Mobile operators seek to lower the high data price barrier by bundling data and content – buy a streamed TV series or film for one price

4 September 2020

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Two of Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest mobile operators - MTN and Vodacom – are now marketing bundled content with data at a single price. Russell Southwood looks at how the mobile VoD market is changing.

This week Vodacom introduced what it’s calling Video Time bundles on its on demand streaming service Video Play. They are designed to take “the guesswork out of data usage when streaming video over a mobile network. For the first time ever, customers no longer have to try and guess how much data they need to watch a movie or their favorite series”.

If the user wants to stream a movie that is an hour and twenty minutes (1hr20min) long, they simply go to the Video Play app and buy that specific Video Play Time bundle (1h20min) and start streaming their movie without depleting their normal data bundle.

Video Play Time can be used to access unlimited series of health and fitness documentaries, news, gospel, Hollywood and South African movies, among many other interesting things to watch. Blockbuster movies, including Bad Boys For Life, Interstellar and BlacKkKlansman are available on Video Play, along with binge-worthy series such Black-ish, The Fixer and The Bold and the Beautiful.

According to Zubair Munshi, Executive Head of Video Commercial at Vodacom:”Vodacom is more than just a telco. Our strategy is to expand our digital content platforms and strive to become a leading go-to brand for all things entertainment. With Time Bundles and Video Play’s flexible subscription model, customers are not tied down to long-term contracts and can watch what they want and when they want to.”

In April 2020 when I spoke to Munshi, Vodacom Video Play had 800,000 active subscribers (2 million registered users) in seven months and was expamding into Lesotho, Tanzania, Mozambique and DRC. According to Vodacom’s 2019/2020 annual report there were 3.5 million Video Play purchases in South Africa. The company also runs a music streaming service called MyMuze (30 million songs sold, app downloaded 1.9 million times) and a game streaming service called PlayInc (883,000 subscribers).

MTN has done something very similar and has what it calls Streaming Packs. This sells certain kinds of content by time. For example, there are streaming packs for YouTube and StarTimes content and you can buy 60 minutes at a time. In Cameroon the video streaming pack is for a service branded as Yabadoo and is more like Vodacom’s Video Time bundling. The prices for content are: TV channels, FCFA100 (US18 cents); feature films, FCFA350 (US63 cents); and TV series, FCFA500 (US$90 cents).

MTN has just launched the US music streaming platform Tidal across its all of its country opcos. Tidal was first launched in Uganda in 2018 so it’s taken a while to reach this position. It also has its own music service Music Time which is available in 6 of its operating countries. To round off its digital offer, it has its own social media platform Ayoba, currently with 2 million active users. It’s not going blow down Facebook’s walls of Jericho but I guess you could present as a respectable start.

In Brief

France 24 increases its reach in South Africa: The French English language public broadcaster has signed a distribution deal with eTV-owned satellite platform OpenView.

Canal+ acquired Bundesliga rights for Sub-Saharan Africa: acquired Bundesliga rights, in French, in Sub-Saharan Africa for a three-month deal, which will cover the period between 2020-2021 and 2022-2023 and will include the top-tier Bundesliga, second-tier Bundesliga 2 and the German Super Cup.

South Africa’s Kgaugelo Maphai launches agency investment vehicle: The former The MediaShop MD, has launched Matrix Communication Group (Matrix Group), a new investment vehicle pursuing interests in marketing and communications, technology, smart farming, renewable energy and cannabis, with communications specialist Dineo Mahloele as MD, effective 1 September 2020. The group’s strategy will be to acquire interests in locally owned, owner-managed independent agencies that offer specialist services in shopper marketing, research and local insights, corporate communications, public relations, business turnaround solutions, activations, digital and sports marketing. The vision is to also extend the group’s footprint into other parts of Africa

First Luo channel in Uganda: Vision Group in partnership with Startimes has launched the first Luo TV station ‘Wan Luo TV’. The Luo, who speak six different dialects will be able to celebrate and strengthen their cultural identity through the channel. The dialects include Acholi, Langi, Jopadhola, Alur, Kumam and Dholuo. It will have 70% local content.

IROKO TV Subscribers Down By 70%, Company Seeks To Refocus Outside Africa IROKO, the Nigerian video-on-demand company is shedding 150 jobs, as it also looks toward North America and Europe to help starve-off the loses it is currently experiencing. Disrupt reported that between April and July 2020, IROKO had lost about 70 per cent of its subscribers. And IROKO's chief executive officer Mr Jason Njoku attributed the losses to the impact of COVID-19, the devaluation of the Naira (the Nigerian currency) as well as adverse effects from amendments to the Nigerian broadcasting regulations. Njoku says that while it is losing subscribers in Africa, and has an accumulated lifetime operating loss of over US$30million," the company is "growing effortlessly outside the continent". Njoku now wants to defocus the business in Africa. According to IROKO's CEO: "Even after pushing incredibly hard in Africa for the last five years, our international business represents 80 per cent of our revenue today, so by taking out Africa growth-related costs, we cut our US$300,000 per month burn to less than US$50,000 a month". It's a strange thing to realise that even after almost nine years with IROKOtv, five exclusively focused in Africa, we still may be too early for Africa." said Njoku.

Tanzania Regulator Bans Clouds FM And Clouds: On 27 August 2020 the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) suspended operations at Clouds FM and Clouds TV. According to the TCRA, the stations were banned because they, without due and proper authorisation, broadcast information related to electoral statistics not approved by the country's National Electoral Commission. It says that "the Clouds TV and Clouds FM violated the Code on political party elections broadcasting act of 2015 in their '360' and 'Power Breakfast' morning programmes on Wednesday, August 26".

MultiChoice up local content production in Ethiopia: This announcement is part of MultiChoice Group’s local content strategy, which seeks to capitalise on Ethiopia’s expected growth potential. Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country with a population of about 110 million. Its GDP grew by 8.3% to $91bn last year, while its information and communications technology sector is considered as largely untapped.

Syinix releases its first Android TV: The new Syinix Android TV features a frameless screen display, Bluetooth 5.0 capabilities, 4K Ultra HD Resolution, Dolby 5.1 Perfect Surround Sound and Android TV operating system at competitive price point. Synix is a brand of Chinese mobile handset manunfacturer Transsion.