As smartphones and internet connections rise in Africa, so does entertainment streaming

Africans are watching more on their phones
Africans are watching more on their phones
Image: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye
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Growing smartphone and internet penetration across many African countries saw global streaming companies make a deeper play for audiences here this year.

Netflix signaled its interest in Africa by hiring a content producer for the region and took on the MultiChoice, the continental satellite TV giant owned by Naspers, Africa’s most valuable company. The Los Gatos, California company spooked MultiChoice with everything from trolling online ads to billboards placed conspicuously close to their Johannesburg headquarters. MultiChoice has clearly taken notice and has called for Netflix to be regulated.

No African regulator has shown the appetite to rein Netflix in, though. Indeed, Netflix has bolstered its library of African content with a first original movie from Nigeria’s Nollywood movie industry and committed to producing its first original African series. As it makes its charge towards winning over Africa’s mobile-savvy millennials, Netflix is unlikely to face immediate significant continent-wide competition.

Showmax, the MultiChoice owned streaming platform is yet to gain traction as a standalone product, and remains an appendage of its satellite TV offering (premium subscribers  of MultiChoice’s DStv get free access to Showmax). With MultiChoice set to be listed separately from Naspers, it remains to be seen whether the company will double down on growing Showmax independently or follow up plans to launch a new streaming platform.

Lagos-based IrokoTV, now in its seventh year was dubbed the “Netflix of Africa,” in its early years. But more recently it has been more focused on building the bulk of its business around its stellar Nollywood relationships and distributing the movies on more traditional platforms including satellite TV in Africa and Europe. But founder Jason Njoku promises some major streaming moves with a series of products in the first half of the year as he sees the Nigerian market finally catching up to his original vision.

For very different reasons, Kwesé, the Econet-owned video entertainment business, which once positioned itself as a credible rival to DStv, has had to alter its model and has shut down its pay TV business. It is now focusing on its on-demand services online, Kwese Iflix and Kwese Play.

Altogether, there’s clearly a growing market as content consumption habits evolve among Africa’s youth—a majority of the continent’s population. For example, Nigerians are already consuming more video on mobile devices than on television. Platforms like Tv2Go, which launched in South Africa in November, are experimenting with free mobile platforms, but may find that increasingly discerning streaming audiences need binge-worthy content to attract them.

Like Netflix, Spotify will likely explore the advantage of its status as a global giant as it expands in Africa. After first launching in South Africa in March, Spotify created a curated pan-African hub and launched in north Africa last month.

But unlike Netflix, Spotify is up against other global names: Apple Music has been streaming music on the continent for over three years now, with iTunes selling local artistes since 2012. French streaming service Deezer already launched in Africa in over five years ago and to its credit has amassed a large library of local and independent artistes.

Newcomer Tidal also formally launched in Africa this year, via a partnership with MTN in Uganda, with similar ambitions to showcase African performers. There’s also Boomplay, the music streaming platform backed by Transsion Holdings which has inked a deal with the world largest music company.

As internet penetration grows across the continent in tandem with smartphone adoption, especially as more investment goes into producing phones specifically for African users, it’s likely streaming services become more commonly used in Africa. But obstacles still remain: internet costs are higher in Africa than anywhere else and speeds remain below global standards.

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