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COMMUNICATION FOR THE COMMUNITY

The government and the wider African community can now benefit from technology advances being made in the communication field. Factors such as geographical location, cultural diversity and different languages needs not be prohibitive when it comes to education and training. Black-controlled digital media company TBM Communications is enjoying considerable success with its cost-effective visual communication solution. CEO Pierre van der Hoven believes the company’s innovative systems can be beneficial not only for the South Africa government but other governments in Africa, as well as non-governmental organisations. TBM install plasma or TV screens in specific locations, and using satellite technology can instantly send video to those screens. The benefits of the system were realised during the World Summit for Sustainable Development – TBM were the official audiovisual suppliers for the event and had 35 screens at NASREC delivering information on daily events. A higher profile advertising application is successfully running in our three main airports, specifically in the new domestic terminal. Ideally suited to an organisation with branches, departments or offices, traditionally limiting factors such as location and language are transcended. If sufficient people can view the screens, the networks can be revenue generating. Van der Hoven believes this sophisticated system can be put to good use by the government. TBM is already running an internal communications network for the South Africa Revenue Service. The organization has 92 screens split between the VAT, PAYE and general offices, as well as boarder posts, airports and customs offices countrywide. This network has two “channels”. The one is aimed at SARS staff, which is used for internal communication and staff training and education. The second provides information to the general public when they visit the SARS offices. Each site can run both generic content and content specific to that site. In other words, regional factors such as language can be taken into account when tailoring information. The exciting thing about this technology is the opportunity it affords the government to address issues such as social development and poverty alleviation within the greater population. For example, television sets located at community centers can convey information on HIV/Aids awareness. Alternatively the department of welfare could relay information on what benefits are available to people including what applicants need to submit when applying. All this information can be tailored and conveyed, updated or changed in a matter of seconds. Internally, government departments can use the sets for staff training and communication. “What is key about the network,” says van der Hoven, “is that each site runs unique content so it can be used to address specific issues relating to specific regions. Since it is a visual medium, it can overcome illiteracy and language issues, plus material can be transmitted in the language of choice or even in multiple languages. Another benefit is that the system runs a ‘repeating pad’ which means that people don’t have to gather at the same time to view the material. This prevents loss of productivity. To increase effectiveness it can be repeated at no incremental cost whenever necessary”. Despite the technology, the system is inexpensive to set up. Costs can be covered either via internal government funding or donor organisations. Organisations that want to educate people on social issues can sponsor time on these specific sites to get their message across. TBM can also assist in the generation of revenue from advertising through its well-established sales team. Content production is a further ancillary service offered by TBM, with production costs very affordable compared to more traditional mediums. Low production costs means the content is kept interesting and dynamic, benefiting the viewer. Low advertising costs mean the owners of the network benefit from the revenue generated by the system, while advertisers benefit from specific, targeted advertising at a fraction of normal advertising costs. Overall, TBM hopes to aid in the more efficient distribution of information from the government to the communities as well as within the various departments. “We have already had interest in greater Africa,” says van der Hoven. He proudly points out that South Africans developed the entire system in South Africa, which has lead to the company being named a Technology Top 100 company. The company is also a black empowerment company. It is 75.8% owned, and controlled by Hosken Consolidated Investments Limited. HCI is listed on the JSE securities exchange and is 50.08% owned by a mass based organisation – the Southern Africa Clothing and Textile Worker’s Union and the Sactwu Educational Trust. Corporate clients have also expressed an interest in the digital medium. “The corporate /business TV network is essentially the same as what we are doing at SARS,” van der Hoven points out. “Tailor-made content is delivered to individually addressable sites. But, in a retail environment, for example, it can be used for staff training before or after operating hours as an internal application, and then can switch to a customers or external application with straight marketing to customers during public hours,” he says. “By using this option for staff training, companies don’t have to pull sales staff off the floor during working hours and send them off to a central location. This way staff can be trained, say between 8am and 9am in the morning before the doors open. At 9am the content can be changed to advertising, allowing the staff to get on with their jobs. If they miss a message on a particular day, or don’t understand it, they can watch a repeat flighting at another time so that business activities don’t have to stop.” Again issues such as illiteracy are transcended by using this visual medium. For instance, internal codes of conduct or human resource manuals can be conveyed in any language, at any time. Van der Hoven points out that the high quality DVD spec with its large bandwidth also makes digital convergence business applications viable. Once TBM has installed the playback box it can offer clients all kinds of additional services such as the provision of bandwidth.

Source: Succeed Magazine July/August 2003