Whether incidentally or through design, ZBC has managed to monopolize television broadcasting in the country for decades. Of course, excluded here are all the “local” channels that can only be viewed through satellite television. This means that anyone and everyone in the country who wishes to produce a television show for a mass audience and get paid for it only has a single possible customer to approach. Unfortunately, that one customer also happens to be one of the least financially sound parastatals in the country. It is, therefore, safe to say that the country has no television industry to speak of—just a few isolated and optimistic producers who have to find ways to make do with the poor deals that only a broke monopoly can offer.
In the last decade, the internet has opened up alternative distribution channels and sources of income for content creators. This has resulted in many talented individuals shunning broadcasters in favour of independently distributing their own content online. Recently some local producers created and released a very popular television series (or web series) directly on YouTube. This is a development that should shake our lone TV broadcaster out of its complacency but that is very unlikely. The success that Wadiwa wepamoyo has enjoyed is likely to lure content creators, both future and present, away from ZBC and onto the internet. There are a number of ways in which TV producers who choose to distribute their content online can earn money which rivals the famously meagre compensations offered by ZBC.
Setting the stage
In Zimbabwe since even broadcaster backed TV shows are produced on shoestring budgets, I foresee an increase in the online release of material. ZBC will have to either compensate its creators better or risk losing them to the internet where some of their advertisers are sure to follow. In addition, with the reduced incentive to approach ZBC with their material, content creators may effectively turn the tables around with the institution being forced to be the one pursuing creators of shows that are proving to be popular online—after all, online video distribution platforms also happen to be very excellent tools for testing how well content resonates with audiences.
How they will make money
Online tutorials, talks, discussions, presentations and other similar video material can open up offline revenue streams for their creators. These often take the form of conferences, seminars and live appearances. Creators of “non-fiction” web series (in the format of similar traditional TV shows) can also utilise these strategies to earn money. A financial literacy program or even something created for pure entertainment value can also make money through these offline events. In such cases the online videos are merely means of marketing these brands and building loyal followings. Money can then be made from the ticket sales for these offline events.
If a show is popular enough, the creators can also sell merchandise as a means of earning revenue. Examples of products that can be sold include branded coffee mugs, t-shirts and hats. The shows will also serve as the main marketing platform for the merchandise being sold. If there is real risk of someone else producing merchandise based on the creators’ intellectual property, it can be protected through trademarks.
Product placements are both a profitable and somewhat underhanded way of advertising through entertainment. It can take the form of simply placing the product onscreen, where subtle or no reference is made to it. In more aggressive strategies, the advertised product is incorporated into the script itself or, in the case of nonfictional productions, the benefits and features are repeatedly touted. This is commonplace with many Zimbabwean comedians who have turned to YouTube and other video streaming services to publish their content.
Sometimes brands are happy to sponsor a show just for the benefit of increasing awareness of their brand name. Most of this awareness is supposed to come from the onscreen acknowledgement of the sponsor and any additional branding that may accompany this.
Platforms like YouTube—where most of the independent creators already share their content— have their own advertising programs which can be lucrative for creators. In such cases, the platform itself deals with advertisers and receives payments. This advertising revenue is then subsequently shared with the creators of any of the videos on which the content was shared. This is already being used to earn money by thousands of content creators including popular Zimbabwean ones such as Bustop TV.
None of the above strategies for earning revenue is new; they have been used for years by creators of amateur videos. The only difference is that creators of what should be traditional TV content in countries like ours may discover that making money online is more lucrative than submitting their creations to their local broadcasters. Both the reach and speed of the internet have improved enough for them to have sizeable local audiences online. All that these people need is an assurance that their traditional audiences are willing to follow them online—Zimbabwean creators have received all the proof they need through Wadiwa wepamoyo. Each of the ten episodes received not less than 200 000 views. Considering the size of Zimbabwe’s population and the number of internet users, this is a very good figure and will likely grow.