Local streaming services have edge over global counterparts

Wi-flix, an online streaming platform providing distinctive African content, was founded by Louis Manu and Bright Yeboah. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn
Wi-flix, an online streaming platform providing distinctive African content, was founded by Louis Manu and Bright Yeboah. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn

Over the last five years, Africa has become a prized territory for multinational streaming services in their ongoing battle for supremacy. While many nations on the continent are, collectively speaking, undeveloped markets in this regard, Africa boasts huge potential for rapid growth. This is the view of Louis Manu, chief commercial officer of Wi-flix.

According to a report by London-based intelligence firm Digital TV Research, streaming video on demand (SVOD) subscriptions in Africa, which stood at around 5.11 million by the end of 2021, look set to triple by 2026. This has been driven by the increased connectivity infrastructure throughout Africa, the proliferation of smart devices, and a steadily growing, young, tech-savvy population.

Streaming services, by nature, are disruptors. Their presence has already had a significant impact on movie theatres, and terrestrial, and cable television markets internationally, and now local streaming services are staking their claim, country by country, across the African continent. We believe that local players have the edge over their international counterparts. That is because they are closer to their audience, have a greater knowledge of what they like to watch, and have deeper insights into how they consume that content.

We have learned a lot over the past two years. We looked at what the international streaming services were doing, and asked – how can we disrupt the disruptor?

For starters, we know that while our audience enjoys international blockbusters, there is a vibrant entertainment culture across the continent that is crying out for recognition.

Whether it is music, art, or film and television content, African people love to celebrate their local heroes and we love to consume local content. Today, African streaming services like Wi-flix in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria,  iROKOtv and GloTV in Nigeria, and Showmax in South Africa – are all providing large amounts of locally made content (alongside high-end international offerings), and their offerings are proving more popular with African audiences.

Netflix has even taken notice, pledging to invest R929 million into South Africa’s creative industry by 2023, and has entered a collaboration with Ebony Life to produce films for the Nigerian market.

Furthermore, local platform owners can navigate the entertainment terrain more easily, not just by being more in touch with local audiences’ tastes, but also by being aware of the standards and requirements of the broadcasting authorities in their regions.

Growing up on the continent

Content producers and commissioners have also recognized the appetite for local content. According to Disrupt Africa, African content start-ups had their best funding year on record in 2020, raising a combined total of $13.9 million, almost 19 times the amount raised in the previous year and nearly 116 times what was secured in 2018.

With entertainment platforms and start-ups seeing increased success, investors are starting to throw more money behind them, adding them to the fintech, e-commerce, and health ventures already in their portfolios.

Local streaming providers also have greater insights into how their audiences are consuming their content, from the devices they are using to what they are spending on data to watch their favourite shows.

Data costs are higher in Africa compared to Europe, which is why we thought it important to partner with data providers to create bundle-and-subscription-based plans and to stream from platforms that are optimized to give viewers the best experiences on handheld devices, particularly in terms of functionality and display.

We took that a step further too, uploading content in “bite-sized” packages so that audiences can view a single show with data purchased per episode to allow them to keep up to date with a particular series, or watch a movie in stages.

We did this because we understood that it would allow more people to afford to enjoy the luxury of quality entertainment. It is a much more competitive and inclusive solution than having to subscribe at a premium and buy enough data to stream at much higher Mbps.

We understand our subscribers, because we’ve grown up here, and have faced the same challenges they face. Because data can be costly, we recognized that many of our subscribers would benefit from a service that has built functionality into the core of its platform to allow visibility on how much data they are consuming while viewing.

When our subscriber’s data is running out, they have the option to top up with a lower amount to be able to finish the content they are watching. Alongside offering full movies and shows, we also offer short 10-minute creations that can be consumed quickly without consuming much data.

The blueprint for success

African streamers – in fact, start-ups in any field – shouldn’t set their sights low. Whatever their vision, help, training, and funding are targets that they can, and should shoot for. Participating in MEST’s (The Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology) accelerator program, being able to gain access not only to seed funding, but MEST’s Africa-wide tech community, has proved hugely valuable to our growth and success.

As the vision for a start-up begins to become a reality, it’s important to note that doing things differently in Africa should not mean giving or accepting lesser quality. We are excited about our growth efforts and the giant moves we have taken to deliver quality cinematic experiences and exciting content to our customers while streaming on their smartphones, laptops, smart TVs, and other devices anywhere and anytime.

What we’re even more excited about in this short period of operation is the incremental growth on the back of strategic partnerships that we believe would elevate the quality of content produced and consumed in Africa. The growth journey currently recorded a phenomenal 2.1million cumulative paid subscriptions as of Q3 this year, generated by 41.6% of our customers.

Our strategy for success and growth is very simple: add more quality and original content, and make access to data affordable. .

Guardians of Africa’s entertainment legacy

The rise of streaming platforms in Africa has provided more options for content creators when it comes to pitching their content. In the past, African creators were typically paid a flat fee for their concepts, while the IP and any licensing format going forward, remained with the company or broadcaster who financed and produced it.

Now some platforms like ours are offering them full, or at least partial, ownership of their IP beyond the show’s initial broadcast, which will make a significant impact on their ability to continue to finance and produce great work.

Streaming platforms offer creators the ability to reach wider audiences, with their creations available for streaming outside of their country – even outside of their continent. We believe in empowering creators, which is why we offer funding and collaborations to get projects off the ground. On top of this, creators retain full (if they are self-funded) or partial (if Wi-flix helps with funding) ownership of their IP.

African streaming service platforms have an excellent opportunity and a responsibility to empower the continent’s creative communities, giving them a bigger stage for their creations, while helping them protect their future earnings. This can empower them to not only become major players in the ongoing global streaming race, but it can ensure that local providers become the guardians of Africa’s entertainment legacy.

  • Louis Manu is the chief commercial officer of Wi-flix. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Ventureburn.

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