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Video-on-Demand Race Heats up in Africa

From niche start-ups offering hyper-local content to deep-pocketed tech giants with pan-African aspirations, the continent’s VOD race is heating up as new players look to tap into a potential audience of 1 billion African consumers.

According to consultancy firm Balancing Act, more than 100 VOD platforms are now staking their claims to the African marketplace, though most so far have focused on single-territory or regional markets.

“The strongest ones, the most serious ones, are in South Africa right now,” says Balancing Act’s Sylvain Beletre. “The groups behind them have strong finances, or strong assets in terms of rights.”

South Africa sizzled this summer, with Naspers’ ShowMax and PCCW’s ONTAPtv jockeying for position with DStv’s BoxOffice ahead of Netflix’s expected arrival in 2016, as the tech giant pursues its aggressive global expansion plan.

Audiences so far are relatively small: just 6% of African online traffic is video, according to the Sandvine Global Internet Phenomena Report, which tracks global Web use. But Sandvine also predicts the continent will be the fastest new adopter of online video in the coming years.

The race for African auds is being spurred by the growing reach of mobile phone networks, whose services have become more widespread and reliable in recent years. Increased competition between telecoms operators — especially in urban areas — is also helping to bring down broadband prices, long seen as one of the greatest obstacles to widespread streaming adoption.

According to Beletre, the growth potential for streaming is evident in the fact that YouTube consistently ranks among the top five most-visited websites across Africa. Yet Naspers will reportedly allow users to download content from its website once ShowMax launches outside of South Africa — an acknowledgement that the cost of streaming might be prohibitive for most African consumers.

Still, for the many start-ups lacking the financial muscle to acquire premium foreign content — and trying to differentiate themselves from an increasingly crowded pack — the greatest challenge might be finding enough high-quality African films and series to build a strong local following. Beletre notes that South Africa’s MultiChoice has a reputation for aggressively snatching up rights to top African productions, leaving many competitors out in the cold.

The entrance of new players into the market has the potential to fuel a production boom, especially now that industry standards are starting to emerge across the continent. While the market “used to be very wild and very disadvantageous for the rights owners,” according to Beletre, “it looks like it’s more balanced now.”

What the market will look like in the coming years, though, is hard to predict. Established platforms like Nigerian giant iROKOtv, Buni.tv, AfricaFilms.tv, and Tuluntulu will look to capitalize on increasing auds, while Beletre sees potential for a host of other players to enter the arena, from telecom operators to broadcasters looking to capitalize on a built-in audience base.

Even competitors who might stand to lose the most from rapid VOD penetration, like a South African exhibitor, have been considering setting up their own VOD platforms, says Beletre, “just to make sure that they also capture that segment.”

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