Thema’s Bouquet Africain will hit 100,000 subscribers by year end

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Africa’s broadcasters desperately need to develop rights revenues by selling their programming elsewhere if the market is to develop. French distributor Thema has played a big part in making this a reality for francophone broadcasters and is now moving on to launch lusophone and anglophone channels for the same target audiences. Last week, Sylvain Beletre spoke to François Thiellet, founder and director of Thema TV about these latest developments.

THEMA has developed over 50 TV channels all around the world and built strong relationships with major payTV platforms in France, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia.

 

Q: What is your involvement in Africa and how did you come to have this close connection with the continent?

A: I have been in contact with Africa for the last 25 years now. There are several angles and factors to consider. One is about geography: a North to South, and South to North migration. Let me give you some background details. Thema is the right partner to provide linear TV channels as well as content for VOD (SVOD) services. Major International Media Groups trust us to handle the distribution of their channels, which is why THEMA has become the first provider of Ethnic TV channels in Europe, particularly in France, with the successful launch of "The African Bouquet" (“Le Bouquet Africain” in French) and others. Le Bouquet Africain is all about this South to North content migration. It is the first of its kind in Europe. The bouquet was launched in September 2008 by Thema and Canal Overseas Africa for the French market. This African Bouquet now has two bouquet options: a basic one which includes 8 African TV Channels such as 2Stv (Senegal), RTS (Senegal), RTI (Ivory cost), RTB (Burkina Faso), CRTV (Cameroun), ORTM (Mali), etc. The “enlarged” bouquet is made of 15 TV channels. We have started to include Anglophone channels, such as two from Nigeria. It has taken us time and effort to package and market it and we have set up distribution agreements with all major French operators: SFR, Free, Bouygues Telecom (Bbox), Alice, Orange, Numéricable (available soon) and CanalSat (web TV offer). The big news is that we expect 100,000 paid subscribers to « Le Bouquet Africain » at the end of 2010, a major achievement for this unique segment. The second big news regarding the bouquet is that we also expect to launch a lusophone version.

 

Q: I understand you’re also expanding into the Indian Ocean région ?

 

A: The "Bouquet Océan Indien" package is made up of several channels from various Indian Ocean areas such as: The Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Réunion Island. We started with the Comoros TV channel ORTC which was only broadcast via terrestrial means until we set up an agreement. Its signal is now broadcast via satellite in the Indian Ocean and brought back to France to be distributed via ADSL (Free and SFR). As a consequence, ORTC’s audience has exploded. This region is important in France: there are about 4 to 500,000 Comorians living in France today, and it was estimated that one in ten persons in Marseille come from Comoros. We also launched other channels related to Africa, such as Trace TV, the first international urban TV network which includes African influences. Urban Culture is one of the fastest growing segments of media market and captures the interest of a majority of young people who are looking for authentic, fun, cutting edge and relevant urban content and expression. Trace TV airs the most popular urban music genres including the latest in R&B, Hip Hop, Reggae, Latin, Dance Hall, Oriental, Afro Beast, Electro, Techno, Club, 24 hours-a-day. Urban music is broadcast in various formats such as music videos, countdowns, making-of, behind the scene, concerts, etc… Trace TV is already distributed in more than 90 countries.

 

Q: Do you have any non-linear projects related to Africa?

 

A: We do indeed. Back at the end of 2009, we launched the first SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) platform branded as “films d’Afrique” (see special tab under www.lebouquetafricain.com). We have acquired 300 hours of African programmes to set the catalogue up. The major differentiator with this platform is that consumers pay a monthly fee instead of a fee per film. You get unlimited access on 90 programmes available: TV series, films, music vids from all over Africa for only 4.99 Euros /month. The catalogue is updated monthly with 20 new programmes. We have analysed that the most watched programmes are from Mali, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Guinea. TV Series/Soaps are the most watched types of programmes. The platform was released by Free (one of the largest French multiplay operator) on 9 November 2009 under the “FHV Africa” (Free Home Video) brand, and by Numéricable (the largest French cable-operator) on 21 June 2010. It is very simple to access: for example with Numéricable, users just click on “VOD” within their remote control. It was a risky bet, and I consider it to be a success for this very niche service: we have recorded 6000 subscribers so far.

Q: Have you set up an internet strategy to promote these packages?

A: To enable further access to the African bouquet, we have set up a related website all in French which provides daily update on the programmes broadcast:www.lebouquetafricain.com The site also enables us to get viewers’ feedback. In parallel, we also feed and interact on a related facebook page.

 

Q: How do you promote and enhance these packages?

A: We undertake promotional campaigns, including onsite at some major events. We also carry out audience research to find out who is watching our channels.

Q: Who are your major partners?

A: Our major partners are multi-play operators. Canal + Afrique has invested a lot in these projects with us, especially on the technical level. We have also sealed partnerships with Africa No.1 (radio), TV5Monde (TV), and Africolor (music event).

 

Q: Today, which projects related to Africa are dear to your heart?

A: We want to share this African content with a wider audience. We need to strengthen our position in France, and we plan on expanding this bouquet to other countries, starting with Europe. Our model could also be replicated in Africa.

Q: What are your own favourite African films and TV series?

A: As part of our “films from Africa” (Films d’Afrique in French) offer, which includes over 100 programs each month, I would pick: Concert Series TV, and for 4.99 €, I would also highlight: - “Lassana Hawa Cissoko” Concerts from Mali or the famous “Ganda Fadiga” (Mali again) - Actor Star “Moussa Koffoe” who plays in several series (Guinea) or the famous actor “Gohou” (Ivory Coast) in a program like "Les guignols d’Abidjan".

Q: When was the company created and how many people do you employ at Thema TV?

A: THEMA was created back in January 2005 by me. We employ about fifteen people in Paris.

Q: Where is Thema TV located?

A: Our HQ is in Paris 16 and we have subsidiaries in Russia and in Singapore.

More details at www.thematv.com and on www.lebouquetafricain.com