Building a digital video economy in Africa

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SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

This is a big year for video: online video is expected to overtake broadcast television. It is estimated that video will comprise 80% of all internet activity by the end of 2020. Over 500 hours of video is uploaded every minute – much of it via YouTube, according to the latest statistics from Cisco.

The above stats, as well as the video economy in Africa at large, were discussed over two days at Africa’s largest technology, media and telecommunications event, AfricaCom 2019. Now in its 22nd year, the event takes over the entire Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), both CTICC 1 and the newly-built CTICC 2, every November in Cape Town. Video Exchange Africa is one of over 20 streams and co-located conferences that also take place there each year.

Factors influencing the broadcast television and content market across the continent include the increase in connectivity, internet streaming and smartphone penetration due to costs coming down, creating new opportunities for both broadcasters, content producers and consumers themselves. The cost of data and infrastructure challenges are still huge barriers to the opportunity that the video economy presents, and – as a result – the telecommunications providers are becoming more important as partners in the content eco-system across Africa.

This year, Video Exchange Africa gathered influential speakers from Africa and across the globe to discuss and debate the opportunities that Africa’s transition to digital presents, exploring commercial models required to monetise content across an increasingly digital Africa;, as well as the progress and implications of online and digital terrestrial television (DTT).

The relevance of the video economy for Africa is that videos uploaded to the internet give everyone a voice, enabling even those in rural centres to broadcast themselves to the world; and it enables more content producers to reach more consumers as penetration grows and the cost of devices comes down.

In a panel on establishing a digital video economy in Africa, introduced by George Twumasi, CEO of ABN Holdings and moderated by Mansour Mansour, YouTube product partnerships – MEA at Google, interesting discussions took place with Dayo Olopade, content partnerships at YouTube; Martin Njoroge, Android platform partnership, Africa, Google; and Gideon Munene Karimi, senior product manager, Safaricom.

The panellists pointed out that it was not just about the scale of the opportunity or the growth of their platforms or others, but the fact that platforms like YouTube offer meaningful opportunities for users in Africa.

The South African series Supa Strikas was mentioned as an example by speakers. It started out as a comic in the Sunday papers, and now has its own YouTube channel and a million subscribers on the platform, employs 20 people and produces independent, educational media content to audiences all over the world. The series has also been picked up by Warner Media for its kids programming schedules.

YouTube is focussing on increasing local content in Africa. The most common use is in the ‘How To’ market, the most popular being educational information, including learning languages, learning digital skills, or learning to fix something. Users are also taking successful global formats and making them local.

Growth

Njoroge pointed out that, in Africa, less than 10% of internet users were consuming video, compared to the developed market, where 70% of internet consumption was on video. “The opportunity exists to grow this base in Africa and those front and centre of growing this opportunity are the telcos. It’s the telcos that need to get this economy up and running.”

Karimi said the opportunities were threefold:

  1. Penetration of smartphones: only 30% of African consumers have smartphones, although there is a high penetration of 2G devices. This is obviously linked to cost and a major discussion point at AfricaCom this year was the increasing affordability of smartphones in Africa, as well as the opportunity for Africa’s own home-grown smartphone models.
  2. Internet literacy is a concern for Karimi, who said skills need to be taught to enable access.
  3. Cost of access: the high cost of data, of course, came under the spotlight again at AfricaCom, as it does at every digital conference in Africa, as it remains a major stumbling block for those with low incomes.

Added Njoroge: “Our mission has been to bring the internet to everyone. We want to bring affordable smartphones to users. So how do we make sure the first-time smartphone user experience, as regards functionality, is high? How do we build partnerships that work? How do we target audiences and bring in an affordable device?”

He urged the telecos to take a leading role in all of these matters.

Opportunity

Olopade said she saw enormous opportunity to up-skill and grow the ecosystem in Africa for African content. “With our YouTube Creative Economy tutorials, we are teaching people how to optimise for YouTube. YouTube is helping to create employable skills and we already have real-life case studies from Africa.”

She said in the context of artisanship in Africa, there were certain skills that could not be taught in a book and finding ways to teach skills online was a big opportunity in Africa. “Our content partners include individual bloggers, who are already providing beauty tutorials in Zulu to huge content partners like Multichoice.”

Olopade said consumer behaviour had changed: “People are not always meeting in front of the TV at certain times. There is a huge opportunity for content online. With device affordability and greater connections, the greater the opportunity for content creators. It may be hard to get into your local media, but YouTube is free.

“To optimise content and be discovered and grow their audience, we help users think through monetisation strategies. We always try to deliver real value to our partners. We are trying to add value by showing ads on that content and from our sales infrastructure. We are strategising to meet the needs of individual partners and help these businesses future-proof themselves for what is coming,” she outlined, referring to the massive opportunity that exists in Africa when that 10% currently consuming video online grows to match the 70% in more developed nations.

Karimi pointed out that Safaricom has been running campaigns to encourage the uptake of video consumption online, with the most successful to date being the recent #Kipchoge campaign to encourage Eliud Kipchoge to keep running in his successful attempt to break the two-hour marathon record. Over 4.5 million people watched him run on a free data special comprising a YouTube bundle on the day of the race from 8am to 4pm, allowing customers to stream the entire race at no cost.

The fact is, in Africa, the smartphone is the point of entry to online content consumption and content needed to reflect that and partnerships in the future need to reflect that. The opportunity exists for the telco operators to start building the infrastructure and create the socio-economic benefit for people looking to build their businesses/personal brands and advertise their services online, said Njoroge.

A significant point to note, Olopade added, was that totally new content formats were being pioneered in online video. “The ‘unboxing’ videos, the ‘reaction’ videos, make-up tutorials did not exist a decade ago. Now we are seeing African content creators take that content and localise it. There are huge opportunities.”

Eco-system

WarnerMedia fielded a strong presence at AfricaCom, and, interviewed on the side lines, Julien Borde – WarnerMedia’s director of channels for France, French-speaking territories, Africa and Israel – indicated that Africa was very important, particularly in developing local content to resonate with local audiences across the continent for their channels.

WarnerMedia is well-known through its consumer brands such as HBO, Warner Bros., TNT, CNN, DC Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Adult Swim and others. Turner, a WarnerMedia company, has been present in Africa for more than 20 years, operating six channels across the continent in 56 English, French and Portuguese-speaking countries, which include CNN International, Cartoon Network, Boomerang and Boing, as well as TNT and Adult Swim, WarnerMedia’s brand dedicated to millennials.

“We are focussed on finding good ideas from around the globe. We find new talents, incubate them, and take those stories to people from all around the globe. We broadcast a layer of local content in each territory. The key thing for kids and the audience, in general, is to find themselves on the screen. That helps us to create links with local audiences. There is a big opportunity to produce local content in Africa that is relatable.”

“The one-way relationship with our viewers is over. We need to change the way we market ourselves. The future of TV is mobile, and we must take advantage of the multi-screen experience, offering our content where and when our consumers want it,” concluded Guillaume Coffin, vice president and head of commercial and business development, WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks France, Africa and Israel.