Xavier Niel ups his interest in Francophone Africa – buying production house in Cote d’Ivoire and expanding streaming with Molotov

7 May 2021

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French telecoms and media billionaire Xavier Niel is increasing his focus on Francophone Africa. According to Allo Forfait, he is finalizing his latest purchase of a production house in Cote d’Ivoire and will appoint an Africa broadcast veteran to oversee this push. He is also one of the key shareholders in Molotov, a French streaming platform that is also focusing on French-speaking Africa. Russell Southwood outlines the acquisition move and talks to Francois Le Pichon, COO, Molotov about its expansion into the continent.

On the production side, Xavier Niel’s Mediawan has been slowing adding local production capacity in Africa. In November 2020, it bought Largardère Studios from Bernard Azria’s Cote Ouest. It followed this purchase with another in Senegal of a production house called Keewu. The latest news is that it is finalizing the purchase of a large-scale production house in Cote d’Ivoire. It wants to establish itself quickly on the continent and has appointed ex-Thema TV CEO Francois Thiellet to head up an Africa-focused division. Thiellet sold Thema TV to Canal Plus in 2014.

Canal Plus will now have some competition in Francophone African markets, which until noe it has had, more or less to itself. Its move to acquire Free-To-Air satellite channel Kana TV in Ethiopia and its acquisition of a minority state in the now independent Multichoice beg a number of questions. Someone familiar with the deal told me that:”Canal Plus don’t see Ethiopia as an Anglophone market so it doesn’t affect their agreement with Multichoice not to go into Anglophone markets.”

French streaming platform Molotov was founded in 2016 by the three industry ‘old hands’: Jean-David Blanc (founder of Allociné), Pierre Lescure (co-founder, Canal Plus) and Jean-Marc Denoual (formerly TF1). Its two main shareholders are Javier Niel (in a personal capacity) and venture capital company Idinvest.

In March 2021 it announced that it had it 100,000 subscribers in its initial roll-out in Francophone Africa. Countries covered were Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Cameroon. Working with Digital Virgo it plans to add DRC, Guinea and Tunisia in the coming months. Le Pichon was reluctant to update subscriber growth figures but said that:”In April, we opened in Cameroon and we’re doing pretty well. Overall, we’re happy with the level of growth.”

Molotov Africa offers 25 channels including familiar ones like Euronews, Africanew, France24 and almost all of the content is in French:”We’re currently 100% focused on Francophone countries.” There are also entertainment (SPI) and sports channels. The SVoD platform has 500 hours of films, documentaries and series. It will grant access to its ad-supported on-demand streaming service Mango:”It is a mix of French international content and local channels.” The local includes channels like Patient TV, Savannah TV, Nina TV and the portfolio of Trace TV channels:”We’re starting to onboard national public television stations like RTS in Senegal and will get most of them up on the platform by the end of the year.”

It charges by the day, three days and monthly but interestingly when you stop watching, the clock stops on the amount of time you buy. Prices vary by country but the daily price is FCFA150 (US27 cents). No credit cards is required as it has carrier billing in all its territories. Through Digital Virgo, it has partnerships with Orange, Moov and MTN.

It has no plans to commission local African content:”It’s not in our DNA. We are a platform to source and aggregate content but I don’t know what we’ll be doing in three years time.” Nevertheless, it sees Africa as a set of strategic markets:”We’re in Africa for the long-haul. It’s part of our international strategy.”

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