It might have crossed your mind that you no longer spend as much time watching local broadcasts as you once did, but you might have noticed an increased absorption of downloaded foreign content or foreign channels and content providers.
You are not alone, with the exception of channels like Bukedde which have many viewers mostly the non-English speaking audience interested in the popular “Agataliko Nfufu” news and other exceptional programs such as “Abanonya” for dating; informative business and agricultural related shows. Most of the other popular channels like NTV, NBS and Urban TV don’t have consistent or loyal long-time viewership.
Why is this the case? There is a lesson from this, most of the people we have managed to interact with think most local channels in Uganda are boring and not worth their time. It is worse with the youth who only tune in for music, kids for cartoons and elders for news; the other free time youth spend it watch movies or documentaries they buy on discs.
This may not have much to do with disinterest towards local programming because the support is there and can clearly be seen with how many people followed the darling “Hostel” and “Deception” shows on NTV, the defunct “Teens Club” on former WBS TV, Douglas Lwanga’s “Katogo” and so many others.
Like you, my team and I have also been wondering what went wrong. We asked ourselves questions like; did Ugandans get busier? Are they too depressed to watch TV? Is it the electricity bill? Is TV in Uganda really that boring and if so do these companies know? What are they doing to improve this?
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We discovered that this trend started catching on when the local media started following the UCC regulation to air more than 60% local content instead of foreign. That meant a significant cut back on documentaries from NatGeo, foreign movies and shows and even then, not as much foreign music. No wonder we had a rise in local music stars!
We went on to learn that a year later, more people had bought decoders to digital and satellite media offerings such as GoTV, DSTV, Zuku and Azam. Partly also because UCC forced us into an abrupt digital migration but more so because these offered more programs that we found more interesting.
It is no surprise most of the main stations found their way onto these digital/satellite set top boxes so as to meet their loyal viewers wherever they went. This worked only for so long as channels like African Magic, Citizen TV started taking the Ugandan viewers much of the day and only lending them back to catch the 8pm or 10pm news or during major day break news such as the parliamentary crisis.
This kind of crisis has thrown most TVs into deficit with dwindling numbers to the extent that they can no longer offer decent pay for certain shows per week. To put into perspective, you may get less than UGX 1 million per week for every episode aired for some shows, yet once upon a time the least pay for a TV show host which was not so popular would earn UGX 3 – 4 million shillings per week.
What went wrong? Did media companies get too confident? I am honestly not so sure but I believe it is not too late to find a remedy though it will come at a stiff cost.
We need to stop thinking we can create sub-par shows or movies and get away with it because we are producing for Uganda
I think media companies need to invest deeper into their programming and to plan for the future rather than present otherwise they will quickly fall with all these online TVs and subscription services coming up.
We need to stop thinking we can create sub-par shows or movies and get away with it because we are producing for Uganda. We need to have companies that rise up and produce quality shows that relate to our Ugandan scene yet can also be exported all over Africa.
Content will save the media companies, it was too soon to drop the 60% bomb on them but they have had enough time to catch up. We need to invest in both fictional and non-fictional works, series, short movies and even documentaries which are very many.
I often go to the National Theatre and watch so many short talented films premiered there but not many of them are ever aired on local TV channels. I would like to catch a locally sponsored documentary or short film that talks about the history of Tanda in Masaka, the Owen Falls Dam in Jinja, Luweero Triangle or even the attack and bombing of the Lubiri.
There are so many movies or shows that can be done to relate with the rise and fall of business empires, the life of the wealthy in Uganda, socialites, high school, university, etc. In the beginning few people might have interest, but the few that watch and like the quality and story will recommend to others growing the audience and confidence.
I hope to see Uganda catch up with Nigeria, South Africa and even USA in terms of content because we already have the talent.
Lawk is a mozillian, writes for Spur, Newslibre and consults part time for Every1Mobile and Innovware.
He loves open source, the open web, writing, reading and developing literacy tools that can teach the youth around the world especially in East Africa.