There are so many video on demand and over the top services for content these days, one can almost become exhausted simply by deciding which to use.

A large majority of these services come from abroad, but Africans are starting to create their own services that cater to a local audience.

This thirst for content has been highlighted as locals spend more time at home due to lockdowns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The likes of YouTube and Netflix saw this coming and made provisions so that internet infrastructure didn’t collapse under the demand for content.

But a lot of content is internationally created or hosted and while there are Africans making waves on platforms such as Netflix and YouTube, there is space for services that cater to Africans.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a whole new wave of thinking and illustrates the potential market for user-generated content. There has already been strong growth in short form and user-generated content in recent years, and now more than ever, we’re seeing that good content can be shot at home – without studios and production teams. Coming out of this, we will also have a far more digital-savvy consumer than before,” says managing director of Discover Digital, Stephen Watson.

While there is a desire for local content, Watson cautions against simply copying and pasting Netflix’s business model.

We’ve seen South African mobile network operators enter the video on demand (VOD) space to varying levels of success. Vodacom’s Video Play allows users to rent movies and also offers customers data bundles specifically for Video Play.

Sadly, last year we saw Cell C’s video on demand play, black shut down citing it no longer having the resources to compete in that environment.

“You have to take into account key factors that are aligned with your audience’s interests, whether they are banked, and what your unique selling point is,” explains Watson.

The MD uses the example of Africa being a largely, mobile first continent. Simply put that means the primary screen for many Africans is their mobile phone. With that in mind, a VOD service may not need to offer 4K content at all if it chooses to cater to a purely African audience.

While Showmax is available abroad, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t stream content at 4K resolution, because the folks that can likely represent a tiny fraction of the total audience. Instead, Showmax has shown it caters to a local audience with solutions such as having a mobile only plan and allowing folks to add their subscription to a phone bill.

Sure, 4K streaming would be nice but developing solutions and features that attract not only users, but inevitably creators to the platform is what is important when starting services such as this out.

Remember, Netflix didn’t start out being the biggest streaming service in the world, it built that brand up over many years as it pivoted from DVD rentals delivered to your home.

“Players in this space will have the best chance of survival if they define their unique selling point and market value offering very carefully – especially the content offering and monetisation strategy, and if they create bundles with telcos to alleviate concerns about data costs. This takes time, so it is important to plan for this and ensure the runway is long enough,” says the MD.

Circling back to the point about content, this is arguably one of the more important aspects of creating a VOD or OTT service for Africa.

The Discover Digital MD says that back catalogue content from abroad shouldn’t necessarily be a primary focus when building the offering out.

“Local content is crucial, especially music and comedy. Back catalogue helps to fill the shelves but only fresh, original and exclusive content pulls customers,” remarks Watson.

“Because international content is expensive, aggregation and collaboration are key to realising a return on investment. If content is king, then data is queen. Data is the key driver of revenues for operators, and video is driving data consumption, but stand-alone VOD products do not sell well. Bespoke bundled offers that speak to African consumers’ needs and budgets, are critical,” concluded the MD.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]