By Lenin Ndebele
BULAWAYO- NOVEMBER 14 will pass as just another day for many people, except for those marking their birthdays or anniversaries of whatever kind.
If you are watching television in Zimbabwe, take a moment to reflect on this day for it is the 56th year since the arrival of television.
The country was the first in southern Africa and only second in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria to receive a television signal in 1960.
The capital city, Salisbury, now Harare, was the first to transmit television signals and Bulawayo followed seven months later.
Rhodesian Television (RTV) had regional investors from South Africa such as the Argus Group of newspapers, the parent company of the Rhodesia Herald, but South Africa was to introduce television 16 years later in 1976.
Primarily, RTV represented the interests of the Federal Broadcasting Corporation, now the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
In 1965, when the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) was passed, the Southern Rhodesia’s racist minority government took over television. At Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, and the establishment of a black middle class, television became a status symbol.
But in years that followed, the television became a must-have for every household.
Other African countries caught up and began colour television broadcasts before Zimbabwe, which had its first in 1984. Some scholars argue that Southern Rhodesia’s development pace slowed down because of international trade sanctions and disturbances by the war of liberation.
Fast forward to the present day, Zimbabweans are getting television services from not just the confines of the country’s borders.
Pay television made its way into our living rooms. In 1986, M-Net was launched in South Africa by Naspers and in 1993 MultiChoice was created by the company to handle the business side through selling decoders and subscriber services.
Through DSTV in 1995, Naspers took over Africa. Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and other state players across Africa had to compete with DSTV.
Almost every household switched to DSTV forcing state broadcasters to also air on the DSTV platform, which now boasts of at least eight million subscribers across Africa.
But just under a century since John Logie Baird’s 1926 “televisor” or mechanical television (as it was known) gave the world his invention, the TV is finding itself playing a lesser role in society with the advent of the internet.
Popular South African television shows now post their episodes on YouTube simultaneously as they are aired on television.
Traditional soapies such as Generations: The Legacy and the ChiVenda drama Muvhango generate impressive online hits. There are even adverts that go with the shows online, which are not the same as those on television.
There is also independent content that finds its way into online platforms and naturally outstanding material gets recognised.
In the new era, TV networks has been forced to seek relevance.
“TV is faced with a similar scenario to what printed newspapers find themselves in,” said Dr Hayes Mabweazara, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism Studies at Falmouth University, United Kingdom, and editor of the book, Online Journalism in Africa.
In response to the tide, Naspers early this year launched its internet-TV and video streaming service ShowMax in 36 African countries.
This was in response to Netflix, a streaming and video-on-demand television broadcast company’s arrival in Africa. Netflix has more than 65 million streaming customers in more than 190 countries across the globe.
Netflix is not the only threat; another entrant in mobile TV is Kwese Sport, owned by Zimbabwean telecommunications mogul Strive Masiyiwa.
International research by Digital TV, a European based think tank, indicates that television will ultimately give way to the internet, which is fast gaining ground.
“Traditional TV viewing is still the major form of media consumption, but internet consumption in second is gaining ground,” the report says.
However, despite the incursion of these new streaming services, they are hindered by excessive data charges in most African countries, especially Zimbabwe, while internet speeds are another obstacle that is yet to be overcome.