Joseph Otieno Adamson, Managing Director of the new TV Station Africans in London or AIL TV, is a man whose enthusiasm for all things media knows no bounds. A talented musician, he attended a university course to learn to become a music producer, set up his own recording studio and later decided to extend his talents to video and the world of broadcast. I visited him at his home studio to find out more about his rapid development as a broadcaster.
“It all started in the year 2000,” explained Joseph, “with an idea I had to produce a TV programme which was more or less a postcard, an electronic postcard to send home to Africa. In it, I wanted to show what life was like in London for Africans living here. You see,” he continued, “when someone from Africa comes here to London he leaves a lot of family behind and very soon, because he is now in London, they believe he is already rich. The requests for money to be sent home come in all the time, often three times a day, because they don’t understand what life is like here. There are tremendous pressures on African immigrants that no one really knows about. So I thought a TV programme for everyone would help. That was the start of it.”
To learn just how to do that, Joseph spent time working as a volunteer with a number of African TV channels, including Faith TV, Passion TV and Revelation TV, a religious channel. He made short programmes for these channels and even wrote and presented the news! “I felt there was something missing from these channels even though they were African,” he said. “They often accepted any material just to fill a spot and didn’t reflect the true African experience.”
Through a series of trial and error experiments and the careful study of the latest technology at shows and exhibitions, Joseph eventually decided on an innovative form of IP TV, working with Global Digital Broadcast, an IPTV specialist, which supplies end-to-end IPTV solutions. Adamson enthused: “I met GDBTV at the 2006 Broadcast LIVE and Video Forum (now Broadcast Video Expo) in London and I was intrigued at their system of streaming content on the internet and showing it on a TV. I decided to go back the following year to see how it had developed and I was impressed with the improvement in quality.”
He adds: “It was after this last meeting that I started to develop AILTV. GDBTV agreed to work with me and my new channel and their technology and the global possibilities of IPTV have allowed me to not only bring my original ideas to full fruition, but to take them further than I thought was possible. The result, in AILTV, makes all my hard work and persistence worthwhile.”
Africans in London TV is an exciting, and vibrant new channel, set up as a limited company and being run as an expanding business by Adamson and his partners. AIL TV programmes are often made by Joseph and his team and have to fit the following criteria: They are made by or are about people of African heritage. Alternatively, they reflect the interests and culture of people of African heritage in London or indeed throughout the world.
Content includes fashion and beauty; music and entertainment; business and current affairs; cultural and community features; films and documentaries.
Adamson continues: “Our aim is to spotlight the skills and talents of people of African heritage, and to forge connections between all peoples of African descent. This aim is made possible through the global possibilities of internet TV. We are particularly interested in promoting young African programme makers, and showcasing high quality work on our channel that fits one or more of the above criteria.
“A good example of a specialist interest that AIL will soon be able to provide is African sport.” Said Joseph, “there is very little African sport shown on any of the European channels except for football when the African cup is shown. We have just finalised an agreement, which means we will be working closely with the leading African content provider A24Media based in Kenya. A24Media is a production company who will be supplying us with a wide range of sports competitions from the African continent.”
AILTV is available on the internet from the AILTV website at www.AILTV.com or from GDBTV’s Go portal (http://www.gouktv.com/player.php) new technology makes the service available via the set-top box IPTV service in the UK. Called ‘Something TV’ (http://something.info/tv), the set-top service is available on subscription and installation similar to a cable service, The new set-top box revolution is gaining in popularity and Joseph is currently trialling a system in his studio. The hybrid set-top is designed to seamlessly handle the transition from digital terrestrial to IPTV and allows the user to watch free-to-view and IP delivered TV stations, on a terrestrial television set.
A typical set-top box incorporates full IPTV capabilities; free-to-view tuner; digital video hard drive; and HD up-convert capability. High performance, multi codec set-top boxes are designed for high definition applications, with home networking ability to play media from a PC or storage device. On subscription the set-top box comes free of charge but there are also more comprehensive units available with a built in hard drive for recording for around £99.
“This is the future, it’s here already!” cries Joseph, “We are talking serious miniaturisation for me to produce a whole TV station with my equipment.”
He is not joking! Joseph’s programme making gear consists of a Canon HV20 HD camera and two non HD cameras, a Sony VX1000 and a PD100, for fill in shots. His vision mixer is a flightcased Data Video SE500 and his resulting footage is edited on an Apple Mac using Final Cut Pro. From his studio in his unassuming north London terraced house, he encodes the resulting footage using the Windows Media encoder and sends the finished programmes via FTP to Global Digital Broadcast’s HQ in Brighton from where it is published on their servers.
Audio is handled by a selection of microphones and recorded on a Zoom H4 which Joseph says gives him a good enough quality for most applications. The Zoom H4 is a handheld solid-state recorder with built-in stereo mic, two combi XLR/quarter-inch jack inputs and USB output. The entire unit measures 70 x 152.7 x 35mm. For more complex mixes he uses his Yamaha ProMix 01 mixing desk. A pair of monitor speakers, two TV monitors and a selection of outboard units complete the studio set up. As Joseph points out it is minimal but with modern technology he really does not need much more to be a broadcaster. “We can even make our programmes in 5.1 surround sound,” he adds. “The studio is set up for surround and the set top boxes can actually receive 5.1.”
I asked Joseph what else the future might hold for AIL TV. “Well, we are in phase 1 at the moment and from the end of March we expect to be entering phase two. We plan to buy a Niagara 'GoStream', a portable, one-button streaming encoding appliance designed to make capturing and streaming video a simple, easy to use process. This will give us the capability to broadcast live from almost anywhere that has a broadband connection. That could mean live concerts and interviews and all sorts of magazine type broadcasts. It’s very exciting!” He exclaimed.
Also in phase two will be the ability to add a pay per view facility on the channel for films and other programmes which viewers will be able to watch at any time 24 hours a day. Thanks to the GDBTV software, AIL is able to provide sub channels to cater for specialist interests. So there will soon be AIL Music, AIL Fashion and AIL Religion. Separate channels, each available on demand 24 hours a day. I put it to him that there must be a considerable potential for attracting advertisers.
He agreed: “With our channel being broadcast on the internet we have a potential audience of Africans all around the world. There over 100 million Africans living outside Africa and these people are all our potential viewers. We plan to start running advertisements very soon and this will form the major part of our cash flow. Funding to date has been out of our own pockets, the whole operation has been funded by ourselves but once the pay per view facilities are in place and we can sell advertising then the channel can begin to expand.”
I asked Joseph how many viewers he had at this moment and he was understandably a little reticent. “I have only those who I have contacted and emailed about our new service. They are talking to their friends and the numbers are rising. In addition we have all those who have found our channel via GDBTV’s own website and their subscribers. They can provide me with all the statistics on viewers including what they are watching etc. but I don’t have that information at the moment.”
“A good example of our strategy for reaching new viewers is happening in July. There is a live event based around a trade show for Rwanda. It will be of interest to Rwandans worldwide. We plan to broadcast this event live and to promote it via Global’s marketing department, informing Rwandans everywhere about it. This way we hope they will remain as regular viewers and so we will keep growing.” Joseph laughs. His enthusiasm is infectious and I am not surprised that he has got this venture off the ground almost single handedly.
His figures add up. If he can attract just a small percentage of the 100 million ex-pat Africans he will attract his fair share of advertising budgets. He knows that he will need someone to help with the hard sell though. In the short term he plans to offer to make adverts at a very reasonable price for those advertisers wanting to sell to the African community. “There are a lot of companies who would like to reach their own African buyers but the costs on national and regional TV are simply too high.” Explains Adamson.
AIL TV is encouraging young African designers to make advertisements using African models for their own market. “Most UK advertising companies do not use black Africans to sell products but we think we can do just that, and make it work successfully, on AIL TV. I have put together a production team to make adverts who are highly skilled, from camera operators to lighting and sound engineers, graphic artists, editors, script writers, directors and producers. We will be offering very good value for money.”
AILTV is committed to promoting young African film talent and showcasing all Africa-related, high quality work on the channel. The company is also interested in TV programmes for kids and teenagers of African heritage, particularly animation.
Joseph is passionate about the importance of new technology. “If we Africans do not learn this technology, and make use of it, then we will find ourselves 20 years behind. It is no good having another country come and build a TV station for us in Africa if we don’t know how to use it. We must learn to build our own media industry.” He adds; “We are even planning to provide training to young Africans who are interested in learning. Perhaps some kind of apprenticeship.”
The design, approach and general vibe of AIL TV is a happy, interesting one and I found myself enjoying the broadcast of a concert by a group of African musicians and thinking, in conclusion: ‘This is real TV’. It might be produced on a budget but it does the job.