Discop: African Broadcasters Find Gold in Sports

Efe Atiyio: 'More than ever, local content is finding a voice in Africa'

When Lagardere Entertainment announced it had bought the rights to the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament between 2017 and 2028 for $1 billion, many in the broadcasting world took notice.

While European soccer remains the tentpole sports property for broadcasters in Africa, the premium price paid for the acquisition of the continent’s biggest soccer competition highlights the growing influence and potential of homegrown sports content.

For African broadcasters especially, local content offers a chance to package and monetize programming that allows it to establish a brand that resonates with African auds.

“More than ever, local content is finding a voice … in Africa,” said Efe Atiyio of Tanzania’s Azam TV.

With the lucrative rights to English soccer’s Premier League, South Africa’s SuperSport, owned by MultiChoice, remains the giant of African sports content, and the only broadcaster that can afford the world’s most expensive sports properties.

But emerging players like Azam TV are finding a niche by broadcasting — and increasingly producing — telecasts of local sports leagues.

For Atiyio, the decision comes down to simple math.

“This continued tussle [for premium sports rights] has only led to the prices skyrocketing out of proportion,” he said, citing the example of Nigeria’s HiTV, whose bidding war for English Premier League rights eventually bankrupted the company. “Does it really make business sense?”

Marquee competitions and sports leagues are still a big draw. Priced out of the Premier League, both Azam TV and China’s StarTimes have seen the value in snatching up other top-level soccer rights, such as StarTimes’ acquisition of Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A.

In July, the Canal Plus Group launched Canal Plus Sport, a four-channel bouquet that’s bolstered by a strong slate of European soccer tournaments, as well as the NBA, rugby, Formula 1 racing, the French Open and Wimbledon.

“It’s good to have international rights,” said Atiyio, while stressing the need to “look inward and develop our strategies for building local sports content.”

Investing in local sports and improving broadcasting facilities, he said, create a virtuous cycle whereby the product on the screen becomes more attractive to both viewers and buyers — an important consideration with millions of Africans across the diaspora hungry for homegrown content.

That in turn makes local sports content more lucrative for rights holders.

“The more we invest in it, the more we work at it, the more we believe in it … those assets will become premium,” he said.

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