Just months after Netflix shot its first original film in Ghana, the U.S.-based company has returned to the African continent.

But while Netflix content will now be available in all 54 African nations, the streaming giant enters a region where Internet penetration — at just under 20% — is the world’s lowest.

The mobile phone boom has helped bring Web access to an estimated 300 million Africans and growing, but high data costs and spotty connectivity have made it difficult for many VOD services to gain traction.

“For millions, the data price-points are way too high to pay for content streaming.”
Jason Njoku

“The infrastructure, generally, isn’t really here for streaming long-form content,” says Jason Njoku, founder of iRoko TV, widely referred to as the Netflix of Africa. “For millions, the data price-points are way too high to pay for content streaming.”

Recognizing the challenges, iRoko switched to a mobile-first, Android-first, download-only version for its Africa platform last year. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has noted that his company is working on video-compression technology that will enable it to deliver data quickly “on any device in any broadband condition.”

In spite of the obstacles, new players are trying to stay ahead of the curve, with falling data costs and increased speeds leading industry analysts to believe a boom is on the horizon.

“Netflix might be worse equipped than local VOD providers to deal with local infrastructural challenges, in that they traditionally don’t modify their platform to adapt to the specificities of local markets,” says Marie Lora-Mungai of leading VOD platform Buni.tv, which allows subscribers to pay with the popular M-Pesa mobile-money transfer service in Kenya.

Notes Njoku: “Netflix is building for the world; we are building for Africa.”