Pace of VOD launches gathers speed in the wake of iROKO – launches in South Africa

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In Africa, the success of one venture is always the spur to many others launching in the same space. The high profile investment in Nigeria’s iROKO Partners seems to have driven interest in the VOD space and more launches have followed. But not all African VOD platforms are the same. Last week saw the launch of a South African platform Russell Southwood spoke Wabona’s Simbarashe Mabasha and tries to understand what makes the VOD platforms different.

Wabona’s platform was, according to Mabasha, launched out of a sense of frustration:”We are an aspiring production house but it was very difficult being a TV programme producer. We were held hostage to price and were living hand-to-mouth. We saw Netflix and went to the States to see how it worked and thought Africa needs this. iROKO led the way but it’s a huge market place. Distribution will redefine the landscape.”
See video clip interview here. soft launched in Europe, Australia and Europe at the end of October and launched across Africa on 13 November. It will focus on South African film and TV content but it has also signed films from neighboring Zimbabwe. Titles include SABC series staple Yizo Yizo and the comedy Suburban Bliss. It has also focused on getting African-American content from Paramour, Quietly and By The Numbers:”Part of our content strategy is to purchase content from the diaspora for Africa, including Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean content.”

The day after its launch, it had attracted 100 users and Mabashe said it was “still growing. This is a beta before we launch the full service. We want to get to 3,000 users and are looking at achieving an ARPU of US$12.”

In addition, it will make its own content and co-produce:”We have 25 drama and comedy concepts and 10 magazine concepts we want to develop. These will vary and could be 5, 10 or 22 minutes.” The VOD platform is hosted on a CMS platform in Phoenix in the USA but can be cached locally all over the world.

He sees his competitors as being DStv’s Box Office, MeTVAfrica and iROKO (mostly on the Nollywood front). To this list might be added Buni TV and But there are at least three more online VOD platforms that are likely to launch at some point over the next three to six months.

For those unfamiliar with these platforms, a quick briefing may be helpful:

DStv’s Box Office is the Pay TV provider’s first foot in the water in terms of VOD. It is largely focused on international content, particularly Hollywood movies. It is currently doing 600,000 transactions a month in South Africa and will be rolled out across its Sub-Saharan territories. On the basis of the South African numbers, it will probably achieve transactions in the low thousands to low tens of thousands in the countries where bandwidth is effective for high-end users.

iROKO Partners has already been widely covered and is currently focused on delivering Nollywood and Nigerian music to the diaspora. But as bandwidth has improved, the number of people streaming content from Nigeria has significantly increased over the last 12 months. Further improvements in bandwidth will lead to greater numbers of users. After 3 months, its premium pay platform had attracted 5,000 users.

Buni TV is the East African VOD platform launched by XYZ Show’s Gado with Marie Lora-Mungei. It has been at pains to assert that it will be a platform for quality content and its sponsorship of prizes at recent African film festivals in Europe has reinforced this message.

MeTVAfrica is part of South Africa’s iBurst group and in June 2012 was getting 10,000 views a month. 60-80% of these users came from South Africa and the next biggest country is Kenya, followed by Nigeria. It has had three big hits in content terms: a reality show on SABC with Jozi hip-hop group Ghetto Rough; Isicoco; and Rocket in Flight. Rocket in Flight is produced by digital agency Half Loaf with an actor from the UK called Humanoid. Isicoco is a short series of one minute animations about a comical Zulu Warrior who is also a superhero:”Animation and comedy are really developing on the continent. Rocket in Flight is not a show about “us” (Africans) but just something that entertains.”
See video clip interview here:

Backed by European funding, describes itself as “100% African VOD”. Although it has on a non-exclusive basis both Anglophone and Francophone films, the strength and distinctiveness of its catalogue is probably currently its Francophone offer. Like Buni TV, it sees itself as curating a “quality” film offer for both Africans and those interested in African film.
See video clip interview here:

The distribution of content geographically may give some clues as to how things will shape up over the next 12 months. There is a considerable volume of Nollywood and Nigerian music content out there. iROKO says it has tied up the best of it on an exclusive basis but that will not prevent a steady queue of challengers taking them on.

Outside of Nigeria, the potential VOD catalogues are relatively smaller and might be focused in order of scale around: South Africa (where again competition will become intense); Kenya (with some Ugandan and Tanzanian content); and Ghana (where there is a larger, long tail that some might imagine). Francophone and lusophone Africa stand out as country groupings that might either work by themselves or combined with international content. Finally, there has to be some kind of challenger delivering international content against DStv’s Box Office service. Orange has been trying this in Mauritius and may yet take this out across its other territories as bandwidth improves.

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New market report: VoD and Africa - A review of existing VoD services, drivers, challenges and opportunities (Dec. 2013)

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