Innovation in media is not only about technology

Friday, September 18th, 2020 00:12 |
People look at a prototype ventilator during its unveiling at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, May 6, 2020. (Xinhua/Charles Onyango)

Kenya has increasingly mapped itself globally as tech country, and in Africa, Nairobi is up there together with Johannesburg and Lagos as top tech cities.

Global giants are also trooping to Africa because it presents the next frontier of untapped eyeballs for brands; thus there is massive investment in technology to connect the huge population that is not on the web.

These drives are anchored on reality that Europe and North America has hit some kind of a plateau, with Scandinavian countries having secured fast internet access in their legislation as a basic human right as early as ten years ago.  

Technology and conversations around it have been big on disruptions occasioned by Artificial Intelligence, Big data, Block Chain and Internet of Things, otherwise known as the fourth industrial revolution.  

In the media, all these have led to advances that have paid more to technology, platforms and monetisation of content.

The latter, for instance, is a big issue and in a recent publication by the Aga Khan University’s Innovation Centre, an experienced media manager notes that the media in this region has to deal with the original sin of giving the audience premium content for free. 

In fact, the point of departure from this original sin seems to be here with us. Notable is the remodelling of websites by media houses, a trend that has seen most of them ask the audience to register, albeit for free, to access premium content.

Registration builds a database of membership, a critical pathway in understanding the audience and meeting their needs in a more focused way. 

Naturally, consumers are attuned to pay for both commercial and media products that meet their needs.

It seems as if we are making strides in this journey to monetise content that has for some time existed on the digital platforms for free.

Trends elsewhere have also shown that even though technology is important, there is more to creating value.

For news information and media content producers, more has to do with the audience, especially in creating value in content.

Today, understanding of audience needs seems to be focused on the urban and peri-urban population.

The rural population seems to be in the periphery of national conversations and so are their issues.

The same seems to be the case in Uganda and Tanzania. Media development organisations such as the Media Innovation Centre at Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications, Tanzania Media Foundation and Uganda’s Media Innovation Challenge (MCI) are at the forefront of identifying, incubating and accelerating innovative ideas.

The focus by these media development organisations appear to be on both tech savvy urban populations and on innovations that would focus on local, community and rural developmental issues. Such innovations are well poised to bring to the fore robust economic conversation that can change lives. 

This week the chair of the Council of Governors shut down counties due to lack of funds to deliver critical services.

Since 2013, we’ve had this complaint that governors are in rural counties and are not generating anything more than five per cent in revenue.

Such recurrent narratives speak to a dearth of strategic development and given the arable land and the untapped agricultural potential in this country, there is need to focus our local media’s attention to rural economic agenda.

Desert countries are doing great by tapping on less than what Kenya has been blessed with.

You see, we want to take what complaining governors are saying as gospel truth because even the community media in most of our rural counties focus on playing pop music and populist conversations to reach a wider audience.

The drive for audience numbers and little focus on fundamental economic development conversations at the community levels seems to leading us to what Neil Postman famously fossilised as ‘amusing ourselves to death.’

Rather than invest in numbers, the local media needs to be supported to target audiences, diversify revenues and support public conversations on issues that can empower rural folks.  —The writer is a PhD candidate in political communication

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