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The business of content distribution: the battle for the African market

Intersection with technology

With the close to 1 billion mobile phone subscriptions in Africa, content aggregators such as Iflix and iROKO are poised to mine a serious goldfield. I find it heartwarming that an African player has risen to the challenge being presented by the global players. Nollywood is the world’s second largest film industry in terms of output. It reportedly employs one million people and constitutes 1.04% of the Nigeria’s GDP. Nigerian has been enjoying considerable success interms of its creative sector. The Nigeria’s film industry is prolifically producing close to 50 films a week or more than 1,200 films a year. It surpasses Hollywood in volume terms and is set to match or better Bollywood in India, which overtook the USA as the largest film producer in the 1970s. Other African countries can only learn and piggy back on what others are doing. Personal communication gadgets present a new business frontier.

Take for example iFlix, a subscription video on demand service which last year  announced the launch of iFlix Africa to bring its world class service to sub-Saharan Africa.  It has since partnered with Kwese to deliver a pan African service to millions across the continent who can purchase the Kweseplay gadget for IPTV.

iFlix Africa is headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa and trades commercially as ‘iflix’. According to Kethryn Meichie in charge of corporate communications at the time “launches are planned in Nigeria, Ghana Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, iflix Africa will increase iFlix’s global footprint to 23 territories worldwide, with additional regional markets to be added over the coming months.”iFlix has since been moving fast across the continent to spread its wings with the launch of its SVoD service across Sub Saharan Africa making its vast catalogue of thousands of TV shows, movies and more, including many first run exclusives and award winning programs available to hundreds of millions of consumers across the region.In addition to having the ‘best’ of Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood and other regional and local programming, the service will additionally offer an extensive collection of highly acclaimed African shows and movies with iFlix Africa planning to introduce exclusive African content series.

Let there be competition

IFlix’s entrance on the market implies serious competition for the various pay TV and VOD services that have been invading the African market.  Zimbabwean players set to feel the heat because of iFlix include Netflix and DStv. Kwesé Television from Econet Wireless and ipidi TV from Liquid Telecom are yet to access the Zimbabwean market. iFlix is offering its services at $4,99 monthly.

Consumers can only benefit from the bone fight that is yet to ensue. Monopolies breed complacency inadvertently. Zimbabwe television has been in the doldrums for a long time is because of the lethargy that is concomitant with monopolies. Competition is good for keeping businesses on their toes. In fact, it is the bigger malady of the African socio-political environment.

An African player

Last year Nigerian based Entertainment and internet TV platform iROKO announced the signing of multiple deals totaling $19m for content development and capital funding from Kinnevik AB, its existing investor and French media giant CANAL+. The funding is intended to upscale its operations and expand aggressively across the continent.

In a statement released at the time, Jason Njoku, a thirty something Chemistry graduate- CEO and Co-founder of iROKO said: “The challenges surrounding mobile TV in Africa are mighty, but not insurmountable. It’s human to be entertained and connect over community and we are obsessed with creating Africa’s largest community around local content. We have always been crazily bold in our ambitions to bring the content closer to viewers and build a truly frictionless and inclusive entertainment experience. Today’s news improves those odds.”

 

Film as a tool for cultural and economic emancipation

Close your eyes. Try to picture Africa. What do you see ? If the image you conjure up is one of tribal wars, man eating savages, apes, laughing hyenas and wailing babies, then you have been a victim of constant bombardment with negative imagery of Africa by the mass media. Whereas the Western media have since time immemorial peddled the idea of a dark continent, Africa is not the heart of darkness or a place of cannibals who eat babies.

poster courtesy of film producers

There is consensus amongst the stakeholders within the African film sector that the time has come for Africa to tell its own stories. Film can be a force for cultural and economic emancipation but a multi-lateral approach is quite possibly the best way forward for the continent in its bid to diversify its economic activities and create jobs for its rising youthful population.

poster courtesy of film producers

On the Multi choice Talent Factory

One of Zimbabwe’s leading film makers Rumbi Katedza sees the setting up of a film academy as part of the solution toward structuring the African film sector: “The Multichoice Talent Factory is a great initiative that gives opportunities not only for our future filmmakers to hone their skills, but to also be exposed to talent in the region. I like that it is pan-African. However, only a limited number of people are accepted into the programme, so while Multichoice is playing its part, we also need to ensure there are more institutions here and abroad that can train Zimbabwean practitioners to be professional, to be great storytellers and to produce quality content. On Monday, members of the Zimbabwe Film Industry Development Platform (ZFIDP) Executive committee met with Minister Mutsvangwa to engage on issues of a film policy, film commission, content generation and economic growth in our industry. We know that once talented Zimbabweans go through training and other programmes, there needs to be a robust industry with solid foundations and a vibrant broadcasting landscape to absorb them.”
Quality imperative, market place exigencies and politics
Within the context of international giants such iRoko, Netflix, iFlix /Kwese and Multichoice battling for the attention of the millions of viewers on the continent, the need for quality production is imperative however well-meaning national policy frames and productions maybe. National broadcasting stations with their bureaucratic and highly politicized operational environment run the real risk of collapse or worst of all, continuing to be a heavy burden on tax payers. They simply need an infusion of a new corporate culture of excellence along with well trained personnel. In the end, quality trumps sentiment or political considerations when it comes to the question of viewer choices. “Audiences are becoming much more discerning of the content they watch, so we have to up skill and produce competitive content,” Katedza further elaborated.

Brand Africa

The competing narratives about Africa can make the task of a film maker or creative person seem daunting. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is an enduring polemic on Africa’s potential and promise. The counter narrative is vital for gaining respect for the continent on the global stage. “We must tell our stories ourselves. It’s only when we tell it ourselves that we are going to tell the story as it is and not as it is from someone else perspective. African stories have always been told by others. We want to take ownership of our own history. We are not going to tell only about the animals or the famines. From that perspective, the grooming of talent is very important. Multichoice Africa has proven that it is not just making money but also sloughing back into the community and developing the next generation of film industry professional,” noted Milca Mugunda the chairperson of Multichoice Namibia. “We are going to take ownership of our destination not only going to tell about the wars and the famines. Our people who we are training today are the ones who are going to tell the story of Africa’s greatness.”

Economic imperative

The 2015 Ernest & Young report, Cultural Times – The First Global Map of Cultural and Creative Industries, which is its first global survey quantifying the global economic and social contribution of the industries, established that revenue from cultural and creative industries (of which film is an integral part of) generated globally accounts for 3% of the world’s GDP or a total of US$2 250billion. Further, that it also creates a total of 29.5 million jobs worldwide, or 1% of the earth’s actively employed population. Zimbabwe’s southern neighbor South Africa is in tandem, the report says, with the global trend where in 2014, according to some early mapping of the sector, South Africa’s creative economy contributed over R90.5bn to the national economy or 2.9% of the GDP in 2013 to 2014, exceeding, for instance, the contribution of agriculture to the GDP (2.2%).Over one million, or 6,72% of all South African jobs, are housed in the broader ‘Cultural Economy’ as per another report by cultural think-tank, the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) compiled by Prof. Jen Snowball, the SACO chief research strategist at Rhodes University and Serge Hadisi, an independent economist affiliated to Rhodes University.
Ultimately, countries with struggling economies such as Zimbabwe must seriously consider the creative sector’s capacity for socio-economic development taking advantage of the obvious intersectionality of the content creation industries with new media and ICTs in terms of distribution and monetization. The case for including these nascent technologies in the definition of the creative sector is a foregone conclusion.

Vital Fact file

• A 2010 United Nations report on the global creative economy posits that trade in the creative sector continues to grow citing Information Technology rising from US$267 billion in 2002 to US$592 billion worldwide in 2008.
• Developed countries account for 83 percent of exports in creative services and 56 percent in creative goods.
• The entertainment sector of the U.S. contributed US$74.3 billion to the economy in 2012.
• The U.S. has 40,000 movie theatres whilst India has 20,000.
• China has 13,000 movie theatres
• Africa has less than 1,000 movie theatres- a ratio of 1 cinema per million people.