With the rise of social media, Africa is awash with content that has been copied, pasted and hurled out into an unsuspecting world. African content creators struggle to become the signal rather than the noise. Russell Southwood looks at how Africa's online platforms can seek to differentiate themselves in an increasingly noisy market.
When the African Internet was a relatively small club, with hundreds and thousands of users rather than hundreds of thousands and millions, the number of purely African online sites was quite small. Without effective mobile Internet, there were really amost no successful mobile content platforms.
With the arrival of cheaper 3G data prices and the rapid success of Facebook, there are now well over 100 film and TV platforms operating in Africa and the same amount again of music platforms. The Internet has made it easy: barriers to entering the market have become much lower. All you need is a website or mobile platform and you're in business... Well, up to a point.
There has been a flourishing of African online content platforms from both ends of the spectrum: from the high-profile, heavily invested companies like iROKO TV to platforms which their origins in "boy-in-a-bedroom" student enthusiasms like Ghana's music platform bigx.com.gh. The investment in iROKO TV made it look like there might be easy money in this and everyone looking for a new hustle piled in. Believe me, this is not Eldorado and the returns will go to those willing to stay the course for 5-10 years.
Almost every African country of any size had someone launching a new platform and countries like Nigeria and South Africa have 4-5 contenders with some scale in both film and TV and music. Currently in Nigeria, I was told of a forthcoming launch by a (press) media owner of a VoD platform. All this high profile activity has began to suck in international contenders like iTunes, Netflix and Deezer. But some like Spotify have been rumoured to be joining the dance... and have simply not arrived.
But it's not as easy as it looks and there are considerable hurdles to actually making a business model out of giving Africans content they want. iROKO TV has cut staff and Vidi looks like exiting the South African market (see news story in Film and TV below).
So this article looks at the crucial set of decisions African content-platform have to take and all too often are not aware of. I'm going to talk mainly about film and TV and music platforms but much of what is being said can also apply to books, news content or selling cultural goods like crafts: the broad choices are very similar although the approaches eventually chosen may look very different.
In programming terms, any African online content site is doing one of Commissioner, Curator, Aggregator or cataloguer? Although there are many things that make a content platform successful - like either having a marketing budget or knowing how to connect to users - one of the key factors is having content that works. The endlessly repeated "Content is King" truism doesn't take you very: which content and how are you going to organize it?