Smart Monkey TV - 'Creators and innovators in Africa at the crossroads of technology and culture'

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Balancing Act launches a new web TV channel – SmartMonkeyTV .com – out to capture the energy at the crossroads between culture and technology

Officially launched this week, will replace Balancing Act’s existing You Tube channel. It will be a hybrid channel with video clip interviews, e-letters and some other surprises from time to time. Below Russell Southwood sketches out why he decided to launch it and how Balancing Act’s existing readers will find it a useful addition to their weekly diet of information about Africa.

When I started Balancing Act ( in 2000 I was interested in online content and media in Africa. Like many I was sufficiently naïve not to realize what a challenge this would be. Being curious, I started to ask questions about what things like “indefeasible rights of use” were and why they were so much more expensive in Africa than elsewhere.

The e–letter that you’re reading (which started as one e-letter but has become three over the years) was my way of working out what I thought about the challenges of getting things like better voice and Internet service to the continent and how that might be achieved. Without the Internet and e-mail, it would have been almost impossibly difficult to create a piece of media like this. Imagine trying to get you this e-letter with a fax machine.

Over the thirteen years Balancing Act has covered telecoms and Internet in Africa, the number of people speaking on a mobile phone has risen to the hundreds of millions and continues to rise. Also now with falling wholesale and retail prices for data, there are now hundreds of thousands or millions of people using the Internet in different African countries. For example, there are now a million Internet users in Angola. Watch out for an upcoming interview on the use of smartphones and social media in Angola because I think it will surprise you.

As data gets cheaper for user, the pressing story of the last ten years - about needing infrastructure on the continent – turns into a series of different rivers that includes an explosion of online content and services. We cover content developments in Balancing Act but I notice from the weekly analytics that content stories attract less unique views. So Smart Monkey TV is a way of splitting out a set of topics that sit less comfortably within the frame of Balancing Act’s industry coverage.

A word of reassurance is perhaps needed at this point. Balancing Act’s existing e-letter will continue to provide the same service as they always have. The fibre networks may be falling into place but there is no end of challenges to be tackled before Africa has cheap and reliable Internet. Indeed, Balancing Act will continue to have the Digital Content section at the bottom for those who need it.

Smart Monkey is born out of two main ideas.  Firstly, we believe that video will become an extremely powerful and widely used medium in Africa, particularly on mobile phones. It will be as natural to look at short clips on your phone as it will be to read your e-mail or a newspaper. Secondly, because online content and services are increasingly a reality for the continent, it opens up the potential for using technology both as powerful means of cultural expression and to help tackle social problems like health, education and traffic in cities. There is a crossroads somewhere between technology and culture that contains a terrific energy on the continent and we hope to capture some of that spirit.

When social media took off, we started a You Tube channel because we wanted to see what sorts of things were interesting in video interview form. My colleague Sylvain Beletre pushed me into trying it. We discovered that some of the topics covered got tens of views whereas others – like African film and TV directors – got tens of thousands of views. The interviews were of widely varying degrees of quality and it was hard to get any editorial consistency for something that was an extension of our e-letter. It was just a cluster of interviews of people we happened to meet on our travels.

A year ago I decided very quietly to create the web TV channel (with accompanying e-letter output) to try and find a hybrid medium that would be somewhere between a magazine and a specialist TV channel. I set myself very few boundaries in terms of who I interviewed as I wanted to see what topics and people I found interesting and to improve the practical presentation of what was produced.

So after a year, I’ve chosen a series of areas to focus on that are both cultural (African film, TV, music and writing) and technological (start-ups, incubators, content platforms, social media, online media, digital advertising, ITC4D and education and technology). A full list of topics can be viewed on our website

It will be about 80-90% stuff directly from or related to Africa but with a pinch of spice from other parts of the world. The latter will be things I found interesting when thinking about what’s changing in Africa, like Gokhan Akan, which delivers takeaway food across Turkey and parts of the Middle east.

So what is it? It a combination of 20 video clip interviews a month and a weekly e-letter output. There will be two strands to the e-letter output: the first strand will be short, one story e-letters on particular topics and the second strand will be a new fortnightly e-letter called Emerging Digital Content, that will have alternating focuses on film and music. A trial issue will go out in the next few weeks and after that we’ll let you know when it’s ready for wider consumption. In terms of existing video clip interviews, there are already 374 uploaded.

In the meantime, please subscribe to Smart Monkey TV as we’d like to get to 1,000 subscribers as quickly as possible so that we can get the free live streaming service from You Tube. And what will we do with that? You’ll have to wait and see.
Please click on this link and then click on the Subscribe button just below the monkey with the camera.

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