Often it feels as if there is a new streaming service launching every week.

The success of platforms such as YouTube and Netflix have inspired firms around the world to try their hand at serving up video.

We’ve seen our fair share of companies creating video-on-demand services. Long lost services like Vidi and the Altech Node are now resigned to the history books after failing to generate enough interest, revenue, or both.

The most recent VOD death we’ve seen was Cell C’s black, but this is not a post-mortem of VOD services, instead we want to look to the future.

Recently we featured insight from Discover Digital managing director, Stephen Watson.

Discover Digital is an end-to-end digital media firm that assists firms with VOD services, licensing of content and much more. The firm operates primarily on a business to business level rather than creating its own VOD service.

The insight provided by Watson was great, but we had a fair number of additional questions following the publication of the piece linked above.

As such, we gave Watson a call and probed him for additional insight, particularly as regards local content, and whether there is space for other players, particularly African players, in the VOD market currently dominated by international players.

The short answer is yes, but it is by no means as easy as mirroring operations in other parts of the world, or even other African nations.

“What we’ve said to international players looking to enter the market is that the African market has a huge population that is unbanked and they don’t have credit cards. Even those who are banked such as blue collar workers receive their wages in cash and those who receive their wages paid into a bank account don’t have a credit card,” explains Watson.

For this reason many international players launching locally need to factor that into their market plan. By only catering for those with credit cards, a large number of potential customers in Africa are immediately excluded.

Watson points to Netflix’s launch in India which featured a mobile only subscription tier. Considerations such as that are key for international players.

Something else to consider is how African consumers, erm, consume data. Partnerships which allow users to buy data that can be used in tandem with a streaming service or even allow payment of a subscription are incredibly valuable for local consumers.

But what about the local companies toying with the idea of launching a VOD service?

Being on the continent should give companies better insight into the market but why then do we have a graveyard of failed VOD services here in South Africa even when data was zero rated for many of these services?

In that regard Watson says that key questions need to be answered.

“Data wasn’t the Achilles Heel so what was it? Was it billing? Was it that the market was immature or was it that the content was a copy/paste of what Netflix was offering,” asks the MD.

Regarding that last point about content Watson says, “You have to think to yourself, ‘Isn’t that the content that’s most pirated and actually should we be considering locally unique content that is socially and culturally aligned in a short format for mobile and a longer format for the fibre-to-home and gated community users.”

“Unfortunately you are going to have to dig into the strategy here and make sure you have something that is going to work. Whether you’re in Kenya, Nigerian or South Africa that holds true. The content that works in the North is not always going to work in the South,” says Watson.

“Things like Tali’s Wedding Diary and The Girl from St. Agnes on Showmax have outperformed the best international shows from a viewership perspective. Why? Because it’s socially and culturally relevant to the local community,” says Watson.

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In recent years YouTube has positively exploded as a platform for creators. While not always the most stable source of income, YouTube has shown that there is a thirst for user-generated content that tells stories pertinent to a particular audience.

More than that, apps such as TikTok have shown that amateur, short form content can absolutely thrive in a market that is mobile first.

But YouTube and TikTok are also bottomless pits of content and trying to get recognition for your stuff is often a job in and of itself.

This is where VOD services can play a role in helping creators be heard. Couple the fact that short form video might be easier to consume in Africa and that Africans like seeing their stories being told and you have a business model that could assist more creators getting recognised and ultimately becoming successful.

But much like approaching a big Hollywood studio and pitching a movie idea, VOD services aren’t always easy to approach.

Discover Digital helps creators in this regard by acting as a sort of middleman between the creator and the VOD service.

“What we try to do is take those queries, look at the content and see if it fits one of the client’s strategies and if we’re convinced, we’ll present it to them,” says Watson.

The firm also tests content it’s unsure about and that’s rather valuable if you ask us. As a creator you aren’t always sure how folks will react to something and being able to have guidance in the form of content being rejected or even succeeding can help formulate a direction for future projects.

There is still very much space for growth in the African VOD market, particularly as relates to African content. It’s just a matter of doing your homework, understanding your market and being able to cater to that market as easily as possible.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]