Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab (02 June 2017)
CAPE TOWN - It seems a matter of time before ANN7 is booted out of the MultiChoice platform. And when Koos Bekker switches off the newly acquired media entity owned by former transformation activist Mzwanele (Jimmy) Manyi it is not only the owner who should be worried, but all media bosses.

The vulnerability of ANN7 to MultiChoice is the same with many other media entities. SABC also, to some extent, relies on MultiChoice to air some of its programmes and its presence online is dependent on major social media platforms.

Social Media platforms upon which media companies distribute their content are also a great threat to media entities. Social media platforms such as YouTube where SABC distributes their video content online present an invisible threat and area of vulnerability.

If YouTube or any other social media platform were to shut down the SABC channel online, there would be no online presence for the public broadcaster.

The same can be said about other media entities that rely on social media platforms for presence online.

What happens when a social media platform shuts down or decides to remove or curtail content of a media entity? Anything that is done by a social media platform has a direct impact on the media entity that makes its content available to the platform.

Tired

In June 2017 Bloomberg reported that media companies were getting tired of technology companies such as Facebook and YouTube.

Bloomberg reported that the New York Times recently pulled out of Facebook Instant Articles. The Guardian also followed suit as articles that were hosted on Facebook instead of the publishers’ sites failed to yield many subscriptions. Bloomberg also indicated that The Times had reduced its production of Facebook Live videos, because its quotas made it too tough to produce quality clips.

Media companies rely on audiences to get higher distribution fees and drive their advertising business. Currently, technology platforms that are supposed to assist are drawing audience members away by offering them more personal content choices.

The reliance of media entities on social media platforms is something that is worthy of attention by companies. The current situation is such that technology companies (operating in the social media space) own the land and media companies just build on it.

Some technology companies with social media products are media companies in disguise.

The response by media entities to deal with this challenge should be the gradual development of their own technology platforms. In other words, media companies should become platforms themselves.

The BBC understood the importance of developing their own technology when they created the BBC iPlayer - an internet streaming, catchup, television and radio service. The service is available on a wide range of devices, including mobile phones and tablets, personal computers, and smart televisions.The BBC iPlayer was built by BBC and is owned by the BBC. The technology developed by a media entity can be harnessed and customised for whatever is required by the media company.

According to recent media reports the BBC is developing a new version of the iPlayer that harnesses artificial intelligence, with the potential for the television to understand the people who are watching and listening. The media reports also indicate that in line with the corporation’s quest to “personalise” its services, it has joined forces with Microsoft to build an experimental version of iPlayer.

The prototype uses voice recognition technology, allowing users to talk to their television. When a user says: “Show me something funny”, it presents a list of comedy programmes. It responds to the question: “What’s going on in the world?” by automatically playing the BBC Channel. This would not be possible for BBC if it was just relying on YouTube.

It would wait for innovations within YouTube and thereby being dictated to by the technology company and not fulfil its public mandate fully.

Media companies should work towards creating their own technology platforms, especially the public broadcaster.

The SABC should think about what it would mean to create its own social media video-streaming platform.

For the public broadcaster to remain an entity that fulfils its public mandate, it will have to invest in technology that will allow it to be less dependent on current social media platforms.

The SABC should also consider boosting its digital expertise from the board and across its organisation.

It is only through digital transformation that the public broadcaster can avoid being irrelevant in the digital age.

As for ANN7, the only way out is to build a video platform that will guarantee that there’s still something called ANN7, at least on mobile devices and smart televisions.

The ANN7 situation should inspire other media companies to develop their own platforms and avoid the possibility of being shut down or replaced by technology companies.

Wesley Diphoko is the founder of Kaya Labs.

-BUSINESS REPORT