17 May 2017

Africa: Kwesé TV Signs Distribution Deals With Africa's Mobile Operators for Kwese Play Roku Box and Mobile Streaming - 40 Percent of Channels Exclusive

Econet-owned Kwesé TV is the new pan-continental broadcast challenger, offering Pay TV, Free-To-Air and online offerings. This week Russell Southwood spoke to CEO Joe Hundah about the Kwesé Play (with Roku box) and mobile streaming offerings they will be launching with Africa's mobile operators.

In April 2017 Kwesé TV signed an agreement with MTN Ghana to offer its content to the mobile operator's customers using its LTE network. At the time Joe Hundah, President and CEO of Econet Media, said:" We are focused on expanding the reach of our product across the continent and this is the first of a number of such agreements with mobile network operators which will be announced in due course".

The distribution deal has potentially three elements: firstly, Kwesé Play which comes with a Roku box; secondly, a DTH box for receiving its channels via satellite; and thirdly, as mobile streaming product:"Not all the mobile operator deals are linked to (satellite) set-top box distribution. Some are still looking at it. They need content to encourage data use... The mobile operators will sell Kwesé TV-branded services."

The Kwesé Play Roku box comes with linear channels and VoD offerings:"The Roku box has 100 apps and we will build out more as we go along." Among these apps will be Netflix and iflix: the latter will launch in Africa in the next few months.

The formal, full-scale launch of the Kwesé Play offer will be in July this year. The box needs a broadband or a good Wi-Fi connection and will cost users somewhere between US$70-80.

The DTH satellite box will cost US$49 as a launch offer and go up after the launch period is over. It has already soft-launched in Rwanda, Zambia and Ghana is also available online through the Kwesé e-store. The soft-launch has been a way of testing the services. There's no service pricing yet but Hundah does say that they will be "lower than other products".

The mobile streaming offer will contain a combination of Kwesé TV's linear channels and VoD:"We may not launch with VoD immediately. It will be a skinny bundle of strong channels. We make to make them reasonably priced so people can still pay for the data." The streaming product will be launched two months after Kwesé Play.

In terms of satellite, there will be 60 channels initially, rising eventually to 75 channels:"We want to keep the bouquets fairly skinny. There will be two sports channels and we'll go to three next year. There are also three exclusive channels: Revolt, Vice and Dreamworks." The sports channels will offer the National Basketball Association, Brazilian Soccer and English Premier League games.

There will also be childrens' channels like the Cartoon Network from 24 May and it will have a strong news position with among others CNN and Al Jazeera plus Animal Planet, a Discovery channel and an eSports channel. In terms of religious channels, there will be a Catholic and an Islamic channel.

It has eight of its own premier channels including 3 movie channels, Kwesé Kids, Kwesé Know and Kwesé Family:"40% of the channels will be exclusive."

So will there be a pan-continental launch?:"The mobile operators operate on an opco by opco basis. One might be interested, another might not be... It's so difficult. It's taken us months to get this done. We will announce a couple more in the next month or two. We will have to launch on a country-by-country basis. The power always lies with the opcos. They make the decisions." Opcos is mobile operator-speak for the individual operating company in a specific country.

So given the importance of the mobile operators to the launch, how are you going to get it to work?:"We will put our own team into the mobile operator, say for example Safaricom in Kenya. They will articulate and sell the products internally. Kwese people went into Lesotho to go through all the different elements. (The mobile operators) are increasingly enthusiastic and they understand the need for data-driving properties."

The big hook is flexible, pre-pay billing for consumers:"We'll have as low as one day billing and that matches the mobile operator pre-paid packages. The customer can buy several days in a month and that will increase over time. If you can only afford US$1, then you will be able to pay US$1". The DTH box service offers 3 days, 7 days, 10 days and 30 days payment points and the mobile streaming service will be the same but will also have a one day price point.

So what's the potential for the different products?:"The Kwesé Play (with Roku box) is a high-end product for those with uncapped broadband, more affluent customers. Broadband is growing by 15-20% per year. The numbers available differ but there are around 1 million broadband users across Africa. It would be nice to have 15-20% penetration. The overall number will be 1.5-1.6 million in two years time."

He agrees that the numbers on the mobile streaming service will be more speculative:"There's a lot of potential. There are around 250 million smartphones. If you take 1% of that, there will be 2.5 million users. Smartphone use is growing at a phenomenal rate. We will push marketing and app development from our side and you should see massive traction."

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