The cinema and audiovisual industries play a significant role in the promotion and preservation of cultural heritage. These industries also provide employment, promote innovation and contribute to national economies. The audiovisual industries in many developing countries have huge potential to support national economic development, but what steps need to be taken to realize their full economic potential?
A recent study commissioned by WIPO – The WIPO Feasibility Study on Enhancing the Collection of Economic Data on the Audiovisual Sector in a Number of African Countries – highlights the importance of gathering audiovisual market data to achieve tangible results in developing effective policies, including for the acquisition, management and use of intellectual property (IP) rights, to strengthen the audiovisual sector in five African countries.
The study covers Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Morocco and Senegal and was undertaken in the context of a WIPO project to strengthen the audiovisual sectors of those countries. It explores current trends, obstacles, challenges and potential opportunities in those audiovisual markets; highlights the advantages of effective audiovisual market-data mapping; and identifies steps to support more effective data collection.
A thriving audiovisual sector allows creative professionals to reap the economic benefits of their work and hinges on awareness of, and access to, an effective IP system. It also requires detailed knowledge of audiovisual markets. But little is known about the size or nature of domestic audiovisual markets in many developing countries. This, coupled with the sector’s informal nature, and poor IP awareness, makes identifying and effectively managing IP assets to leverage the sector’s economic potential a huge challenge.
Data on production, distribution and consumption
Data collection is vital to the development of effective policies, strategies and regulatory tools for a dynamic audiovisual sector. Policymakers need to be able to understand how markets for film, TV and video-on-demand work; who the main players are; and the latest consumer trends and viewing habits.
The WIPO study highlights a fundamental data gap within the audiovisual sectors of the countries covered. Even basic information on the number of films produced annually is unavailable. In some cases, there is simply no system in place to register or license production shoots, and in others, such systems are not being fully utilized by producers.
Statistics on the number of companies and professionals involved in the industry and revenues earned from content distribution are also rarely available. Where they exist, government entities that fund and support audiovisual production, such as Morocco’s Centre Cinématographique Marocain(CCM), help to fill the information gap.
Several countries also lack data on the way audiovisual works are consumed. These data include audience numbers, viewing figures for cinema and TV and evolving programming tastes and trends. These can provide valuable insights for producers and broadcasters when shaping program content.
Consumer surveys in Kenya on programming preferences have shown that viewers are very keen on local content and local stories. This is good news for the industry, as these findings have encouraged the implementation of TV quotas for local content and are also helping to convince broadcasters about the potential economic gains associated with supporting local production. Similar studies have been carried out in Senegal, but are expensive and require considerable resources. In the long run, a joint industry-government collaboration to establish audience measurement systems would help countries better understand and leverage the potential of their local audiovisual markets.
Requiring businesses in the audiovisual sector to formally engage in reporting certain market data can strengthen the sector in a number of ways. First and foremost, it boosts the legitimacy of audiovisual professionals and their business dealings. It also makes the sector more attractive to investors and enhances recognition of the contribution of audiovisual industries to the national economy.
Together with appropriate regulatory bodies and funding agencies with a mandate to do the data gathering, these data also support successful policy implementation, including for copyright and the effective management of creators’ rights. They also facilitate the process of evaluating and assessing the impact of policies, use of funding and compliance with regulatory obligations.
Opportunities from digitization
The digitization of broadcasting, particularly the switch to digital terrestrial television (DTT), promises significant opportunities to boost the development of the audiovisual sector in African countries.
Digital terrestrial broadcasting allows for more efficient use of frequencies, making it possible to broadcast many more channels. This is expected to fuel demand for the type of content that viewers want to watch, again underlining the need for data on how viewers consume content. None of the countries in the study has yet completed the transition to DTT, but each is seeing exponential growth in TV channels. These rapid developments further underline the need for data mapping.
DTT also creates data-gathering opportunities. For example, growing use of set-top boxes to deliver TV content can be used to monitor and assess audience viewing rates and preferences, at least for a representative sample of the population. It also offers an opportunity for TV licensing authorities to require TV broadcasters to meet quotas for locally-produced content, thereby satisfying local viewers and strengthening local content production.
There are also opportunities for policymakers and regulators to strengthen the bargaining position of audiovisual creators and producers in relation to broadcasters. Currently, broadcasters often buy works at knock-down prices and can even require producers to pay for broadcast time – or source advertising for it – and to share any advertising revenue with them. The time is ripe to recalibrate the business negotiations between these parties and to agree on fair and decent terms of trade.
Participation in the global audiovisual industry
The presence of several powerful Pan-African media operators – Canal Plus, DStv and Starsat – in African media markets further highlights the importance of data gathering. These companies often engage in TV satellite distribution and audiovisual production. Knowledge of how they operate and their links with other audiovisual actors is essential to understanding their market power and market dynamics.
Interestingly, these international outfits often aggregate market intelligence on subscribers, earnings, and performance to further strengthen their own market position. Their market power is so significant that it is important to understand the scale of their operations and to engage with them to support and distribute local content produced.
The switch to DDT will have a major impact on audiovisual markets and will fuel the need for economic intelligence. Beyond its crucial role in supporting the economic development of the sector, there is also an opportunity here to create professional data-collection systems and innovative legal services to counteract the scale and impact of piracy within the sector.
Piracy is perhaps the most intractable challenge confronting the audiovisual sector in the countries studied. In the digital age, piracy has graduated from black market DVDs to the sharing of films on USB drives and via social networks and online streaming services. It is affecting all distribution platforms, slowing the development of national audiovisual industries and threatening the livelihoods of creators. How can countries effectively respond to this insidious problem?
One way, is to strengthen IP legal frameworks and make them more effective in tackling such infringements. Another is to work toward providing a broad offering of legal video-on-demand services. This has proven an effective way to encourage people to favor legal viewing options in Europe and the United States. However, success in effectively tackling piracy requires the concerted effort and cooperation of all stakeholders.
Raising awareness among stakeholders
Addressing the data needs of the audiovisual sector in African countries will require a greater focus on training businesses within the sector. This will boost understanding among creators and producers of the importance of registering their works and sharing business data (on employees, audiovisual works, budgets, etc.) with relevant organizations. By using market data, audiovisual businesses will be better placed to find partners for the production and sale of their works. The more companies engage in these processes, the more data will be available. This will lead, in turn, to better policies and stronger economic performance.
More also needs to be done to build understanding and awareness of copyright within the sector. Only then will producers and directors be able to more effectively exercise their IP rights and monetize their creative assets.
There are many examples of good practice to boost the audiovisual sector in each of the five countries covered by the study. For example, the collection of data on film and audiovisual production in Morocco, the establishment of a private collective management organization in Senegal, tax rebates in Côte d’Ivoire to encourage company registration, the introduction of local production quotas and improved categorization of audiovisual companies in Kenya. Such initiatives, rooted in the implementation of supportive policies and regulations, enhance the sector’s performance and improve data collection, but alone, they fall short of what is needed for the audiovisual sector to thrive.
On the other hand, it is also important to focus on educating collective management organizations and national copyright offices about the importance of audiovisual market data collection. An understanding of the audiovisual sector, its business models, the role of broadcasters and distribution companies and of new media players in the online world is central to the successful implementation of copyright frameworks, long-term strategic planning and the future viability of audiovisual sectors. Data on potential audiences and views is fundamental to enhancing the industry’s negotiating power. And data on the performance of audiovisual works is vital to assess the value of IP remunerations payable to creators.
Creating an enabling environment for data collection
Establishing an effective copyright framework within the audiovisual sector is an important step toward the collection of audiovisual market data. Such a framework would require broadcasters to report on their programming, including original and commissioned content, and financials relating to spend-per-hour and spend-per-genre. Such data enhance understanding of the economics of the sector. Similarly, film distribution market players and cinema theatres would report on admissions and box office revenues. When rolling out these frameworks, however, it is important to clearly explain the business, financial and economic benefits that can flow from robust data collection to all parties concerned.
Many institutions are involved in funding, regulating and managing the production and distribution of audiovisual works. By collaborating and pooling their resources and information, these entities can better identify gaps in data collection and solutions for improved data transparency. Given the presence of pan-African operators, there is also logic in fostering cross-national cooperation on these issues. Such regional collaboration has helped enhance transparency and performance of audiovisual markets in Europe and South America.
Mapping audiovisual markets – the players, audiences, revenues and trends – is pre-requisite to creating the knowledge and understanding required to elaborate coherent and effective policies and strategies for the audiovisual sector. Such market intelligence will go a long way in enabling these sectors to realize their full economic potential and in enriching the cultural fabric of individual societies and global cultural heritage as a whole.
By Deidre Kevin, Media consultant