5 May 2017

South Africa: Axed MTN Vod Supplier Discover Digital Launches Own Independent Service in South Africa and Seeks Other Partners Across Africa

London — Fresh from losing its contract to supply MTN, white label video platform provider Discover Digital is launching its own independent VoD service in South Africa and looking for fresh white label opportunities across Africa. Russell Southwood spoke to its Managing Director Stephen Watson about its plans.

MTN has just shut down the VoD service it launched as FrontRow in 2014 but later became Vu. The coverage of the closure has largely seemed to assume that MTN has walked away from VoD. But for a player as large as MTN this seems hard to believe and it is surely likely to return with something that has a better chance of success.

Meanwhile its former white label VoD platform supplier Discover Digital this week launched its own service: "We ran the MTN service for a couple of years and that's now come to an end... We want to be in the VoD space as a value add with data and other services and we're going to generate revenues and package other products."

He says that it was always their intention to have their own service:"From the beginning our intent was to have a generic label and now we can partner with all operators. We signed content for the service ahead of the (closure of) the MTN service. There's so much interest both in South Africa and elsewhere, as well as Latin America and the Middle East."

DEODtv's (as its independent service will be known) content strategy is to produce niche subject channels and attractive SVoD offerings:"We're focusing on what's on demand on linear TV. We want to make good quality content accessible to everybody."

The main pitch is that it allows you direct access to the content you want without all the Pay TV channels in a bundle you don't want:"If you don't have kids, why subscribe to a Kids channel?"

One of these subject niches is "international news with a local angle" and it has signed up the following streamed channels: Euronews/AfricaNews, France 24, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, BBC World News and Russia Today:"We're close to adding services from Asia and the USA and we're keen to build and add more. We want a few more African stations for this market."

The second of these subject niches is sports with its own DEOD Sports Network:"This will have all the major sports from around the world including the Olympic Games, cricket, rugby and football." What this actually means is a daily news service with 30-40 short-form news stories and coach and player reactions.

In other words, no live game coverage from any of the major sports and all for R49 a month. To cover this weakness, it will offer niche sports channels including fighting, sailing and boating and extreme sports. It is also a long-time sponsor of the SA SuperBike Championship which it produces content from and livestreams.

"We're in discussion to add more... There will be a lot of content not available on traditional broadcasters. We can reach far greater audiences on a channel than those in the existing broadcaster stack." So he's also pitching to local sports bodies looking to extend the reach of their followers. The full package including these channels will be R99 a month. There will also be channels offering the output from the Hollywood Majors, music and kids content as well as an on demand space. The latest releases will cost R30 to play and R18 for studio library content.

As a white label operator it has already signed deals with operators in Zambia and Zimbabwe:"There will be small differences in the content suite and we have deployed our CDNs in both territories. We're keen to talk to mobile operators, ISPs and fibre players who want to increase the profitability of their off-peak data."

"We're looking to build VoD and OTT services." He points out that there has been an over-expectation of the scale of the possible subscribers base:"You might think there were hundreds of thousands of subscribers but the market's not yet ready for that. We will work with telcos over two years to get sub-50,000 growth." His argument is aimed particularly at small operators who might shy away from the cost of content acquisition:"The service is dependent on broadband and as it becomes cheaper, the numbers will increase."

And does he think that African operator data services are adequate for carrying VoD:"We're forced to focus on adaptive broadband technology because of the weaker availability of infrastructure. Tests so far are strong with anything from 500 mbps. We're getting very decent playback on small screen devices and on fibre schemes we're able to do HD TV. We're looking at key off-peak offerings and download to play back offline."

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