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Is Africa Ready for the Digital Disruption of the Creative Economy? Ojoma Ochai

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

The Creative Economy is poised for potential disruption by rapidly changing digital technologies. The disruption will occur across the Value Chain which itself has been disrupted from being a linear sequence of activities, to a networked web of activity with iterative interactions across the web – a ‘Value Web’ if you will.


As an example, music fans (consumers) with direct access to the music (the product) by following the musician (the creator) on social media, become channels of marketing and distribution when they share the music with their own networks by making their own video (creation) of the song. This sharing (e.g. online on social media and ‘below the line’ via WhatsApp broadcasts), widens appeal and audiences (distribution) of the original music and leads to other opportunities for the musician for example brand endorsement deals (new revenue lines sometimes involving re-creation of the product) and live performances (exhibition). You get the gist – far from a straight-line engagement that a chain would suggest.


As if the Value Chain disruption is not enough, other technological disruptions are occurring (Oluwa wetin dey occur?) and in some cases, quite rapidly. I outline some examples below.

Improving capability of Artificial Intelligence (AI) (you know... intelligence but by machines) is leading to increasing use of AI in production of cultural outputs. Early examples of this include Sony CSL Research Lab release, in 2016, of Daddy’s Car and Mister Shadow , both songs composed by Artificial Intelligence. A World Economic Forum Paper, quoting 2018 Research published by the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, predicts that by 2027, AI will have produced a top 40 pop song, creative video by 2028 and a New York Times bestseller by 2048. As Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO described when presenting Microsoft Quarterly earnings to Wall Street in April 2020 - ‘We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months’, these milestones are probably closer than these timelines suggest! AI is also increasingly used in 'Recommender Systems' to, for example, predict what you will enjoy, based on what you watched or listened to previously, on platforms like Netflix and Spotify.


During the global lockdowns earlier in the year, Netflix and YouTube combined had over 25% of the global internet traffic . If you’re thinking that these stats are irrelevant to Africa and its Creative Economy, then consider that according to PWC, Nigeria, (which in previous years, was ranked by PWC as the fastest growing major market for Entertainment and Media (E&M) in the world), secured 69% of E&M revenue through internet access in 2018, and the proportion of this revenue is expected to rise to 81% by 2024. Outside the internet growth, the report suggests that TV and Video are the highest growth segments for the country.


Africa has the highest volume of mobile connection to the internet with almost 61% of African web traffic being by mobile according to Statista . Streaming video is over 65% of all mobile traffic by volume . When you consider these two stats and the fact that according to GSMA, internet adoption stands at only 24% and that this is set to rapidly grow as forecast by several analysts including Research and Markets’ Sub-Saharan Africa Telecoms Market: Trends and Forecasts 2019–2024, then you can see that we cannot ignore the implications of the internet and connectivity (particularly through mobile) on our sector.


There are other technological advancements that (I reckon) will disrupt the African Creative Economy. The role of hardware is one critical factor. If you’ve heard of the Jio Effect, you know of the Indian Phone Manufacturer that disrupted the Indian Telecom sector by introducing their (somewhat) free, quasi – smart phones to the market. The Jio Effect skyrocketed India (as of 2018) to number 1 in terms of data consumption in the world. What were they consuming with the data? You guessed right if you said Indian Music and Videos (in the main). I'm sure I can find you a stat with growth numbers for smartphone penetration and for increasing sophistication of feature phones with lower price points which enhance affordability by a wider African population - but I won't (Don't be Oliver Twist - I'll be here when you get back from finding it yourself). Our Boomplay in Africa with 75 million users as of June 2020 according to Statista is another example of the increasing role of hardware players in the ecosystem. (Boomplay is owned by Transnet Music Limited, Hong Kong, a member of Transnet Group, itself a Joint Venture between NetEase Group China and Transsion Holdings Group – the makers of Tecno Mobile). We haven’t yet talked of Apple with Apple TV and Apple TV+. If I were a betting woman, I’d say we should expect a new stream (couldn’t resist the pun!) of business that involves commissioning of their own content in the coming months or years.


Extended Reality (that covers the range of experiences that blend digital with physical realities e.g. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality) is another potential disruptor. I haven’t seen Holography / the use of ‘holograms’ explicitly classed as XR but I argue that it should be, because despite the technology being different in that holography is about advanced used of projection technology, the experience is (as far as I am concerned) an extension of our physical realities and so should fall here. The use cases for this are too many to list, and beyond the obvious gaming applications, include in film - 3D, 4D, 5D, 7D, 9D experiences, in theatre (see Punch Drunk’s Sleep No More), in music ( See the Eminem Augmented app that launched at Coachella in 2018) and in museums (Check out this XR Exhibition by the Museum of Vancouver. ) Controversial as it was, the Dr Dre, Snoop and Tupac Shakur performance at Coachella, in 2012 (16 years after Tupac passed), demonstrated the power of the technology (Pepper’s Ghost) to create an illusion of a live and performing Tupac, using projection equipment and glass. The Whitney Houston Hologram Tour, while using different technology is another indication of how technology can be used for creating high quality live experienced when the performer is …otherwise occupied. Fashion is not left out - you may have seen the virtual, 3D fashion show by Anifa Mvemba, Congolese– American fashion designer in May 2020.


Blockchain is another technology that can disrupt the industry including potentially through aggregating music ownership information in a central searchable database (a gamechanger for music licencing and royalty payments if it happens).


You may have noticed that most of the examples featured above are of Global North extraction. That is not to say there is no exciting work happening at the intersection of Creativity and Technology in Africa. Electric South with origins in Capetown are planning Africa's first free online Virtual Reality festival, Nairobi-based Black Rhino VR are an amazing company specialising in virtual reality film making and immersive experiences. The short film by Nigerian Director, Joel Kachi Benson’ to commemorate 5 years of the heart-breaking kidnap of 200 Chibok Schoolgirls, won the Best VR Immersive Story for Linear Content Award at the Venice Film festival in 2019.

The questions for me though are many. They include: Is there enough awareness in the African Creative Economy, of the opportunities and threats that all these digital advances portend? Are African creatives and content makers properly positioned to capture this value for the continent? What stake do we as the African Creative Economy have in the ownership of platforms where this value is created? Who is commissioning the content that is going on these platforms? What stories are getting told? Who is getting paid? There are many upsides but do we understand the downsides enough? What is the implication for Cultural Policy? For the role of government?


The above and a host of other lines of related enquiry are a growing area of preoccupation for me and in the survey below, I invite you to share your personal experience engaging at the intersection of Digital Technology and the Creative Economy in Africa.

The results will be published in a report in December 2020. I will share excerpts publicly and full results with survey respondents who indicate they’d like to receive the full report. Please complete the survey Preparedness for Digital Disruption: Is the African Creative Economy Ready?

All respondents will also receive a free, twelve-month subscription to my blog where, starting October 2020, I share information on trends, opportunities and other explorations at the intersection of Creative Economy and Digital Technology particularly for Africans.

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