George Waititu is the CEO, Content Aggregation which has launched Kenya's Viusasa. It wants to become the local content contender able to take on the other more Pan-African platforms in the market. Russell Southwood spoke to George Waititu about how things have worked after only 11 months in operation.
As a country, Kenya is one of Sub-Saharan Africa's fast adopters but as elsewhere, VoD and streaming services are proving to be something of a challenge. At the premium end, there are tens of thousands of users but further down the price spectrum the amount people are willing to spend on content make the economics much harder.
The dominant mobile operator Safaricom has four pan-African VoD and streaming services on its platform: iRoko, Kwese iFlix, Showmax and Star Times. At the low end, there are services like Erik Hersmann's Moja which offers a limited bouquet of ad-supported content targeted at commuters on mataus: it has around 250,000 monthly active users. So it may take longer for Kenyans to use mobile as their favorite viewing device.
The cost of data remains a key barrier as although Safaricom and other operators have brought down data prices, there has not been much regular content plus data bundled services. Safaricom experimented with this approach in partnership with for example, Kwese iFlix during the World Cup but has not yet adopted it on a longer-term basis.
Although there appear to be a lot of smartphones in the market, only about half of them use data and if you look at regular data users, the number drops quite significantly.
Into this challenging market, former market research company Steadman Managing Director George Waititu has launched Viusasa in partnership with Royal Media Services. It went to market in the last week in October 2017 and has been exploring how best to tackle the market. It still experimenting with different price approaches but has firmly staked its claim to local Kenyan content, particularly content in vernacular languages.
Viusasa runs on an app:"It provides convenience. The service goes wherever the user goes. They can buy a daily package (KS30/US29 cents), a weekly package (KS50/US49 cents), or a monthly package (price yet to be set). So far a lot more people want a daily bite and there will be a higher content refresh rate in the future".
So far there have been 1.2 million downloads over the initial test period during which time it has done significant marketing on Royal Media Services and with on-street advertising.
"This shows that there's a good appetite for local content, especially comedy and drama but we need to invest more in aggregating vernacular content. That's what works best but not much is produced. RMS has produced (specific) local content for the platform and we want to offer content in several languages, including English, Swahili and other languages".
It will soon be going to market with a premium model and it will also experiment with adding a bit of advertising to the basic service:"We think there are two different markets: ad supported and paid. Viusasa will also add other VAS services from banks and other players. It will not just be one thing"
"We want to create a one-stop for all the content Kenyans love with it all in one place. We're also loading a new premium product with news and music videos. We want to foster the growth of the audio-visual sector in Kenya. We're also offering catch-up services for Royal Media's TV programmes and the heart of what we offer comes from them, things like comedy. The biggest challenge at the moment is content flow".
He believes that streaming platforms like Viusasa will help develop the film and broadcast content producers by giving the industry structure and taking some of the load off of directors:"There are overlaps in function. Too many directors are having to act as distributors to monetize their content and this distracts them from the development of new content, which is what they're good at".
"What we're saying is 'Let there be a division of labor and we'll do the distribution and promotion'. Directors can track revenues from their productions on the portal. We can take the burden off the content creators so that they can focus on production. If there's a better structured market, that way it can attract global investment. People are used to free content from places like You Tube".
Like most of those in the market we spoke to, high data costs are a barrier that has yet to fall:"The creative can begin to earn a living but the need for people to pay data costs remains an issue. In the fullness of time, data costs will drop. Two-thirds of mobile users don't have smartphones but that's a potential market because those people will get connected".