Africa’s Converged Content and Services Space – Finding out what’s what and who’s who in the new digital economy

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With faster, cheaper bandwidth either ready or not far off, Africa is experiencing the digital content and services moment. Like all things at the beginning, it’s full of fits and starts but the direction is clear. Russell Southwood senses that something is happening here but maybe you don’t know it is.

About two years, we started (rather quietly) a web TV channel (called smartmonkeytv.com) to replace the now defunct Balancing Act You Tube Channel. It’s taken us a bit of time to get clear what it was about and who might be interested but we’ve got there.

It tracks and analyses the arrival of Africa’s digital content and services economy looking at how far things have got to and the barriers holding back further development. It describes itself as for “Creators and Innovators in Africa at the crossroads of culture and technology.”

With the arrival of cheaper mobile Internet and much larger numbers using, it’s now a question of what the Internet’s going to be used for and how. Africa’s Internet is like a great big biro and people are finding out what they want to write. There’s an enormous ferment of activity and the summary that follows is provided to give some feel for the scale of it:

VoD Platforms: We have counted over 100 video on demand platforms in Africa for a recent report and the number continues to grow. MTN says it is only weeks away from launching its own subscription service with South African company Discover Digital.

Two of this new breed of VoD platforms have been launched by film-makers who we met again at the continent’s TV market, DISCOP 2014. Juliet Asante’s Mobilefliks has had 100,000 downloads of

Pascal Schmitz’ iBiskop is a download to own online shop which will also have Wi-Fi hot-spots where customers can download for free: it will be launching in 26 African countries.

Older, more established platforms include iROKO and Buni TV, both of which are believers in generating content for their own platform. In this video clip interview, Jason Njoku, iROKO talks about launching its production arm ROK Studios to test film and TV series.

In a clip from DISCOP 2013, Marie Lora Mungai, Buni TV reflects  how to make a success of African online content.

Music On Demand Platforms: Again from a recent report of ours, we have counted 100+ music on demand platforms and the number continues to grow. South African hip-hop artist Slikour has launched an SMS-based service:

Two of the older platforms are Spinlet and iROKING. Nkiru Balonwu, CEO, music platform Spinlet told us how mobile operators take most of their revenues.

Jason Njoku, iROKO talked about why its online music platform iROKING will grow in Nigeria

New Forms of Media: Improvements in bandwidth are creating new forms of media to fill gaps that previously could not easily have been filled. Larry Izamoje, Sports Radio Brila FM on launching an online sports TV channel in Nigeria aimed at smartphone users, particularly those stuck in traffic.

Geoff Cohen of South Africa’s  24.com is using mobile to extend the reach of this Naspers-owned news platform.

The late lamented Carey Eaton, One Africa Media talked to us about how it has built a business by providing the online equivalent of classified sites.

E-commerce: For years the hurdles to getting successful commerce in Sub-Saharan Africa were too great. But there are now something like 2 million people in Nigeria ordering online. I spoke to Jumia Nigeria’s Jeremy Doutte about becoming the largest retailer – physical or online – Nigeria.

The impact on small start-ups of having this kind of channel is perhaps best exemplified by my interview with fashion start-up CEO Rukky Ladoja, Grey who talks about selling through Jumia.

Andy Higgins, uAfrica is creating an e-commerce platform for SMEs in South Africa and Nigeria and is already attracting a significant number of merchants .

Gamers: GamersNights is a Ugandan organisation for multiplayer computer gamers. Having got an agreement with Liquid Telecom to host one of its servers, it is expanding its user base further.

Alrick September, Techladon is launching an African gamers news website and organizing the forthcoming FIFA 15 gaming tournament in Cape Town.

Olakunle Ogungbamila, Kuluya Games has struck distribution deals for its games in China and India

ICT4D: ICT for Development (ICT4D) is finally making some real inroads into areas like education and health. Alice Liu, Director of ICT4D, Jhpiego talks about how mobile provision could change healthcare.

Bas Hoefman, Text To Change has carried out  Tanzania's largest m-health programme using SMS.

Susan Oguya, MFarm is helping Kenyan small-scale farmers sell their crops using mobile

Mark Bennett, iSchool is using low cost tablets to change learning methods in Zambia

Digital Advertising: One of the two business models for African online content is advertising so it’s important to understand the dynamics of digital advertising spend. Seanice Kacungira runs a Ugandan digital agency and talks about the tipping point for online advertising

Shahzad Khan works for one of the continent’s large advertising agencies and sees the rapid growth of the Internet in Africa as one of the reasons for the rise in digital ad spend.

Social Media:
This has been the runaway success of Internet use in Africa and is already affecting behavior in many ways. Paul Bomani talks about the growth of social media in Tanzania and how his clients use it for social engagement.

Christian Katsuva talks about a Twitter campaign #GomaNeedsWater which as used to focus the city’s government and water provider on the current shortfall.

Brett St Clair, Google talked to me about what You Tube is doing in Africa and what content is successful.

Nicola D'Elia of Facebook sees its social media platform as an "on-ramp" for Africa's first-time Internet users.

Our web TV channel smartmonkeytv.com publishes between 10-15 video clip interviews (5-10 minutes in length) a month. There are already over 500 of them, providing a Who’s Who of the players in the new African digital content and services economy. To subscribe click here  and then click on the red Subscribe button on the right hand side of the screen.

The web TV channel also has two free fortnightly e-letters:

Digital Content Africa which covers film and TV, music, media, digital advertising, social media and other digital content and services. To see what it covers, have a quick look at the back issues:
To subscribe, send me an email with Digital Content Africa in the title to inf@balancingact-africa.com

Innovation in Africa which covers start-ups and investment, energy, ICT4D, 3D printing, innovation and cities. To see what it covers, have a quick look at the back issues:
To subscribe, send me an email with Innovation in Africa in the title to info@balancingact-africa.com

If your job in the telecoms or Internet space involves either providing bandwidth for these online pioneers or figuring out how to monetize this digital content and services, you need to stay ahead of what’s happening. As this e-letter has done in the telecoms and Internet so will these new sources help you with this task.