Earlier this month, Comcast and the Africa Channel made the announcement that the channel was coming to Chicago. Besides selected cities in the US, the Africa Channel can also be seen in the Bahamas, Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados West Indies, and on SKY in the United Kingdom. Bob Reid, EVP and network general manager from Africa Channel, takes realscreen through the new development.
The Africa Channel has added Chicago to the list of cities it can be seen in, which previously included New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., among others. What does it mean to the network to add another city to its roster?
Our goal is to be seen by everybody, everywhere in the country. Chicago is monumentally important in terms of our rollout. The fact that the channel is now available in the third largest city [in the U.S.] is further validation of the power and quality of our content and the acceptance of the channel as one that deserves to be carried throughout the country.
Who are your viewers?
That’s the beauty of the Africa Channel because our viewers are, whether it’s the US or the UK, the broad demo mix that [makes up] the country… But in addition to that, it’s African-Americans who find a unique connection to the homeland that they know or don’t know, and of course the African expats who can watch the shows they used to watch back in Africa and connect with their homeland.
The Africa Channel carries reality competition shows, documentaries under the ‘African Mosaic’ strand and lifestyle programming. What is your programming strategy when it comes to non-fiction content?
Our strategy for non-fiction is to do two things: to be [providing] entertaining programming in recognizable, quality formats, and to provide viewers with a level of insight into Africa that they otherwise cannot and will not get from anyplace else.
Is that the channel’s goal overall?
All of our programming is designed to convey the beauty and complexity of Africa and get beyond the obvious things that most of the media conveys. [It's also designed to help people] understand that there is this great rich cultural history and tradition, great art, entertainment, great actors and craftspeople in the entertainment media who can create world-class, quality programming.
Where is your programming coming from?
Our schedule since launch has primarily been based on acquiring great content that exists. We are now beginning to produce more of our own content. A notable series we’ve done ourselves is Soundcheck at Momo’s, an interview/profile music show featuring the top African acts performing unplugged. Another series, Just In Africa, features Justine Drake, who many consider to be the foremost expert on indigenous African cuisine. We’re producing a great deal more going forward and as well looking to coproduce with both broadcasters and producers from all across the world, particularly from Africa.
Are you accepting producers’ pitches?
We are. We’re being a little bit selective because we have to be very careful about the amount of things we can outright commission. We’re a start-up network so every dollar for us is precious. That’s part of the reason, but the more important reason is that we really want to present programming that is authentically African from an African perspective. That means that our first preference is always to produce with somebody from the continent because our view is not that Canadians or Americans or Europeans should go to Africa and interpret Africa. It’s fine to go to Africa and work with Africans to bring out and produce great content, but where we can, as a first preference, we would choose to work with African companies and broadcasters and produce with them. With that caveat, yes, we are beginning to look at coproductions.