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Rwanda Opens Up Its TV Airwaves To The Private Sector; But Some Aren't Sold... Yet

Television
by Tambay A. Obenson
March 17, 2012 11:20 AM
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Read THIS piece from Variety this morning, announcing that a stable of new TV privately-owned TV stations in Rwanda are coming soon, which will provide much needed competition for RTV, the government-run network that dominates the country's airwaves currently. 

And then I did a little digging, looking for local (Rwandan media) reports on this news and found a few, like THIS opinion piece, that, while welcoming of privately-owned networks, and what that could mean for TV watchers in the country, there's a skepticism rooted in the fact that they've been through this rigamarole previously; specifically, in 2006, there apparently were similar announcements made about potential new stations to compete with the monopoly that is RTV, but no new networks ever materialized. 

And as the writer of the piece (Allan Brian Ssenyonga of the Rwanda New Times) notes, "These days when such announcements are made, no emotions are evoked. I will just have to wait for that day when I can use my remote not just to switch off the TV but also change to another local channel. I also tend to believe that it would be wiser to only make such announcements when one is almost certain that the station will go on air instead of creating anxiety and then you fail to deliver."

For those of us here in the states, Europe, and elsewhere who enjoy an abundance of TV networks, local and cable, with a wide variety of content, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the thought of being as restricted probably wouldn't register, sicne we've gotten so used to the deluge.

I should add that the only other TV option for Rwandan's is a digital pay TV service called Star Africa Media, but it's owned by the Chinese - a fact that makes some nervous, given China’s record of censorship and repression and its own country. And it's my understanding that there's been some pushback against this service which isn't available to everyone anyway.

Ssenyonga does champion the local competition that will come from newly private TV networks, especially in terms of content innovation from TV and film producers.

He laments what he sees as easy routes take in other countries with multiple networks, which includes airing cheap content in the form of Nollywood movies and Spanish-language soap operas with English voice-overs:

Such weak content is not that competitive in the long run and so some original stuff may have to be created. Producers will also have to do lots of surveys to understand the tastes and preferences of the Rwandan audiences in relation to the available demographics. Another area that will call for innovation will be the advertising sector. TVs often sustain their existence by selling advertising airtime. The Rwandan economy is not yet that sophisticated when it comes to advertising. However, with more advertising avenues opening up in form of more newspapers, more radio stations and eventually more TV stations, more advertising content has to be sought and created. This will mean more work (and revenue) for the different advertising firms in Rwanda and those wishing to open up later. These TV stations will be competing for advertising and in many cases this means that new concepts have to be thought of and sold to the advertiser.

I'll keep digging to learn more...

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