Balancing Act Africa research counts 73 video-on-demand (VOD) platforms operating in Africa — on the Internet, via satellite or through mobile applications. Mostly, these are “over the top” services with the vast majority set up by independent providers. Although they may have operating alliances with mobile operators, they are not owned by the networks.
For nearly 18 months, there have been credible rumours that three or four of the major mobile operators plan to roll out VOD “any minute now”. Only recently has this started to happen and it has not been well publicised.
Africa’s mobile operators have a number of options when it comes to film and VOD platforms. These can be summarised as such:
Ignore it: It’s a troublesome business that we know nothing about, the revenues are over-hyped and we’re going to get the data revenues from video streaming whether we play in the space or not.
Get someone else to do it: There are many international suppliers who will provide a catalogue of international movies and TV content. Unfortunately, most users are interested in a mix of content, with the skew mainly towards local or African content from elsewhere. Well, okay then, let’s make alliances with local VOD operators as MTN has with Dobox and Afrinolly in Nigeria and others will do elsewhere. This way you get to see their traffic figures and can take their business for yourself later if you want it.
Do it yourself: Because they are vertically integrated like the former incumbents, mobile operators tend to believe they can and should do everything. However, most of them know nothing about content. Running a value-added services department is poor training for what comes next. A few operators have content in their group company portfolios – Orange and Millicom (with MTG) come to mind – but for most it’s a completely new world.
Buy an operation: Although not a film and TV platform, this is what MTN has done in the music area by buying CCA.
Even more cynically, you can wait until one of the independent VoD platforms is successful and buy them. There’s the tricky matter of timing as you don’t want to leave it too late and end up paying over the odds.
This week, Glo Nigeria announced the launch of its VOD platform, Glo Total Entertainment. It gives subscribers access to sports, movie trailers, comedy, celebrity gossip, TV series and music videos, which can be accessed using a mobile app on all major smartphone platforms. It seems that offering movie trailers indicates a certain lack of confidence in the streaming capabilities of the network.
Glo has taken last position as MTN is already in alliances with Dobox and Afrinolly, Etisalat is in alliance with Dobox, and Airtel has its own N5 Entertainment Store. Elsewhere, Moov Côte d’Ivoire has responded to MTN’s Play offer by bringing in Summview to provide the backend and content for its VOD streaming offer.
VOD is starting to look like it did when 3G was first rolled out in Africa. Operators will tell you it’s very difficult to make commercial sense of it and then, once a competitor has launched, they will also launch an offering. Once two are in the market, the rest will feel compelled to follow.
So, 2014 looks like being the year that Africa’s mobile operators amble into providing content on VOD platforms.