We are slowly drifting away from our cultural foundations to “nirvana” as foreign content begins to dictate what we watch on television.
New platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV and India’s WWiTV are leveraging on availability of high Internet speeds to fight it out with our traditional providers.
The convergence of broadcast and telecommunications is not just causing a revolution but changing television enterprise models for ever.
These on-demand Internet streaming media available to viewers in North and South America, the Caribbean, India and parts of Europe are spreading across the world like wild fire.
Even in countries where these new platforms have not set up, people are already hooked to them through reseller agents using addresses in host countries. Some of the content available on these platforms is in contravention of our legal and moral fundamentals.
As technology advances, the media industry will change and grow with new business models. It is not prophesy that media industry in Africa will expand in the next few years and escalate foreign content.
Consumers will be spoilt for quality choices and as a result, Kenyan content is bound to gradually decline in fascination.
Whilst the rest of the world is busy aggregating content, building distribution networks and developing specialty channels and first class content, Africa is mired in petty non-productive wars of who controls what in analogue broadcast.
But not all is lost. There is increasing home-grown African content that is making its debut into the global stage through MultiChoice Africa and locally established Zuku.
So far, Zuku has seven branded channels and started venturing into local production in 2012. One of Zuku’s flagship project features Kenyan chef and restaurateur, Kiran Jethwa.
Its producer, Quite Bright Films gave distribution rights to Off the Fence and the series’ pay-TV rights were acquired by Fox International Channels.
MultiChoice Africa has put up modern studios in Nairobi in readiness to start local productions.
However, much of its content is largely foreign and for African content to excite the international community, we must begin to invest in quality, better distribution networks and access to multiple platforms.
The African story is yet to be told. The hidden treasure in our creative economy has not been revealed. In this treasure lies the opportunity for employment and poverty reduction. Yet our talented youth rummage for opportunity to showcase their flair.
Recently, Star Times broke the grounds where its new studios will be built in Karen. They plan to dub their Chinese content into local languages while at the same time developing local content for distribution throughout its global networks.
Film powerfully influences culture, just as music, books, television, radio and speeches influence culture. As we consume these media, they shape the way we think and interact.
It is for this reason that we must protect the little that is left of our culture through development of local content. It is our collective responsibility to tell our story through our own eyes.
Our future success will depend on how much local content is syndicated to other international platforms. This is how we can get to understand the value chain of the creative industry.
Traditional methods of free-to-air TV will be no more considering the convenience that comes from on-demand multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) that have already set up in the country. The problem we may face is lack of policy and regulatory framework to govern especially the Internet-based content.
The recent enactment of the Kenya Communications Act created a storm between the government and media largely because media sought to have greater autonomy as stipulated in Section 34 of the Constitution.
But it did not address a significant problem involving the regulation of Internet-based television content, that is, what is the scope of application of Kenyan laws in relation to Internet content that is based outside of the country but accessible by local residents?
With the increasing streaming of content from other countries, we are likely to see many civil suits arising from the placing of material on a foreign platform that infringes on our rights under the laws of Kenya.
In the 2007/2008 post-election crisis we faced many challenges especially hate messaging emanating from foreign countries containing inflammatory content or posted on foreign websites or media that was accessible locally and indeed, violated local criminal law.
Technology will always be disruptive but the least we can do is safeguard our cultural foundations for future prosperity. It is John F. Kennedy who said, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”
The writer is a senior lecturer at University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.