Broadcasting growth: New players continue to expand the sector

Despite its small domestic market, Gabon has an extremely diverse media landscape. Print and television continue to be the most in-demand media sources, and new actors are emerging onto the scene in both of these segments. Television is growing particularly quickly as digital terrestrial TV (DTTV) has opened up access to international broadcasting for a broader segment of the population.

PRINT SEGMENT: Print media continues to play an important role. For a country with a population of just 1.5m, media sales are considerable. Sogapresse, the state-owned press distributor and a subsidiary of the French company Presstalis, estimates 11m copies of print periodicals are sold each year. Sogapresse has seen 10% annual growth in overall media sales since 2009, due in part to the fact that several publications have improved their periodicity.

However, long distances and transport bottlenecks make reaching the interior costly and difficult, with Sogapresse drawing some 80% of its turnover from the Libreville area, followed by 13% from Port-Gentil and 7% from other urban areas. The distributor maintains 179 sales outlets in a total of 13 cities, including all provincial capitals.

Over 1400 international titles are sold in Gabon. As the market for print media has evolved, demand for international publications has remained stable, at around 40% of sales since the late 2000s. As Alain Calvy, the director-general of Sogapresse, told OBG, “The print media market has expanded consistently, and most of this growth is led by local titles rather than international ones.” A total of 84 publications were registered in 2012, including two major dailies, 18 weeklies and 64 monthly or periodic publications. However, due to financial constraints, only 60 of these were published during 2011.

DAILY NEWS: Print media is dominated by the country’s oldest daily newspaper, the independent L’estimates that daily readership is closer to 125,000 thanks to secondary and informal distribution channels. In 2011 L’Union raised its prices from CFA300 (€0.45) to CFA400 (€0.60), which resulted in a temporary drop in its share of the dailies market to 87%. However, the newspaper regained audience share in 2012 and currently represents 93% of sales of daily publications. L’Union invested roughly CFA3bn (€4.5m) between 2010 and 2011 to strengthen printing speed and quality. The introduction of a new rotary press has improved the aesthetics of the newspaper, and a new office software suite has helped streamline the layout and editing process.

The second daily newspaper, the state-owned Gabon Matin, was established as an alternative to L’Union in the lead-up to the 2009 presidential elections and is edited by the Gabonese Press Agency (Agence Gabonaise de Presse, AGP). While it is a relatively young publication, it has expanded from eight to 16 pages on the back of increased advertising, and has carved out a 7% market share among dailies, which has remained stable since 2009. Daily newspapers are an important communications platform, given their wide readership. Public and private tenders, public service announcements and government communiqués are most often publicised through L’Union and, to a lesser extent, Gabon Matin.

OTHER PERIODICALS: The remaining market is made up of a diverse range of weekly, monthly and periodic publications. In general, most experience average sales of 500-1500 copies per publication at prices between CFA400 (€0.60) and CFA500 (€0.75). Some of the more widely read weekly and monthly general newspapers, including Echos du Nord, La Griffe, Ezombolo and Le Nganga, see upwards of 2000 copies sold per publication.

Despite an already competitive market, a number of publications targeting the business community have emerged in recent years. The 36-page monthly Economie Gabon+ was launched in June 2010 and has an average press run of 10,000 copies. The paper includes features on growth sectors, key operators and local trends. Several other publications, including two monthly periodicals, Gabon Magazine and Gabon Emergent News, focus on news related to the three pillars of the national development strategy, Emerging Gabon – Green Gabon, Services Gabon and Industrial Gabon – for a foreign audience.

FINANCES: Many publications have limited financing and therefore do not publish regularly. In 2011, only 20 of the 84 local publications were able to respect their announced periodicity. Overhead costs can be quite high for print media. All of the materials (such as paper and ink) are imported, and Gabonese salaries are considerably higher than those in neighbouring countries. Also, given the small domestic market size, papers can only sell a limited number of copies, meaning that it is more difficult to spread out fixed costs by scaling up readership.

The government established a National Fund for the Development of the Press to support sector diversity, which provides CFA500m (€750,000) in annual subsidies to print media. Publishers and printers have also had to take a more flexible approach to production management and fiscal burdens. Sogapresse, for example, purchases the full press run from editors and absorbs the cost of unsold copies, which benefits both publishers and vendors. On average, 27% of all print media are returned unsold. Sogapresse also provides payment advances to help smaller publications publish regularly.

Many print outlets are privately owned and often support political parties or figures. This became more evident in early 2012 as several publications traded barbs in support of political personalities, raising some concerns regarding professionalism in the sector. Although staff members of more established publications go abroad for journalism training in France or regionally in Cameroon, Senegal or Côte d’Ivoire , many outlets are staffed by self-trained or amateur journalists, which contributes to the informal and often opinionated coverage in some smaller publications. The Gabonese Media Observatory (Observatoire Gabonais des Médias, OGAM), a private professional association that includes representatives of print, broadcast and online media, has a key role to play in this respect. In order to strengthen professional standards, OGAM offers training seminars and serves as an internal monitoring and advisory system among peers.

BROADCAST: State-owned Radiodiffusion Télé vision Gabonaise (RTG) dominates the broadcast market. It operates two television stations, RTG 1 and RTG 2, as well a network of radio stations with programmes on the social, economic and political life of the country. RTG held about 50% share of TV viewership in 2011 and is broadcast in 30 African countries as part of the satellite bouquet of CanalSat Horizons, the African affiliate of CanalSat.

The private television station TV+, owned by BO Communications, is the next most popular local station, but it has been subject occasionally to government censure. TéléAfrica, launched in 1985, and the religious station Radio Télévision Nazareth also top the list of Gabonese private channels.

FOREIGN CHANNELS: Local stations face increasing competition from international channels as the spread of satellite and DTTV opens up the market to larger and better-financed groups. As David Ella Mintsa, the director-general of RTG, told OBG, “The spread of affordable satellite television has completely transformed the media landscape. It is now easier than ever to compare channels, thus highlighting disparities in quality owing to different sizes of target audiences and budgets.”

Two satellite television providers, CanalSat Horizons and Satcon, have been present on the market for over a decade and have seen steady audience growth. As of 2011, CanalSat held a roughly 40% market share of the pay-TV segment. A 2010 marketing study conducted by TNS Sofres shows that while 92.2% of television audiences in Libreville reported tuning in to the main public channel, RTG 1, on a weekly basis, international channels nonetheless have made significant headway. Just over 45% of audiences in Libreville reported tuning in to France 24 in 2010, including 93.3% of business managers interviewed. TV5Monde reached 35.9% of Libreville’s viewing audiences, followed by 34.3% for Canal+.

International channels’ presence should increase further as the spread of DTTV improves access to international media. DTTV is capable of transmitting 8-10 channels on a single frequency, which has significantly lowered operating costs and expanded the programme offering for viewers. Gabon became the fourth country in sub-Saharan Africa and the first in the sub-region to introduce DTTV in 2009, after Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. Digital TV, marketed under the brand name TNT Africa, was selected to implement the government-led effort to make a full national transition to digital television by 2015, when analogue signals will be ended worldwide.

DIGITAL: TNT Africa launched DTTV service in Libreville in September 2009 and Port-Gentil in November 2010, followed by the northern area of Oyem in October 2011. The service, which is offered in major urban centres with broadcasting towers located outside of Libreville and Port-Gentil, currently reaches over 80% of the population.

By June 2012, TNT Africa estimated that it had reached some 300,000 subscribers, although actual audience sizes may be larger as it is difficult to know precisely how many people watch the four basic national channels – RTG1, RTG2, TéléAfrica and Radio Télévision Nazareth – which TNT Africa broadcasts for free. Beyond the digital decoder, all that is required to receive DTTV is a standard “rake” antenna, with which more than 90% of households in Libreville are already equipped. In addition to the four basic channels, TNT offers several bouquets of national and international channels at CFA2500 (€3.75) for the basic 23-station bouquet, and between CFA1500 (€2.25) and CFA5000 (€7.50) for thematic sports, cinema and youth bouquets.

However, while subscriber numbers climbed rapidly following the DTTV launch in 2010, executives at TNT Africa are of the opinion that it has reached a point of stabilisation. “We have reached roughly our target market share in Gabon with 20% of total pay-TV viewership,” Morgan Juteau, the director of development for TNT Africa, told OBG.

LOCAL BROADCASTER RESPONSE: As viewership of international channels has increased through the spread of satellite and DTTV, it has pushed local broadcasters to reposition themselves in the media market in order to remain competitive. BO Communications, which manages TV+, has traditionally provided general content during its 24-hour broadcasts, divided among news, entertainment, sports and cultural programmes. As Frank Nguema, the chairman and CEO of the company, told OBG, “Increasing exposure to international channels and thematic programming has changed the media offer in Gabon and pushed local providers to modify their programme offerings. We are working to position ourselves as a local channel, increasing the proportion of local content production in both news and entertainment programming.”

The challenge many stations will face in the coming years will be to distinguish themselves as local content providers without giving up the international programmes audiences demand. However, local channels that choose to show foreign series and films must pay for expensive distribution rights.

CHANGING PREFERENCES: Increasing viewership of foreign channels has also increased demand for specific rather than general programming. A 2010 report by consultancy Balancing Act noted that there is a general trend in Africa toward theme-based programming and away from channels that show a mixture of news, cultural and entertainment programmes at various times of the day.

Market participants are already starting to adjust their offerings in response to changing preferences. In 2011 a law was passed that split RTG’s operations into two distinct entities, Gabon Télévision and Radio Gabon, which will allow each organisation to specialise and develop their offerings. On the TV side, RTG plans to create more thematic channels that focus on news, sports and culture. However, the company is still waiting for directors of the new organisations to be appointed and has therefore been in a holding pattern for much of 2012.

Gabon also stands to have a greater presence at the international level with the entrance of a new broadcast network. CNBC Africa, owned by South Africa-based Africa Business News 360, launched a Gabon bureau on January 23, 2012, its first in francophone Africa and sixth in sub-Saharan Africa. Created in 2007, CNBC Africa is not a competitor on the domestic broadcast market; the local audience is small given that all broadcasts are in English.

RADIO SEGMENT: Radio continues to be a dominant media source in the interior of the country. As rural areas are very sparsely populated, TV signal coverage is less available and the delivery of print media is costly and can be obstructed by poor road conditions. RTG manages a network of local radio stations with programmes on social, economic and political affairs, and plans to ramp up its radio offerings once the spin-off of Radio Gabon from the RTG is complete. Africa No1, the first pan-African radio station, was founded in Libreville in 1981 and has an estimated audience of 20m listeners throughout the continent. The station continues to broadcast despite experiencing serious financial difficulties in 2010-11 due to the pullout of the station’s Libyan investors. The Gabonese state is helping Africa No1 to survive, but it will likely seek another private sector partner to support the broadcaster in the long term. As in television, Gabonese radio broadcasters are facing competition from international stations such as Radio France Internationale and BBC Afrique, which are available as part of package deals and via FM relay. A 2010 market survey conducted by French group TNS Sofres found that 73.8% of listeners interviewed in Libreville tuned in to RFI on weekly basis.

WEB MEDIA: Although web media continues to be limited by low internet penetration, there are an increasing number of actors crowding into the space, including Gabonews, owned by communications group Le Label de l’Ogooué, and Gaboneco, edited by Direct Press. Both sites present a mix of local and international news and analysis. The national press agency, AGP, has a website that incorporates reporting from Gabon Matin in addition to news briefs.

A few new sites have also joined the market in recent years. Economie Gabon+ launched a website in 2010 accompanying its print publication, which focuses on economic news for a primarily international audience. Gabon Review, a website launched by ACI Gabon in 2011, also provides economic news and analysis for a strictly online audience.

The major daily newspaper, L’Union, announced it will start an online subscription programme that will allow members to access the full content of the print edition. “Our online subscription service targets a primarily international online audience which, while small, is an important demographic,” Laurent Pintault, a director at L’Union’s parent company Ediprint, told OBG. An online subscription will cost the same as the print version, and payment will be available in six-month or yearly increments. The service is expected to launch by the end of 2012, once subscription and payment systems are put in place.

However, sector expansion is limited by persistently low internet penetration rates. According to the Ministry of Digital Economy, only 18% of the population had access to internet services in 2011, and the total number of internet subscribers in the country stood at 282,776 as of the end of 2011. However, fewer than 7000 of these subscribers benefitted from high-speed access. While subscriber numbers have been slowly climbing, prices remain high and prohibitive for much of the population: around CFA30,000 (€45) for individuals and CFA150,000 (€225) for businesses, according to Gabon’s National Infrastructure Master Plan.

Capacity is likely to see a jump in the coming years as the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) fibre-optic cable is installed, which may boost online media in the medium term. The market is currently supplied by a single fibre-optic cable, the SAT3/WASC, which was subject to a Gabon Telecom monopoly until January 2012. The ACE cable, with a capacity of 40 GB per second, is expected to be commercially available by year-end 2012, but widespread access will not come before the national digital backbone is in place.

REGULATORY OVERSIGHT: The media is regulated by the National Communications Council (Conseil National de Communications, CNC), made up of nine officials from the public and private sector. The CNC has a double mission of protecting the constitutional right to freedom of the press and ensuring that the communications code is upheld by all operators. In the case of a communications code violation, the CNC has the ability to restrict broadcast hours or publication regularity, place an outlet in temporary suspension of up to three months, or to withdraw definitively the right to communicate. Media outlets can be reprimanded or suspended by the CNC for material deemed politically divisive.

A new communications code has been under discussion for over a year and will ultimately replace the current code, which dates back to 2001. Little specific information has been released about proposed revisions to the code, but the new version is expected to include provisions for the growing new media and advertising sectors and may loosen controls on press transgressions, including the decriminalisation of more serious code violations. However, the CNC is currently in transition as its new director, Guy Bertrand Mapangou, settles in following his appointment in May 2012. Few developments are expected before October 2012.

OUTLOOK: The arrival of new actors continues to diversify an already crowded market. Much of this growth has been due to the entry of internationally oriented media such as business publications as the government looks to boost foreign investment. The arrival of CNBC Africa moves the sector into new territory and should raise Gabon’s profile with an international and primarily anglophone audience.

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