With TV Connect Africa (17th – 19th November 2015 Cape Town Convention Centre, South Africa) fast approaching, it seems a good time to take the temperature of African OTT.
To this end, IP&TV News could talk to no-one better than Simbarashe Mabasha, director at the Afrikan Dust Media Group and TV Connect Africa keynote. A must read for anyone seeking insight!
IP&TV News: Hi Simbarashe. What have been the main developments over the last twelve months since last year’s TV Connect Africa?
Simbarashe Mabasha: The last twelve months should have been about consolidation but we saw more OTT services entering the market. We saw Multichoice entering or re-entering with their Showmax service, which is designed to pre-empt the much anticipated arrival of the American streaming behemoth Netflix.
What was somewhat underreported is that Multichoice has had an OTT service for 3 years now in the form of Boxoffice – a Push-VoD satellite service and online streaming service. This development shows that there is still massive appetite for risk in the African OTT industry. The main developments centre on services like Showmax (Multichoice), ViDi (Times Media Group) and Frontrow (MTN) ushering in bigger and wealthier players in the African OTT industry. More players trying to eat a pie that is becoming smaller every year as there isn’t enough African content and ways to make payments.
Why are these problems so stubborn?
The major problems in African OTT remain. The first being the fact that there is a platform bubble. The second problem is the continued lack of African content. Southern Africa lags behind West and East Africa in original African content production even with the major efforts being made by Multichoice. The third is that of payments.
To grow and sustain African OTT services there has to be a focus on how content creators and other stakeholders get paid. Although digital ad-spending is growing especially in mobile worldwide the same can’t be said for Africa. So subscription and freemium services have to be the order of the day in Africa. To help these services mobile money and other payment platforms have to build payment platforms that are mobile network agnostic. That is to say content consumers should not be tied to a particular mobile network operator’s payment platform to pay for content. The evolution of payments will be catalytic, inspiring positive changes in African OTT.
Let’s focus on local content. There’s been this emphasis on it for years. What’s holding it up?
Locally produced content is fundamental to the development and growth of African OTT. With the introduction of DTT in East Africa, there is an increase in locally produced content as some governments require some content to be in local languages and dialects. Southern Africa continues to lag behind the rest of the content in terms of production even with the increase of production by Multichoice channels for their DStv service. West Africa is the largest producer of local content and there are increased investments in that space. That being said there is still a large shortfall in African content in particular genre content. This may be remedied in part by the entry of mobile network operators into the content production business in particular Safaricom in Kenya and MTN in South Africa. These businesses may increase spending via commissions and access to more OTT centric distribution platforms, which will be welcome by African content producers.
Tell us more about why regionally sourced content is so essential?
There is a desperate need for diverse original scripted and non-scripted African content. African audiences continue to clamour for content that reflects their realities and their aspirations. Nollywood’s global success is case in point. Nollywood transcends regional and cultural boundaries very well finding markets in most of Sub-Saharan Africa and the world at large. There is a growing African millennial middle class that wants experiences that reflect their surroundings and desires. This means content producers have to quickly accommodate this fast growing consumer class.
How conjoined do you think the two things – OTT and regional content – are? Is it fair to say their growth will essentially go hand in hand?
One can easily and justifiably say that OTT’s growth and success depends on local content. This is evident in the success of Kenya’s Citizen TV, which changed the Kenyan TV industry when it decided to focus on Kenyan content. This move made it one of the most successful TV stations in Kenya and provided a great case study of how platform growth in Africa is attached to relevant and localised content.
Why has TV Connect Africa quickly become such an important date in the diary for the regional ecosystem?
TV Connect Africa is one of the only conferences – if not the only one! – that brings together all aspects of the content production and content distribution ecosystem under one roof. Not only does one get to network and build business relationships, it also affords many opportunities to interact with others parts of the ecosystem.
I am looking forward to the speakers representing all parts of the ecosystem at a time when the ecosystem is developing faster than usual.