By Will Mutua
When listening to discussions on local content, it is sometimes a bit vague what the intended meaning is. Is it content that is created locally for local consumption exclusively? Is it content that is just created locally but could be consumed by anyone, anywhere? Is it content that is not necessarily created locally but is consumed locally? If anything really, just the term ‘local content’ is quite ambiguous in itself as really what we are concerned with here is ‘Local Digital Content’. What really is local content? And why is it that there’s such a push for more local content?
In today’s globalised world, it has become harder and harder to any one or any nation to exist in it’s own little cocoon, disconnected and totally cut off from the rest of the world. Over time the developments in telecommunications, faster and more efficient means of transport, the Internet, the World Wide Web, and other factors have led to an ever more increasingly connected world where people, goods, services and perhaps most importantly (in a world that relies heavily on the knowledge economy); information. At the heart of the local (digital) content is really about information represented as bits and bytes stored on computers and travelling rapidly across networks.
Perhaps a more refined term that would help us understand local content is ‘locally relevant (digital) content‘. The real value of local content is in it’s relevance within a particular culture. That relevance is what makes it desirable for consumption by people within that locality. Again, however, globalisation has led to a situation where sometimes there are gray areas between differing cultures from different parts of the world. The fact is that cultures have been opened up to influence from other cultures that are both near and far from the physical location of a people. So as far as local content is concerned, there could be, as we will see, a lot of content that is interesting for people within a specific culture that is not necessarily restricted to that locality.
But why the push towards promoting local content? Even Internet Father, Vint Cerf, noted the significance of local content and was among the 3 key memes we identified during his talk at the Nairobi innovation hub during his visit there. Governments are also seeing opportunities local content significantly, in Kenya for example, the Kenya ICT Board has set out a very focused agenda for local content in it’s ‘Tandaa‘ initiative.
‘Tandaa’ is a brand of the Kenya ICT Board that promotes the creation and distribution of locally relevant digital content through the Tandaa Symposium and seed money to ICT entrepreneurs.
Through the Tandaa initiative, the Kenyan government has proceeded to hold events to promote local digital content generation and even providing capital through its local digital content grant initiative. The government has also not left it to private sector to generate local digital content but is making it’s own efforts such as the Kenya Open Data Initiative through which the government is opening up access to public data in a way that is easily consumable and programmable.
From the government’s perspective, local content generation creates jobs for people – the programmers, designers, animators, videographers etc that it takes to create content and possibly businesses as well. Engaging content also means that it’s interesting to the public who will be interested in consuming this content – watching a video, reading an article, playing a game – engaging content can be monetized and that means there’s an economic incentive there as well. In addition there would be skills learnt or transferred in the process – programming, animating etc.
The private sector of course, sees the opportunity in local content and major companies, from Nokia to Google are banking on local content:
Electronics manufacturer Nokia is planning to rollout handsets in Kenya embedded with local applications and content, in order to boost mobile sales in the local competitive market.
Kenneth Oyolla, General Manager, Nokia East and Southern Africa says mobile application marketing is a rapidly growing sector and advertising channel for brands.
Oyolla says teaming up with local developers to create local content and applications for phone users is gaining momentum.
“Increase in use of apps by the youth and middle class is spurning an unprecedented growth. We are looking at local apps critically and would increase our investment in local contents,” says Oyolla.
Nokia is planning to invest in local applications as developers seek to create more relevant mobile user solutions.
“Locally, the growth of mobile Internet subscription coupled with a significant use of smartphones is key to the growth of mobile application segment,” says Oyolla.
Earlier on we mentioned that the relevance of content, such that it becomes interesting to people has been greatly affected by globalisation and the blurring of cultural boundaries. Let’s break this discussion down into the different kinds of locally relevant, digital content that emerge out of this influence:
Locally Produced, Locally Consumed
This is content that is created within, say a country (if we take people of a country to have same prevailing culture, generally speaking), that makes sense really only within that cultural setting so that it would only likely be consumed by people from that culture or who understand the culture. A very simple example would be a joke that only a native would understand and consequently laugh to. This kind of content contains elements that are unique to the local culture.
The Kenya government has very specific intentions for more of this kind of content through it’s initiatives. Take this quote by Dr. Bitange Ndemo:
The PS in the Ministry of Information and Communication, Dr Bitange Ndemo said with the laying of the fibre optic cable nearing completion there is need to generate web content for the enormous bandwidth that will be in place early next year…
“We don’t want a situation where Americans or Europeans will use this resource to drive their content and we later end up not having ours. We have already created an enabling environment to make the cost of access low,” he said.
This is also the kind of content that is likely to be most attractive for the local population.
Locally Produced, Globally Consumed
This kind of content is locally created, through the use of local resources and talent but given the impact of globalisation on cultures, the content ends up being relevant across different parts of the world or at least with other similar cultures from around the world.
This is perhaps sometimes overlooked but perhaps has even higher chances for better economic returns than the previous kind which is locked in within a small area of relevance, so to speak.
To show the contrast, take for example a website that provides purely local content that is only makes sense for people in that country, say Kenya. In this case there’s a limited scope for distribution of the content. Secondly, given low internet penetration rates in many African countries, the number of people who actually get to interact with the content limits distribution further. Of course, mobile would be a better channel but there are kinds of content that are not best suited for mobile or perhaps would be too costly for the consumer in terms of data rates, such as video content.
On the other hand, take a website that produces content that is not just relevant for that specific country, but also across say, all of Africa. Africa is definitely a very diverse continent culturally, but there are also similarities, again, particularly because of globalisation e.g. just the fact that many countries are english speaking. The dynamics change and chances for success increase significantly because now there’s a bigger population hence wider distribution and the combined e.g. internet penetration rate means more people can access your content. Jobs and businesses are still created locally, yet the content has possibly global distribution, meaning more opportunities for economic success.
Globally Produced, Locally Consumed
Lastly, content can be relevant within a locality yet it is not produced within that locality. This is sort of the darker side of globalisation. It can be argued that for example whereas web content is concerned, majority of content consumed within African countries does not originate from within the continent. It is content that is produced by the likes of BBC, Al Jazeera, Yahoo and other major multi-national companies.
In this case, since the content is not produced locally, there are no jobs created locally or skills transferred in the course of creating the content. In addition the content sits on platforms outside the country so that even internet traffic is largely external. There’s very little economic gain to the country.
A brief note on platforms
Something interesting to note as far as local content generation is concerned as far as where that content is hosted is that much of the content that is generated locally ends up sitting on platforms that are not located or owned locally. For example, Facebook hosts tons of content in the form of wall posts, notes etc that is created by people from within say, Kenya, but that content is on Facebook’s platforms. Same case with, for example YouTube. This has led to initiatives by some of these companies to promote local content e.g. Facebook Zero and YouTube Kenya but the content still ends up on their platforms and is consequently demanded from those platforms, which at the end benefits not local businesses but a foreign company.
This creates a mixed set of fortunes for a country such as Kenya – there are opportunities for example for wider distribution of content by local producers, yet there is a limitation in the number of jobs that could be created such as the programmers and designers it would have taken to create and maintain the platform as is the case with platforms such as Whive in Kenya and Blueworld Communities in South Africa, that are targeted communities that serve the local population
One final note, the world is flat
The thing with local content and the impact of globalisation is that really, anyone who is able to understand the cultural context from anywhere around the world can come up and create content that is even only relevant to a particular community. In other words, I don’t have to be Kenyan to make Kenyan-relevant content. This means that there is the reality of international competition for local content to contend with and not only that but one can find aspects of a nations culture being ‘acquired’ and profited upon by foreigners.
Perhaps it would be best to open discussion at this point…