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Most South Africans can’t make the most of what the digital world has to offer. Even though there’s a smartphone penetration of 47%, many citizens still can’t access or afford high-speed, expensive mobile internet, and the content it offers. Watching music videos, movies or online lectures, for instance, is a no-go.
This is where Eduze steps in — with a mission to democratise digital content across the continent.
In a telephone interview, Eduze co-founder and CEO Charlie Beuthin explained the reasoning behind the startup’s ambitious mission:
What we’re really trying to do is create these networks or hubs where people can access high-quality content. When I was a child, going to the public library, I used to love the fact that I could get good, relevant content for free. We’re trying to create something similar to that but with digital content.
Eduze is responsible for developing the “Clox”, a localised cloud in a box that’s filled to the brim with rich media content. An HD film can therefore be downloaded within three minutes, and an album within one. No buffering. The device can be installed in hyperlocal areas like your neighbourhood football field or more public areas, from taxi busses and trains to airplanes.
Clox’s design makes it lightweight enough for aircrafts, affordable for schools and can generate revenue for hotels and fast-food franchises. But it’s finding the balance between the tech and the content that the tech company really prides itself in.
“We’re led by the fact that we seek to understand the specific audiences we target,” Beuthin said. Because the storage of these boxes are limited, Eduze isn’t just uploading a gazillion random songs. Instead, it zooms in on the target audiences, offering hand-picked, compelling and relevant content. For instance, Beuthin said that when one of the boxes was being trialled in taxis, it hosted movies and music videos alongside preaching sermons and even digital sangoma blessings.
“This is one of the major points that differentiates us from other providers,” Beuthin told us. While it is providing a rather unique service, because of the Clox’s wide range of applications, the company competes against the likes of Wi-Fi hotspot providers such as Always On and Skyrove to Thales Group, Zodiac and Gogo, which targets aviation entertainment.
“We have a much closer, intuitive sense of what our audiences want in terms of content,” he stated in the interview. It’s an area the entrepreneur has experience in too — after working at some major record labels in the UK, Beuthin started working for MTV Africa, where he was head of talent and music for about two years. Eduze was soon founded together with Finnish media experts Marko Nieminen and Arto Pitsinki.
In a statement, he wrote about his inspiration for content distribution in South Africa:
I was amazed at the oligopoly the telcos had on digital connectivity, and what that meant for both rights owners and users. Selling and distributing content over mobile networks only really works well for the carriers themselves. The process is expensive, slow and unreliable for the user; whilst the rights owner gets a small share of revenue, no control over how his content is sold, and no ability to demo/geo target customers.
That last part is where things really get interesting. Geo-targeting ad campaigns give brands the opportunity to benifit from recorded user data, tracking impressions and campaign analytics. Clox is GPS capable, so geo-targeted messaging is possible; sending an advert when a bus passenger is 200 metres from a KFC, for example, is possible.
There are only four Clox devices out on the market today but Beuthin feels confident that his startup has achieved enough research to start distributing on a mass scale and “scale across verticals.” He adds: “We have enough grip on trialling the product and feel confident as the tech is proved and the content already lined-up.”
Founded in 2013, the company is today in talks with “several major African airliners” and is the current content and sales partner of Taxi SA’s mobile content platform, which finances over 40% of the 200 000 taxis in the country. Eduze has also successfully pitched to Ogilvy for its KFC account, Dreamtime Entertainment and Sovereign Music. It’s also seen interest from Wabona and Bozza — two of Video on Demand (VOD) startups in SA.
The Johannesburg-based startup is looking to target aviation, hotels, fast food outlets and conference centres — “These four areas prove to be the most cost-effective industries at this point in time.”
Aviation is the main, long-term goal as it usually takes around 12 to 18 months to get new products and services certified. But in theory, Euduze can install these Clox boxes around township areas or schools that lack sufficient infrastructures, enabling consumers to access quality education material. You can even connect a US$100 solar panel to the device to make it completely independent of the infrastructure’s shortcomings. The material can be updated via WLAN, USB, Ethernet or 3G.
As soon as you connect to the Wi-Fi and then open your browser, you’ll be presented with categories like education, news, sorts and community.
Asked about how Eduze plans to hold the attention of today’s real-time, on-demand consumers who just can’t get enough of Twitter or YouTube, Beuthin pointed out that the Clox can house multiple 3G dongles inside the device and you can get an ADSL line. It’s just that this aspect is not the company’s focus. “What we’ve found however was that users tend to stick to the local offline content as the online content isn’t fast enough,” explained the CEO. “We’re also not trying to replace the social-media, email user experience. We’re trying to augment it with rich media content. At the moment ADSL isn’t fast enough to download a movie or a TV show.”