Independent video on demand providers the future of video in Africa

Independent VoD providers the future of video in AfricaWith video on demand (VoD) services and independent VoD providers on the rise in Africa, many believe VoD is the future of video content in Africa and that increasingly there is no space for traditional television providers in the market, who have also taken too long to realise the potential of VoD services. Gabriella Mulligan

Key players on the VoD market in Africa include South African VoD provider Wabona, which has seen over 450,000 downloads of its app Cinemo; while Nigeria’s iROKOtv currently streams 950,000 hours of VoD content each month focusing on Nigeria’s booming Nollywood industry.

VoD is a transformative medium

According to Simbarashe Mabasha, co-founder of Wabona, VoD has the power to transform the video content environment in Africa, with traditional TV providers to be left behind due to their “old school” offerings.“I strongly believe that VoD is a transformative medium that will have a massive impact on content production and content distribution in Africa. It’s part of the future of video content in Africa,” Mabasha said.

“‘Smaller’ services were the first movers, they have years of experience and insight, they are better built businesses in this space as they try new things quicker and they adapt quicker,” Mabasha said.

No space for traditional TV providers
“VoD is not built in the same way [as traditional TV], it’s not linear, it’s not event based, it doesn’t force schedules on you. It’s free and liberal with its offering. You can watch it anywhere and anytime. Traditional TV can’t do that. Its too old school,” he said.

According to Mabasha, there is simply no space for traditional TV providers in the VoD sphere, despite increasing signs of interest from providers such as MultiChoice, and South Africa’s Telkom in launching VoD offerings on the market.

“Their current core businesses are based on legacy technology and mindsets that are seemingly immune to change and innovation. Some of their core businesses are still too lucrative to imagine change,” Mabasha said.

DStv provider MultiChoice earlier this year launched its own VoD service – AfricaMagic GO, however, interestingly, the service targets the diaspora market only despite the provider agreeing that VoD is set to be “an essential part” of the video content market in Africa.

“We believe there is plenty of room for growth in the VOD market as watching content on demand has not yet become habitual in many African countries. Trends around the world have shown that VOD will become an essential part of viewing content in South Africa and Africa at large,” said MultiChoice. While MultiChoice’s VoD offering is aimed at international audiences, the provider is focusing on the roll-out of on-demand films and “catch-up” services for its African markets.

While the focus on diaspora VoD audiences is controversial, iROKOtv founder Jason Njoku admits international audiences lead viewership of iROKOtv, with the United States and United Kingdom forming the largest viewer groups.

A unique link to “home” for diasporans
According to Njoku, VoD provides a unique link to “home” for diasporans, hence the significant uptake of African VoD services by users external to Africa. “It gives Diasporans a direct, easy to access link to the entertainment of ‘home’. Nollywood movies have the faces, the aspirations, the accents, the in-jokes and the cultural references that give them the direct link to Africa that they may not get wherever they are in the world,” Njoku said. Nonetheless, Njoku said the company’s key strategy at the moment is encouraging uptake of iROKOtv from within African audiences.

Connectivity is the main challenge
Both independent and established video providers agree that the main challenge facing VoD services in Africa is the availability of internet connectivity. “The biggest challenge facing uptake of video on demand services in South Africa has been the lack of broadband penetration and costs associated with it. We only have a small percentage of viewers who have broadband in the home, and until we have ubiquitous access for a large portion of our viewers, adoption of online VOD services will not be as robust as we would hope for,” MultiChoice tells

Recent research by the International Data Corporation supports this, finding that the cost of data in South Africa in particular is prohibitive of VoD services. “IDC believes the major impediment to mass adoption of online VOD services in South Africa is the cost of data connectivity, particularly for mobile broadband,” said George Kalebaila, senior research manager for telecommunications and digital media at IDC Africa.

“The advantage of accessing digital content from anywhere on multiple devices will be lost if the cost of data connectivity remains high,” Kalebaila said. According to Mabasha, the uptake of VoD to date is the tip of the iceberg, a “clear indication of a massive opportunity”, hampered by internet availability, as well as difficulties in establishing a business model for these services.

“We are still dealing with the lack of fast and reliable fixed and mobile internet, we are still to get a sustainable revenue model in place for both Ad-supported services and subscription services,” Mabasha said.

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