Bringing the dynamic world of African web culture to a new television generation

By Amory B. Schwartz

Africa is home to a sixth of the world’s population, but only makes up 9 percent of the world’s internet subscribers and even then, at much lower speeds than the global average. This is beginning to change however with the introduction of new 4G networks and an increasing demand for online content. In turn, this appetite is opening up new opportunities for telecoms operators and TV providers to tap into this lucrative market.

The United Nations estimates that 60 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25 and according to Nielsen's Global Digital Landscape Report, mobile video participation rates for ‘Generation Z’ (15-20) and ‘Millennials’ (21-34) eclipsed those of any other generation. As a new generation of young people continues to cultivate the continent’s strong mobile culture, Africa is poised to be among the first regions to see mobile video consumption surpass every other form of video viewing.

This growth has been led by the popularity of messaging services like WhatsApp, which encourage sharing of short-form viral videos from sources such as YouTube. With the relatively high cost of mobile data, audiences have gravitated towards short-form internet video and there are currently more than 70 YouTube channels in Africa with more than 100,000 subscribers, according to Face2Face Africa. This has led to the rise of YouTube artists such as Ugandan afrobeats artist Jose Chameleon, Kenyan urban gospel Music artist, Mercy Masika and Cameroonian singer-songwriter, Irma Pany. These short-form videos generate a lot of engagement with younger audiences, offering a “wow factor” with all the action and excitement they want in one short burst.

African media and entertainment groups are recognising this online video trend and looking at new ways to engage, retain and ultimately monetise these relatively untapped audiences. For operators, media strategies across Africa vary greatly depending on audience affluence, access to internet, language, and regional tastes. Subscription based services are still dominated by direct-to-home (satellite) operators that have largely opted for imported movies and episodic shows along with premium sports coverage. There is now an opportunity to start packaging premium digital-first video as part of existing services.

Streaming services are growing in Africa, but are largely targeted at more affluent middle-class audiences with fixed broadband connections within South African, Nigerian and Kenyan markets. In the subscription video on demand (SVoD) space, competition between local incumbents and newly arrived international services has led to more demand for locally produced content with studios in South Africa and Nigeria leading the way in terms of popularity.

With relatively low average revenue per user, when compared to Pay-TV services in wealthier North American and European markets, both African operators and international rivals are tailoring content, mixing local and imported videos to attract audiences while at the same time keeping costs down. A great example of one such pioneer is ShowMax, a multiscreen SVoD service that is now available in 37 countries. Since its launch in 2016, it has attracted almost 10 million viewers with a catalogue that includes 50 percent local content.

Recognizing the relatively small fixed broadband market and growing mobile internet trend, last year ShowMax launched a new lower-priced service for Vodacom, a major South African mobile network operator, offering customers unlimited access to a comprehensive catalogue of episodic TV shows, movies and documentaries. Having identified the value of short-form content as a means of attracting younger audiences, ShowMax partnered with The QYOU to create Q Hits, a series consisting of 13 half-hour episodes featuring the best of African short-form video..The show, hosted by the Kenyan former Miss World, Rachel Marete, mixes some of the region’s most popular online videos including fast-paced sports highlights, music and dance, and even comedy skits that have proved popular with younger online audiences.

Looking to the future, the population of Africa is set to reach 1.3 billion by 2020, yet according to The Sub-Saharan Africa Pay TV Forecasts report it currently only has around 20 million Pay-TV households. With huge potential to attract and add subscribers, operators should begin exploring new business models that appeal to a mobile-first, internet-savvy generation. By taking the TV and video content that is proving popular online and compiling it into their offering, operators can build a loyal base of TV subscribers in the future.

Amory B. Schwartz is the Executive Vice President of Global Sales & Commercial Development at the QYOU, a Dublin-based streamed linear channel 


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