Many of Africa's Producer and Directors have set up Video on Demand platforms. Russell Southwood looks at the experiences of three of them and why distribution and sales matter to African film-makers and TV series producers.
Ken Attoh and Shirley Frimpong-Manso are among the most successful film and TV producers in Ghana. Two years ago they launched an online Video on Demand platform (SparrowStation.com) to sell theit films and TV series. Attoh describes the platform as "literally an answer to the cries of our fans around the world to be able to see our content.."
"We were getting requests from (Ghanaians and Nigerians) in Australia, the USA and China and we had no way to get (the content) to them." This is quite a common position for successful African film and TV producers: they have equally enthusiastic fans in the diaspora and they can afford to pay to access the content.
Before VoD, delivering to these scattered audiences physically (with DVDs) was difficult and beset by piracy. When they first started the platform, they didn't havr much content. Now they have three TV series (including Adams' Apples and V Republic) and 9 feature films.
They researched who they thought the best platform partner would be and went with Vimeo:"Together we created the platform." The platform gets 160,000-200,000 views a month. Users pay between US$2.99-3.99 for a film. We haven't done any publicity and we still consider it to be a hobby. We're still trying to figure it out to be honest." Nevertheless in two years they have made over US$50,000, a useful financial contribution back into the business.
The other film produce with a film and TV video on demand is also a Ghanaian. Juliet Asante, Eagle Productions has set up and runs Mobilefliks. It is now a separate, independent company and has VAS provider status with its Ghanaian partner MTN. The platform carries some content made specially for mobile and other content it has acquired rights for.
As Asante tells it:" We started to aggregate content for our own platform and for others . For instance we just signed with Solo Phones in Nigeria to aggregate content for them. They will return the favor! Mobilefliks will feed into the Black Star International Film Festival (which she also runs) to provide additional opportunities to filmmakers who want other distribution opportunities for their content".
Her biggest focus currently is Ghana and she says user numbers vary:"It goes up and down. Sometimes it's in the thousands, sometimes the hundreds of thousands. We haven't uploaded new content for a while because of updates to MTN's platform. It usually shoots up when we upload new content".
Pascal Schmitz, Amariam is a South African film producer who works with Mayenzeke Baza. He believes distribution is important because it influences all the other things African film-makers find it hard to crack:"It's the weakest link in South Africa and Africa more generally for producers. There are three problematic areas: development, distribution and marketing. What we discovered was that distribution and sales has a big influence on cracking them."
He set up iBiskop as his video on demand platform and partnered with Go!Planet to deliver both the platform and free wi-fi for downloading content:"Go!Planet built it as a white label solution for us and it was one shop among many."
All did not go well:"We were struggling with the platform to get it to the point where we were happy with it. The metadata was not showing. The cash voucher supplier we were going to use... the owner had a family trauma. We did a marketing partnership with South African comedian where she got a better deal on the platform to promote it. But there was no free Wi-Fi in Kwa Zulu Natal."
He's now working with a company on a co-equity basis to create its own platform:"It's early days but we have some idea of what we want." Nevertheless, what he found was that once they started to aggregate content for the platform when they first started, they began to come across new opportunities with broadcast programme and channel sales.
"We're building our own channel with Craig Kelly of AfricaXP." He's now doing both high end film sales deals to people who supply Netflix in the USA (in the tens of thousands of dollars) and much smaller TV broadcast sales for around US$150:"The only way to survive is to do all that. Big and small deals. Lots of content brings you into certain conversations but you can't have lots of high-cost content. We've now got 100 hours in our catalogue."