Mobile telephony and active engagement with global media in Africa


The spread of smartphones and other digital devices in Africa has helped transform the patterns and consequences of media consumption in the continent, enhancing interactivity and active audience participation (Willems and Mano 2017; Powell 2012). Although still largely an urban phenomenon, the culture of digital engagement with the news media is spreading to semi-urban areas across the continent. Global broadcasters (such as the BBC, VOA, CGTN etc) are capitalising on these developments to extend their reach and optimize their capability in the battle for the hearts and minds of Africans (Abubakar 2017). The BBC World Service, in particular, has expanded its digital offerings in different parts of the continent by increasing the number of African languages’ services, widening its programming and deploying a new multimedia strategy (Andersson 2019; BBC 2019). This has enabled the broadcaster to turn a decline of its audience figures in the traditional platform (radio) into a digital success in its biggest market in Africa, Nigeria (Abubakar 2017). This paper aims to broadly examine African audiences’ engagement with global broadcasters, particularly the BBC World Service, in the digital era. It is based on an ongoing study that primarily focuses on the Nigerians’ use of both ‘old’ and ‘new’ technologies to interact with the BBC World Service. The broadcaster’s use of multimedia strategy to enhance participatory programming and reach wider audiences in Nigeria to maintain its influence in the country and advance Britain’s public diplomacy will also be examined. The impact of digital technologies on audience interactivity and participatory programming – and their implications on audience research – will equally be assessed.