Wednesday, April 21, 2021

State crowds commercial broadcasters

Below is part of the presentation by Owen Rampha on private commercial broadcasting to the National Broadcasting Board towards the end of last year.

Private commercial broadcasting came into being in Botswana in 1999, first in the form of regional broadcast licenses allowing the two private broadcasters at the time to broadcast to Gaborone and within a 75km radius of the city. The first sign that this was going to be a challenging journey in terms of realising our broadcast and commercial mandate was the state broadcaster’s immediate launch as a national broadcaster. Until then, Rb2 was also a regional broadcaster.

Eleven years down the road not much has changed. We still have to deal with the monolith that is the state broadcaster in the pursuit of our broadcast and commercial goals. Yes, we have been granted national broadcast licenses and are now available in seven additional urban and semi-urban towns and their surroundings, but we are completely self funded and incur huge costs regarding each stage of our expansion. As such, our reach pales in comparison to that of the state broadcaster.

TAX

PCBs in Botswana pay tax to the government, pay licence fees to the regulator, self fund all transmitter and maintenance issues, pay utility bills and rent etc. all from commercial revenue generated from the sale of airtime. The state broadcaster does not have to worry about any of the previously outlined matters affecting its bottom line as these are wholly financed by the Government. The Government in turn is financed by diamonds, tourism, beef and taxes. So in a way, we are financing our single largest competitor. Commercial broadcasting is a business like any other, but it’s the only business that I’m aware of in Botswana that our government is actively engaged in direct competition with the citizenry of this country.

All other industries within our country, especially those that are citizen owned, are actively encouraged by our government. I am not aware of our government owning clothing stores, furniture stores, butcheries, taxis, travel agencies, night clubs, petrol stations, law firms, vehicle repair shops, car dealerships etc.

In areas where our government is involved in business, it is in a nurturing, supportive and funding capacity and not in direct competition and direct contradiction of its own citizen empowerment mission. Our government owns RB2, and continues to seek and accept advertising from the same clientele that we desperately need to survive.

ADVERTISING

Advertising revenue is our only source of income. This same revenue is used to sustain all areas of the business of a PCB. Without it, we will not survive. It is safe to say that around ten percent of our advertising revenue is generated from Government departments and institutions.

The first place you come across government advertising is usually the print media. I could go on and on about the merits and demerits of this, but I will leave that to the advertising gurus.
The second place that you will come across government advertising and promotion is on RB2.

Naturally, they own this medium. Then PCB’s follow. The single largest complaint that we receive from government departments and institutions is about our rates. The complaint being that they are too high.

It is a fact that the government’s commercial broadcasting arm is the cheapest when it comes to advertising rates amongst all the commercial broadcasters in Botswana. This applies for 30 second commercials, promotional discussions and pure sponsorships sold in time periods. For example, 15 min, 30 min and 1 hour. This presents a double whammy for us as PCB’s. Our rates need to make business sense in the pursuit of our commercial goals. Clearly the government owned, government funded commercial broadcaster does not have to worry about such, hence their pricing. Note also that the government commercial broadcasting arm has the widest transmission network in the country, making them an extremely attractive option. I must point out lately that the trend is swinging towards a more balanced scenario in terms of placing of campaigns and period of campaign launch to air. What we have since realised is that there are at times national campaigns that are due to go to air but are hampered by the delayed submission of comparative quotes by RB2. We operate with a sense of urgency in order to survive so we are always quick of the blocks when it comes to quote submissions. Again, there is no real need for this from RB2 as their revenue generated has no impact on their operational budget.

RETAIL

The PCB’s receive little to no ad spend from franchise retail stores trading in Botswana. Most prefer RB2. Reasons being those highlighted above. The widest reach, lowest rates. We cannot compete with that. We have tried, year on year and we have hit the same brick wall. These retailers have branches in most ALL the urban and peri urban towns that we broadcast to, and of course in the other areas of Botswana that we are yet to broadcast to.

INFORMATION

Botswana is a small nation in terms of numbers, so we rely on pretty much the same people, institutions (both private and government) and organizations as news makers. The single largest entity in this regard is our government. They are the largest employer and largest benefactor of business in the country.

They are responsible for all welfare, health, entrepreneurial and social initiatives, policies, laws, etc regarding Botswana’s citizens. This makes them a key news source and information resource. My counterparts from PCBs present will vouch for me as to how challenging it is to secure government representatives/departments for interviews, discussions and information dissemination regarding the above. The preferred broadcaster for such information disclosure is the government’s own stations.

This practice does not serve us well in terms of our efforts to be patriotic citizens of this country and damages our credibility and erodes the public’s trust in us. This has the possibility of leading us to lose audience numbers during such key periods as The Budget Speech, State of The Nation address, disaster management information awareness, health and safety alerts and the like. This practice is so inculcated within government structures that there have been times when we have managed to secure government representatives on air who have gone on to feign surprise at our ignorance on said matters, explaining that they have already disseminated information on the radio (read their radio). The truth is that not all citizens of Botswana spend ALL day listening to Rb1 and Rb2. We ask that we be recognized as key partners in the spread of important information about state initiatives to the public and that we be granted interviews regarding matters of national importance within a reasonable time frame.

Not everything that airs on PCB’s has a cost to it. We have gone on to sponsor government department led initiatives that required publicity and were for the public good.

* This is part of Owen Rampha’s presentation on private commercial broadcasting to the National Broadcasting Board towards the end of last year.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper