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Discop: Dubbing Helps Break Down Africa’s Language Barrier

If there was a common thread throughout the week at Discop Africa, which wrapped Nov. 6, it was the sense that the traditional walls in African broadcasting were coming down.

With heavyweights like South African pubcaster SABC, France’s Canal Plus Group, and global distributor Cote Ouest Audiovisual all looking to bridge the divide between French- and English-speaking markets, opportunities are emerging for dubbing companies to scale the language barrier.

Markus Davies of South Africa’s Urban Brew Studios — which has built its own dubbing facilities — said as the continent’s TV space begins to shrink, companies looking to provide “turnkey solutions” need to cross the linguistic divide.

“For the last 28 years, [the South African industry] was focusing purely on content with a South African perspective,” he said. But as local companies begin to embrace the pan-African market, “a South African facility has got to have the ability to provide a comprehensive solution,” and not be hampered by language.

With 11 official languages to contend with, South African production companies and broadcasters have historically had experience in the market. But on a continent of 1 billion people and as many as 3,000 languages, Africa is a virtual Babel offering a host of opportunities for content producers looking to reach new audiences.

While many African languages are spoken by minority ethnic groups, others — such as Swahili and Hausa — have a potential reach in the tens of millions. Even smaller niche auds are becoming attractive to broadcasters as the African TV market evolves.

“Because of the digital migration, it changes the way we can access people,” said Caroline Mbindyo of Nairobi-based African Voices Dubbing Co., which began operations this year. “We already have radio in various dialects. So, give them TV.”

Last month, Kenya saw the launch of its first TV station in Kikuyu, a language spoken by more than 6 million people. Major pay-TV players like South Africa’s DStv and China’s StarTimes are increasingly launching indigenous-language channels, such as DStv’s popular Africa Magic Hausa and StarTimes’ Bollywood Luganda.

Mbindyo told independent producers looking to sell their content at Discop that “dubbing needs to be part of the budget conversation from the start.”

“If you have one series that has the potential to be sold to 10 broadcasters … you’re going to make up the margins in the end,” she said. “It feels expensive at first, but bottom line is it’s going to open you up to a whole new market.”

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