Annual TV Content market DISCOP Africa brought together some of the key VoD players for a panel discussion. Russell Southwood invited the panelists and moderated the session. In the article below he summarizes some of the key points made during the session.
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The five panelists I selected for this session were some of the key players in the African VoD sector. Chris Savides, Head:Africa, Showmax (part of DStv) and Manny Texeira, Group Head: Digital Media and Services, MTN represent two examples of the "big beasts". Denis Pagnac, Founder and CEO, Summview is an independent white label platform operator who combines a platform with a content package to mobile operators. Thabo Dabengwa runs South African Kagiso Media's VoD operation Reel Africa. Olivia Kipre Dadie is the Digital and Communications Manager for Africa's largest distributor Cote Ouest. The only type of missing voice in the room was the much referred to Netflix.
Before the session started, I was chatting to some of the panelists who said that one of the most difficult things about VoD in Africa was getting trapped between hype and delivery. You needed to bid up what might happen to get the budget to execute but then you were trapped by a level of expectation you might not be able to deliver on.
The conventional narrative is that the 100+ African VoD platforms out there will consolidate leaving only big players standing. Current nominees include: Showmax, iflix, iROKO TV and Netflix.
Manny Texeira described how MTN had closed down its own service and was now looking at offering a wider range of services. He made the point that: "We have 230 million subscribers. That's who I've got to serve." He was saying loud and clear that the big players would not satisfy the different viewing tastes of many different countries.
He lamented that:" "What we're not doing is finding a lot of services... that talk to local communities." Long story, short. MTN wants to provide a number of different services with MTN providing the front-end navigation point.
Denis Pagnac, Summview stressed that he operates at the lower end of the market and he felt that where price was more sensitive, users were interested in having less content at any one time but content that changed frequently. Thabo Dabengwa, Reel African described how it is creating short-form comedy content that it will be supplying to mobile operators.
Manny Texeira said at one point in response to me quoting You Tube views stats that VoD was not the same thing as VoD. Of course, he is quite right in the strict definitional sense. But the wider reality is that VoD competes for African users money and attention with both You Tube and pirated content on DVDs and USB sticks,
As Chris Savides, Showmax said:"We don't have a VOD market that we have to develop--people are consuming VOD every single day." Money is being spent in pirated markets and it is the challenge for VoD operators to provide a better quality service at near or equivalent prices. The money is out there, it's whether it's moving in your direction or not.
Something that's tough in the African VoD field is that not one of the larger operators has released any user data. The unfortunate conclusion to be drawn from this is that the numbers are insufficiently large to claim bragging rights. The only interesting stat I've heard recently is from an African telco that discussed having a local Netflix cache. Netflix turned down the idea because the country had below 12,000 subscribers.
As always, data prices were raised as a significant obstacle to VoD subscriber expansion. Africa is one of the few markets where mobile users live in fear of running out of this expensive commodity. As the mobile operator in the room, it fell to Manny Texeira to respond to what might be done.
He cited a study that showed 50% of African smart phone users regularly switch off their data out of fear that auto updates and unexpected usage will exhaust their data supply: "Data consumption on mobile is an expensive medium at the moment. It's a challenge that we face on a daily basis." But he didn't think data costs alone were the main hurdle, returning to his earlier point:" "I think we have a challenge... at a hyper-local level with how content is packaged, and the type of services that are available."
All panelists spoke in favor of content plus data bundles that allowed the user not to be afraid that a VoD platform would simply suck dry their data allowance. Savides spoke about how Showmax is looking at having free content download points in shopping malls or aboard city buses:" "We're trying to make it as easy as possible for consumers."