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AfricaCom 2018: Kwese, TelOne & Other Players Looking To Get Into VoD Services Have To Think Long-Term

We all know the troubles that African companies are going through to launch their own OTT Video services. From the likes of Kwese iflix to TelOne’s DEOD we are yet to have that one outstanding service that’s an instant hit and the honest truth is when you are making a VOD service, an instant hit is not attainable. One of the more interesting talks I attended today at AfricaCom was the Launching OTT Video Services In Sub-Saharan Africa panel discussion.

Local is lekker

One of the more interesting points that were raised was simply the fact that providers who have focused on local content have managed to survive longer. One of the speakers on the panel was Jason Njoka and you may have heard of his VoD service – Iroko TV. Iroko was founded back in 2011 and it’s one of the few success stories in the African VoD space. How did they manage to succeed? By focusing on local content first and putting the Hollywood stuff lower on the priority list. I have been a proponent of going down the local-content creation route for a while now and services such as Iroko are a clear indicator of the thirst that exists for a high-quality African content. People watch what they relate to and for us, that means African stories.

What happens when you take a different route?

Services that have been taking irrelevant content and brought it to Africa have basically been declared dead on arrival and the panellists seem to include iflix on that list of OTT Video Services that have failed to take off. This is the same iflix that Kwese partnered with and made a lot of noise a few months ago. Though the partnership in itself was quite interesting the truth of the matter is that the content on offer once you sign up isn’t too gripping and this is why a few months down the line there’s less excitement around the iflix service.

How can we bring pricing down?

The panel also touched briefly on how they can reduce costs when it comes to acquiring content and one interesting thing they pointed to is for companies to produce their own content in-house. Because competition is getting so intense and everyone seems to be making their content exclusive to their own service, creating your own content is a great way of subsidizing some of those costs.

In Africa, this becomes more relevant because even though Netflix and Amazon and all other VoD players are interested in capturing the African market, African producers and studios are at an advantage as they can tell more authentic stories targeting Africans and not the entire world. After learning some hard lessons it seems Kwese has learnt this lesson and when they decided to revise their strategy and focus on their VoD services they also announced that they will be creating their own studio and focusing more on local content than anything.

Long road ahead of us…

Marie Lora Mungai (CEO of Restless Global) mentioned whoever is going to be in it needs to be ready to be in it for 10 years whilst learning how to actually make money from this business. The 10 years might not be literal but it’s a pretty good indicator of the fact that this is not one of those industries where you can just throw wads of cash at problems and conquer everything. Instead, you need to convince people to part with their money and the only way to do so is through offering quality content.

You may want to throw millions into marketing but marketing only gets someone through the door. The bigger issue is convincing someone to stay once they have entered and a lot of companies are learning this the hard way. A company that I predict will learn this the hard way is TelOne and their DEOD offering. On the surface, the content seems moderately ok but I don’t see how that offering can ensure that you have repeat subscribers on that service as that catalogue is too slim and out-dated. Time will tell but it seems there are some hard lessons to be learnt.

What will be interesting is seeing whether all these players have the patience it takes to actually get it right…

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