Live streaming opens up new avenues for African broadcasters as the Internet access landscape improves

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Something that would have seemed crazy two years ago in Africa can now quite easily be considered a part of the near future. Bandwidth and internet users are now at the point where mass live streaming services make very good sense. The number of mobile phones able to receive live streams is probably larger than you think. Plus there are interesting business models to monetize the content. Russell Southwood looks at what live streaming has to offer Africa.

Put simply, a live stream is as its name suggests simply a broadcast over the Internet or another data channel in real time. If you’re already broadcasting something live, it’s relatively easy and not so costly to make it available over the Internet to a range of devices including mobile phones, PCs, laptops and tablets.

Because again as the name suggests, it about something that’s live, it will lend itself best either to things like breaking news or music concerts. In audience terms, with the right provider, it can handle millions of streams but at the niche end can do things like conferences, debates and talks: for example, the live stream (by Sstreamm) of Mobile Entertainment Africa in Cape Town got 700 live stream users on the basis of a Twitter campaign started on its first day.

African broadcasters often have large diaspora audiences who want to watch their programmes (particularly breaking news) and delivering these programmes to them over satellite or cable Pay TV is an expensive business (in the hundreds of thousands of dollars) with little or no chance of a commercial return. Wealthier stations like Nigeria’s NTA and AIT/Daar tend to do it for reasons of either public purpose or status. There is almost no audience data on how many people view these niche channels or for what length of time. With video streams, you get clear numbers in terms of how many people are watching, what they viewed and for how long.

Finally, in those countries where broadcast licences are hard to obtain (like South Africa or the more authoritarian African countries), it will become possible to create a TV station that requires no licence. Its channels of delivery would be mobile phones and laptops. The argument is not that this type of station would compete with Free To Air channels in audience scale but they would have a significantly cheaper cost base and be able to survive on an audience base of between half to one million people. Better still, the type of person that would view this kind of station would be in the top LSMs and therefore attractive to key advertisers.

Finally, for time-based broadcasters, it allows them to offer continuous coverage of an event without that coverage needing to eat into other premium programming on the schedule. So advertisers can be assured of a double-hit in audience terms. News programmes can then dip in and out of the event, whilst pointing people off to the live stream.

There are two providers focused on the African market that will allow broadcasters to take a step into this market: London-based Livestation which focuses on news coverage and Johannesburg-based Sstreamm which deals with live events.

Livestation has many of the top global news brands on its platform including:CNN, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, CNBC, Bloomberg and Euronews. Currently it has 31 million video visits a month, 15 million unique visitors and each visitor views an average of 13 minutes per visit. Furthermore, these numbers increased enormously during the Arab Spring and keep on growing. Livestation wants to attract 3-5 high quality African news channels. Those stations will then be placed on an extremely well-visited site and will both attract viewers from their own diasporas and the curious from other parts of the globe.

Livestation can deliver to all the main devices including mobile phones (with apps for smartphones), PCs and laptops, tablets (again with apps) and smart TVs. It can either do it directly on its own branded Livestation site or give broadcasters a “white label” service to run on their own sites. Mobile operators need to be interested in seeing this happen because it will drive use on higher-end data-enabled phones.

Transdigital Media’s Sstreamm service is based in South Africa and combines the experience of Julian Van Plato from the music industry and Greg Upton from the broadcast rights side.

It offers those wanting to do live streaming a simple and relatively inexpensive box that feeds the signal back to its servers and then out to the devices. Plato says they are primarily focused on mobiles as that will be where the market will be in the first instance. It is signing up mobile operators across the continent so this is not just for South Africa. The stream can be received by a wide range of phones, including those at the low end but obviously the lower the bandwidth, the less smooth the picture.

It has done a music event for Vodafone in Ghana and is looking to do music events, sporting evetns (like marathons) and conferences (including corporate events). It has also put in a unit into a club in Johannesburg to have the first live stream venue.

So what might the business models be? In the case of Livestation, it offers an advertising sales service working with “best of breed” providers. Because the audiences are in the diaspora, the potential revenues are significantly larger than they might be in Africa: Al Jazeera is already getting net revenues, after having paid for the service.

In the African context, in the short-term, it would be a natural for mobile company sponsorship. A live music or sport event fits their targeted demographics and drives the all-important use of data on their platforms.

For more information on either of these providers, please contact us on:

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