Zimbabwe's creative industry suffers from high data costs

By Staff reporter | 15 May 2019 at 09:29hrs
Creative industry
Zimbabwe's creative sector has undergone rapid growth over the past few years largely as a result of new technologies which allow creative businesses to create content that can be easily exported worldwide. This growth is under threat from recent broadband data costs which are making access to internet services a preserve for the few.

For a country that is reeling from a historic economic meltdown punctuated by low incomes and price hikes on basic goods and services, broadband data is now expensive and beyond the reach of many and content creators have not been spared.

According to the Postal and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) abridged Sector Performance report 4th Quarter 2018  mobile internet and data usage increased by 15.7% in 2018 and this has mainly been as a result of a mobile internet explosion. Recent data tariff increases will reflect negatively on the growth as there is going to be low uptake of mobile internet services.

There has been a huge demand for creative services from advertising to software and design in other sectors and create jobs have gained importance because they are harder to automate. The demand confirms that the creative sector plays a fundamental role in our daily lives, including through the jobs we have, the products we buy, the experiences we share and in business at large.

The Internet has revolutionized the way we create, distribute and consume creative content. This has led to some proponents of the Internet claiming that the creative sector is booming, while parts of the sector itself claim to be subdued because of the high costs of data to access the internet.

 The creative sector has made great strides in reshaping industries and rendering long-established business strategies unsupportable while introducing new and innovative ways to organize production and distribution of content for different platforms.

The government through the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services has earmarked the ICT sector as a key enabler to the country's economic revival. Their efforts have thus been derailed by recent price distortions that now exist in the market and these have led to all mobile network operators adjusting their tariffs. The adjustments in real essence pose a great threat to how the creative industry is to grow as the issue of data affordability takes centre stage.

Content creators and businesses have taken advantage of the growth by saturating the digital cyberspace with massive content that ranges from adverts and awareness material that cater to various platforms and audiences. The amount and quality of content that is being distributed shows that creators are getting more innovative and there is room for more growth. This has in a way created a lot of jobs for various people within the content creation sector and as data price effects sink in, a sizeable number will be jobless.

As more and more Zimbabweans shift to the digital space for social, political, economic and business reasons, this has become a good marketing ground for many businesses that have realized that channelling their marketing efforts online is a sound move.

Local content creators have called on the operators to create a local bundle that will help stimulate more growth in the industry but the operators have not responded swiftly save for NetOne which has engaged them on how best they can work together to improve the industry.

When looking at the role of the Internet in the lives of individuals, we must not forget that the technology is still absent from or only marginally part of the lives of many persons. For those on the wrong side of the digital divide, the main impact of the Internet may be reduced access to public and commercial services that have migrated online. Inclusive participation remains a pipe dream.

The Internet is a technology that unleashes powerful and life-changing opportunities. But the realization of these opportunities hinges on the inclination of people to exploit them in creative ways and on the capacity of established stakeholders in both the private sector and the state to use such tools.

While innovations in content creation, distribution platforms and consumer preferences will shape outcomes in commercial and non-commercial creation, policy-makers also have a role in designing a market framework on how to make access to the internet affordable as the country gears towards a digital economy by the year 2030.

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