
pilots, programmes, and larger initiatives. Innovations
in digital media services not recognised as congruent
with the needs of the market tend to fail. With the cost-
benefit equation being rigorously audited by most
African digital media agencies, your brand’s equity will
be severely hampered if your brand cannot
demonstrate early adoption in the relevant demography
where it matters.
Many digital media services and innovations launched
in African markets to “add value” do not attract adoption
because consumers do not perceive this value. The
most successful digital media innovations in Africa
diagnose the information or entertainment need of the
market and then develop the solution, not the other way
RULE 7: EXECUTION:
Implement , learn and adapt
solutions to Deliver Real,
Tangible Benefits That Improve
have the potential
to trigger big impacts,
the path of digital
executed well .
In this stage, new business models, organisational charts, and supporting processes, systems, and policies are written to streamline digital media brand
extension or transformation. Change agents perform an audit of processes and policies to identify roadblocks. Models, processes, and policies are then either
amended or rewritten to support new direction and scale. In our research, we found that change agents drive transformation to the point of scale, at which
point governance work is required to standardize and manage new processes.
This work is eventually managed by a cross-functional workgroup supported by executive sponsors. Over time, the group’s collaboration and planning leads to
the development of interim infrastructures to support pilots and the modification of existing teams and departments.
Whether as a start-up or an existing brand in the process of digitally transforming a traditional media brand, your best strategy is to either leverage on your
existing media brand or form strategic alliances. Currently, TV is generally of poor quality and TV advertising often loses impact because of old analogue
diffusion prevalent across the African continent. High production costs also make it difficult to produce and air quality marketing communications. Radio has
the best reach overall, but this reach is fragmented; most African countries have over 100 stations, partly because of the multitude of local dialects. Print,
though widely consumed, is less impactful than broadcast media.
Rule 8: PROCESSES:
Assess old operational infrastructure, processes and policies to support your new digital
extension. Cross-fertilize your Marketing Communication
Across much of Africa, it is considered rude to
pass someone on the street without at least a
greeting. This continent did just fine without the
written word for thousands of years, and no
amount of modernity will remove this basic
tenet of African culture.
Word of mouth is surpassed by TV, radio, and
billboards when it comes to generating brand
awareness, but it carries more inherent trust
than conventional media channels. The most
effective way to do this is to speak directly to
your target market.
Lesson here is: Across much of Africa, it is
considered rude to pass someone on the street
without at least a greeting. Our continent did
just fine without the written word for thousands
of years, and no amount of modernity can
remove this basic tenet of African cultural
Rule 9: Hit the Word-
of-Mouth Sweet Spot
Direct marketing is king: The brand
that gets prevailing public opinion
moving in the right direction has
harnessed Africa’s strongest asset:
humans working together.
Its called the “bow-wave” effect, when behavioral and conceptual paradigm shifts inspired by new technology precede the arrival of the
On a busy street in Monrovia, Liberia, Alfred Sirleaf stands, chalk in hand, beside a large blackboard that displays local and international
news. Alfred updates the news hourly with information obtained from a network of “reporters” via mobile phone.
Alfred’s board, which often uses symbols to help overcome literacy barriers, bears an uncanny resemblance to a web site; hence his popular
title, “the blackboard blogger.”
Rule 10 : Africa is a Source of Media Innovation and Creativity, not just a
In the limited time, I have painted a broad canvas on digital brand building critical success factors, so to conclude Ladies and Gentlemen, we believe that digital
transformation and the practice of journalism, supported by a new, more hopeful, Africa-centric narrative can help propel us forward in the continent’s journey to our
promised land. African journalists can and must become the voice of change and help the continent to become a producer, not just a consumer of knowledge.
Africa’s voice must be heard loudly and increasingly, digital media has a central role to play in articulating global positions and agenda for the continent and enabling
African voices to be heard globally. Mobilising cutting-edge knowledge and forging partnerships anchored in the common good for the benefit of all must become our
guiding mantra for new entrants into a rapidly fragmenting media space. One of the dominating features of the 21st century is the remarkable growth and ubiquity of
global communications, affecting all facets of human endeavor. Today, we take instantaneous communication for granted. The rapid rise of social media has been
breathtaking, if Facebook were a country in Africa, it would be the continent’s second largest “country” of “netizens” numbering over 120m and counting.
Digital Media Success stories abound in Africa. From Nigeria’s Iroko TV and Nairaland and Spinlet; South Africa’s News24 and SuperSports Interactive; to Kenya’s Innoro
TV – Citizens TV, we are witnessing the remarkable strides African countries are taking in mobilising ICT for national development, improving governance, boosting
accountability and positively impacting people’s lives. And we are yet to see the full impact of media on the “Internet of Things” that is fast emerging, linking devices,
people and data in ways unthinkable a few years ago. The surge in communication capability is unprecedented in human history and Africa is rapidly closing the digital
divide. Our collective challenge is to mould these instant journalism opportunities and bring them to bare on the common, everyday problems facing Africans.
Like the technology it rides on and journalism can play an important role in Africa’s transformation by paving the journey with words that draw their strength from truth,
where the search for perfection and quality reporting is never-ending and where evidence is used to strengthen stories, influence policies and backstop our research
endeavors, whether at the news desk, in research centers or class rooms or classroom across the continent. At BTVA, we believe that good journalism is a barometer of
the society. It can shine the light of scrutiny on Africa’s efforts to achieve sustainable development, showcasing developmental successes and pinpointing failures so that
we can learn from them, adapt and innovate.
Done right, journalism with a social purpose and geared toward the common good can help transform our economies, spur innovation in newsrooms and bridge the
governance accountability deficit; improve our economic and social prospects and help the continent to thrive so that all Africans can dream of better tomorrows
propelled by a credible global voice. Incidentally, we believe that on the long run these core believes in digital news brand building will also help media owners like us to
meet corporate objectives and make a profit.
So what will it take to craft a more hopeful, Africa-centric narrative and lay the foundations for viable businesses and deliver profits?
While Facebook is undoubtedly the biggest, there are many other social platforms available across Africa. As the continent’s bandwidth capacity continues to explode,
the number of people using those platforms will only keep growing. That in turn means that it’s more important than ever for companies not to just be on those
platforms, but to use the different platforms in engaging in meaningful ways.
While there’s no guarantee of which brands will be doing that successfully in a few years’ time, the ones doing it well now are probably best-placed to keep doing it in the