Businesses in Ghana, at least those that are national, follow a familiar trajectory. Usually, they begin in the capital – Accra – and their success and model replicated is in the other regions as they grow and expand.
Not so with the Skyy Media Group.
The Skyy Media Group has managed to buck this trend and after phenomenal success in Takoradi in the Western Region, it has arrived in Accra to bring their own brand of innovation and “development media” to viewers and listeners not only in Accra but the whole country via Digital Terrestrial Television.
Wilson Arthur is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the group. A former marketer who has always been involved in the entertainment industry, Mr Arthur says he went into the media industry with the desire and passion to impact people’s lives with entertainment. For a man who led entertainment during his school days and ran a mobile DJ group while living in London, this seems a natural progression.
Over the years, he has also taken up a new burden; through the power of his various media, he has been trying to positively influence the cause of national progress through what he calls “development media”.
“I believe the Media is the most reliable school that could be used to shape our minds and direct our energies appropriately for an efficient development of our country”, he says. But that is not always easy. As commercial enterprises, they must not only survive but make profits. This, he believes is why many media houses take the easy route of pleasing viewers and listeners with empty, sensational content.
Even for those who make the attempt, it goes little beyond “empanelling [popular media figures] to review newspaper stories.
“Of course some of us defy the norm. Skyy Power Fm [the group’s flagship in Takoradi] is arguably one of the outstanding FM radio brands when it comes to championing development. Indeed, we are recognized as the leading Civil Society Media brand in Ghana. We are the only Media brand represented on the DFID quarterly Civil Society focus discussion group. We won the 2010 KASA Media Awards”.
Skyy digital has a dedicated Channel for Development Content called Channel D. We broadcast Parliament proceedings and interviews as well as Governance events and other development issues. We provide a free platform to civil society, research and advocacy organisations.
Spotting an opportunity in 2006 when Ghana signed the international agreement to switch from analogue to digital television by 2015, the group applied for a license to operate a digital television infrastructure and was granted the license in 2008. In February 2009, they went on air with an eight Channel DVB-T service in Accra and Takoradi, adding Kumasi, Koforidua and Cape Coast along the way.
While being the leader in this new frontier is the source of some pride, there are notable challenges.
“The State is setting up another DTT Infrastructure to be managed by GBC and Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association. This means Skyy’s private DTT business will be competing with this PPP managed infrastructure paid for by Government of Ghana and all the existing private Television stations and GTV would be sitting on this one. What happens to the Skyy DTT Infrastructure?”
The Skyy Group passed up an opportunity to merge with the state DTT. A consummate entrepreneur, Mr Arthur, well aware of the difficulties that are usually attached to state projects, prefers to go it alone. He remains confident however, that there is “interest in the pay TV market. If the case elsewhere is anything to go by, I expect the cost of capacity on State DTT Infrastructure to be so steep that our business will flourish”, he maintains.
The wider industry is no less fraught with challenges. Firstly, advertising rates are suppressed by a state broadcaster that can afford to charge under market value due to the availability of state subvention. And while earlier operators like Metro TV and TV3 had significant state support, later entrants such as TV Africa and Skyy have had to do it all on their own.
In the event, they are entirely beholden to their major advertisers and the banks. Major advertising only comes in after about two years in operation by which time interest on bank loans have reached a point where they may never be fully retired. “The banks own almost all the media houses who have not received Government support”, he reveals wistfully.
Then there are the costs of operation; of production; of staff; and of content. Naturally, competition between the media houses means that these will go up. “The 34 Live matches of English Premier League that weregoing for 150,000 Euros three years ago, for instance, are now pegged at 400,000 Euros because Viasat 1, Multi TV, ETV Ghana and Smart TV were outbidding each other to have the exclusive rights”.
All this can affect the commercial viability of Ghanaian media houses. There is fierce competition for dwindling advertising revenue and the attention of viewers and listeners. There are more licenses being granted and there are still more in the queue.
One of those new licenses was granted to the Skyy Media Group to operate Prime FM. Mr Arthur confesses to be a radio aficionado.
“I love Radio. If I have to choose I will choose radio. TV is too complicated and too expensive to run as a business. Radio is sweet and more an effective tool and a business than any other. I think I am a better Radio Manager than TV”.
Given the much lamented difficulties, what are the chances of success for new station when the established ones are busy consolidating their power?
“I am not a new comer. I know what it takes to make radio work. I have supervised the likes of Abeiku Santana, Kwame Djokoto, Kojo Frimpong, Elloyne Amande, Joe Enuson, Ato Kwamena Dadzie, Cyrus de Graft Johnson, just to name a few to become a force in Radio. I have a huge passion to succeed in the capital. I have a wonderful team. We are ready to make a statement with Prime Fm”.
Of the passion, there is none lacking. He explains their vision thus: “We seek to revolutionize radio in Ghana. We missed the Agricultural Revolution. We also missed the Industrial Revolution. We were busy with Political Revolution when the world was going through ICT revolution. Knowledge is the new currency the world is trading in with Asia on top. We need a media that will not merely entertain but will impact the masses to become more knowledgeable and transform our nation. Prime FM will win the mind and heart of the masses with value content. There is more to radio than Politics, Sports and Music and Prime will lead the way”.
This abiding passion that drives all he does reflects in his other activities and Mr Arthur is now one of those leading the charge to ensure that the nation and the Western Region particularly derives the full value of the nation’s oil find.
“I believe that any community that cannot add value to their natural resource is doomed. Those adding value to our natural resource have capital and knowledge on their side. We should focus on developing ourselves on our own terms with aim of taking over our destiny. We cannot continue feeding others who lie to us that they are donors without whom we will die. We do not need to re invent the wheel. In Aberdeen the local community taxed the oil proceeds and invested in education to become knowledge leaders in the World. We may have to find a way to get some share of the oil revenue to do same. In two decades, we will have a transformed society in Ghana. Of course if we continue to eat our seeds, we will continue depending on them for more seeds to feed on.”
You get the sense that this passionate son of the region will long have an interest in and a duty to his people. Perhaps, one day he will be serving them directly. But for now, he’s set his sights on a slightly different goal, which is to become “the most celebrated media brand in Africa”.