Streaming and download services in Africa are hitting the buffers because Africa's mobile operators are not yet able to deliver on network quality, price or rev share. Last week's pan-African TV industry event DISCOP signaled some of the bad news. Russell Southwood looks at what different players are doing to overcome these difficulties.
It started out with the first panel at pan-African TV industry event DISCOP (attended by nearly 2,200 people) last week that reviewed the state of the industry. The Digital Era in Africa panelists - three of whom (Catherine Njari, Safaricom; Gafar Williams, DoMedia and Andreas Lanz, iPidi TV) operated VoD platforms laid the blame squarely at the door of the mobile operators.
Their networks were not yet sufficiently reliable to make watching TV series and films and data costs made watching long-form content prohibitive. On price, the best solution anyone could come up with was bundled prices: you pay a particular film and the data download or streaming cost is bundled in.
Jason Njoku, CEO, iROKO TV had a slide that read Africa - Where VoD Platforms Go To Die. He was not entirely joking as he candidly admitted, they have struggled to find the right business model. He said he was now focused on the Android phone platform and trying to deliver a service with a price of no more than US$2 per month. Gafar Williams, DoMedia spoke of wanting to make seven minute movies to deal with these difficulties and finding it hard to get directors who could do short-form movies.
Pierre Van den Hoven, low bandwidth streaming company Tuluntulu pointed out to me the Android app download numbers for a range of VoD platforms as indicator of current health. Only DStv's ShowMax broke sweat by having numbers in the tens of thousands. All the rest were in the low thousands.
The flip side of this rather gloomy prognosis was an almost overwhelming supply side. One operator that supports VoD platforms said that he was getting five enquiries for VoD to every one for broadcast. Satellite operators like SES and Eutelsat are both putting VoD support platforms and products into the market.
There are over 100 VoD platforms in Africa and 2016 will be the year of the grim reaper for many of them. Conventional wisdom has it that this process will involve the closure of the small, local companies and the ultimate triumph of international operators and those with deep pockets.
This may not be true as nobody has yet really found the right formula for streaming or downloading success in Africa. Netflix may well give ShowMax a run for its money but it will be those that successfully hang on and continue to provide locally sourced content that people actually want.
So what to do in the meantime? Platforms like Kagiso's Reel African and Buni.tv are distributing their content to platforms that have audiences already, hoping to garner larger audiences and income by spreading their wares. This includes both international deals (for example, Reel African has a channel on Hulu in the USA) and African deals.
Last week Buni.tv announced that it will now become available on more than ten new partner platforms across Africa, the US and the UK. The new partnerships are the result of an aggressive carriage deal strategy pursued by the digital channel in the past few months.
While the service remains accessible worldwide through its own website and Android app, users will be able to find Buni.tv on the following services within the coming few weeks:
Amazon, Vessel and Vimeo through a partnership with TV4 Entertainment, an aggregator of genre-specific broadband channels.
UK (and soon Australia and other territories)
The set-up box of a leading British mobile network operator and internet service provider.
Watch Africa, an Android OTT/IPTV and Dvb-T2 set-up box offering a range of linear and VOD channels, available from November 2015 in Kenya.
Simu.tv, a mobile TV aggregator available on the Vodafone network in Tanzania.
Pockit.tv, a mobile TV aggregator available on the MTN network in South Africa.
BRCK Moja, a connectivity device and mobile wifi hotspot in pilot phase in Kenya.
A leading Kenyan Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) distributing content via portable wifi through its agents network.
A fibre optic internet service provider in Nigeria launching live TV and VOD.
A video app that offers premium, zero-rated online and offline comedy clips to subscribers of a major mobile operator in Nigeria.
Operators premium mobile video stores in Kenya and Nigeria.
Depending on the partner platform, viewers will have access to Buni.tv 's entire catalogue of 1000 movies, TV shows, documentaries and kids content, or to a selection of videos curated by length and region.
Marie Lora-Mungei, Buni.tv knows that making a success of the platform will be a long road but has shown the tenacity required to stay the course. Those expecting short-term success and large audiences tomorrow will be disappointed. But everyone needs to find a way of persuading Africa's mobile operators to get their act together.