Buni Media is one of the most exciting companies in African broadcasting, responsible for the massively popular Kenyan puppet political satire The XYZ Show (which enjoys an audience of ten million), and more recently Buni TV. Ahead of her appearance at AfricaCast, CEO Marie Lora-Mungai tells us about the fascinating story of Buni Media, its ambitions for the future, and the fertile future for digital broadcasting in Africa.
IP&TV: Hi Marie, great to speak to you. Buni Media started out producing the incredibly popular puppet satire The XYZ Show, but you’ve since founded Buni TV. Please tell us a bit more about Buni TV, and why you decided the market was ripe for a project of this sort?
Marie Lora-Mungai: As a producer of African content, I’ve always been very aware of the twin challenges of distribution and revenue generation on the continent. Despite The XYZ Show’s success, we have had to jump through many hoops to get the show on national television in Kenya, and to this day we don’t have any official sponsors because brands are wary of its political nature. My team and I had been experimenting with various options for mobile distribution since the launch of the show in 2009. About two years ago, the technology suddenly became robust enough to allow for the streaming of videos on mobile. Also, the mobile market was experiencing a solid and rapid growth, and people were starting to switch to smartphones. It became clear that mobile would eventually become one of the main distribution channels for African content, and I decided it was time to develop and launch our own video-on-demand platform Buni TV.
What are the biggest challenges Buni TV faces in the African marketplace. How have you overcome them? Also, what kind of potential does this marketplace possess?
There are many challenges, the first one being that we are developing an ecosystem from scratch. Besides working through the technical aspects that are involved in streaming videos digitally over sometimes unreliable connections, we are pushing people to adopt new behaviours. But this is also a massive opportunity for us to help shape tastes and content consumption in Africa. Finding efficient and practical modes of payment is of course also a challenge, and mobile money in some instances provides a good solution. But I personally believe in the potential of airtime as currency. As for the size of the marketplace, well the World Bank already estimates Africa’s middle class at 350 million people. Over the next few years, these people’s discretionary income will continue to rise, they’ll have better internet connections, several devices on which to watch videos, and a taste for aspirational, quality products. Like many entrepreneurs operating in Africa, we have our eyes on this exciting opportunity.
How big an opportunity does the transition from analogue to digital present for a web and mobile distribution platform such as your own?
The transition from analogue to digital will lead to the creation of many new television channels, all of which will need fresh content. Any system that boosts the quantity and quality of content production on the continent is great for VOD services like Buni TV.
Mobile devices have a particularly strong role to play in the distribution of non-linear content in Africa. Why is that and what new advances do you think will help facilitate this distribution?
African audiences are hungry for more quality local content, and this demand is not fully satisfied by the choices that free-to-air, pay-TV, or even piracy, currently offer. Mobile distribution can make more content available in a way that is convenient for viewers, and at affordable prices. For mobile video distribution to really explode, bandwidth and data costs still have to drop further, and more people need to switch to smartphones or tablets. But it will get there.
What role do you see OTT as having in Africa’s commercial and creative growth?
OTT Content Providers might very well become the first real competitors to DSTV in Africa. Any service or solution that offers more choices to the consumer and more opportunities to content creators to monetize their work will greatly contribute to Africa’s commercial and creative growth.
How important is the maintenance of Buni Media’s founding values as it develops and expands?
“Buni” means “innovation” in Swahili. Buni Media’s mission is to use a variety of innovative media techniques to produce and distribute quality content that challenges the socio-political status quo in Africa, and in doing so also changes the image of the continent. We believe that a powerful story well told can make a difference in how one sees the world. In particular, we believe in the power of narrative storytelling, entertainment and humour to connect with audiences on a deep level. From a company perspective, it means that we have built a team of passionate, engaged people who don’t take themselves too seriously. Our team is excited to come to work in the morning and break new ground. The maintenance of these value is essential to the growth of Buni Media.
Finally, it’s your first time at AfricaCast a speaker. What attracted you the show?
AfricaCom/AfricaCast is the largest communications conference in Africa, and I’m looking forward to laerning about new advances, technologies and models directly from top industry leaders.
Marie Lora-Mungai will be speaking at this year’s AfricaCast (Cape Town, November 12 – 14), the region’s premier show on the future of broadcasting. For booking and more info go here.