Streaming in Africa is a tough mountain to climb but Thabo Dabengwa knows that as he set up his new company after being made redundant from Kagiso Media. Russell Southwood spoke to him about his new channel and his ambitions.
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Thabo Dabengwa used to work at Kagiso Media on the digital side of its operations with the Reel African platform. In April 2018, Mark Harris resigned as CEO (becoming an non-executive director) before former IBM executive Mark Abrahams was bought in to sort out the business.
He decided to close down Reel African and a couple of other platforms were also removed. Before handing on to the new CEO Murphy Morobe, he decided that the company should focus on its successful radio stations and its production and studios facility Urban Brew: although not yet turning a profit, it had invested heavily in its Brightwater Commons studio complex. The problem with the Reel African business was that it would have taken longer to breakeven and would have needed more capital investment.
For the medium-sized media company "going digital" is often even more difficult than it is for larger companies. They usually lack the resources to buy into anything at scale and lack the pockets to be patient. Another of South Africa's mid-size media companies Primedia is about to tackle the same set of challenges.
But the challenges of trying to make sense of Reel African gave Dabengwa the seed of a new idea:"At Reel Africa we were having issues with the acquisition of content. Prices for content were high and we could not compete against iROKO, Trace or Netflix. We didn't have the budgets".
"So we began to say to ourselves, why don't we look at segmented markets? So we looked at areas like Afrikaans, gospel, kids and youth. That's how Umoyastream (a Pan African gospel streaming platform) began to take shape as an idea". Coincidentally a new Christian Afrikaans platform also recently launched.
"We just want to speak to the gospel market. The content is easier to acquire and we're looking at doing an original series. Nigeria is the biggest market for Christian content so there's plenty of potential".
"We're up and running but currently in the testing phase. There's a two phase approach to getting customers. Most VoD platforms usually do programmatic advertizing. We think we need to get out on the ground. We're testing the service at taxi ranks in South Africa through Wi-Fi routers with hard disks and also give access WhatsApp through the platform. Users pay R20 (US$1.46) for a voucher to test the service and it gives us the opportunity to test the market".
He doesn't think Umoyastream is yet ready for partnerships with mobile operators:"The trouble with the mobile operators is over the revenue share. MTN takes 60% and Vodacom 70-75%. Therefore it doesn't make sense to work with the mobile operators until you've got to scale. We need to get enough numbers to show the deal should be better. This means it may take longer to get off the ground".
The content ranges from music videos to preachers doing motivational speaking. We're working on a co-produced original series called Miracle Man, which was an idea bought to it by Rouse House Productions:"It's a faith-based series about a man called by God to go into a specific area to open a church. The church doesn't work and causes all sorts of controversies in the man's family over tithing among other things. The son finds he has a healing ministry by curing someone and this brings faith to the church.
How financed is the company going to finance itself?:"We're bootstrapping until we get enough subscribers in to convince an investor to come in. We need to show that it's financially viable. We're already looking at various sources of funding".