Start-ups want to be the ‘African Netflix’
A crop of new tech entrepreneurs from Africa and its diaspora are hoping to bridge the continent’s growing middle class and booming film industry in a quest to become the “African Netflix.”
On its own, the Nigerian cinema industry — known as Nollywood — generated US$4.1 billion in revenue and produced 2,000 films last year, whetting the appetites of Internet video-on-demand (VOD) companies.
They hope to move the business online — away from its usual outlet of street hawkers flogging pirate DVDs for a couple of dollars — making it more readily accessible to the estimated 300 million people in Africa’s middle class.
“With such a huge potential customer base, it’s not surprising that these start-ups are emerging,” said Pascal Lechevallier, a new media specialist.
One new venture is Afrostream, founded by African descendants in France in 2013, which has a catalogue of around 50 films and a dozen series such as “Before 30” — a kind of Lagos take on “Sex and the City.”
“Today, all the VOD platforms look alike. They all have the same content,” said Tonje Bakang, one of Afrostream’s co-founders, who was born in France to Cameroonian parents.
He argues that success will come from taking a different ap- proach to the big players like Netflix and Amazon.
Competition, however, ready fierce.
Nigeria’s iRokoTV, which is well-established across the continent, pioneered the sector in 2010 before being followed by other subscription services such as Kenya’s BuniTV and South Africa’s Africa Magic Go.
“It’s good news — the more players there are, the quicker the market will establish itself,” said Bakang, adding that he ultimately wants to fund his own productions “in the style of HBO.”
Afrostream has already attracted 2,000 subscribers ahead of its launch in September. It has focused its marketing on Senegal and Ivory Coast, and their Frenchspeaking diaspora in Europe, but has big plans for expansion.
“Although the European market remains important for us with 15 million African descendants and 10 million more fans of ‘afro’ culture, we know that the real market is in Africa, where there’s a middle class of 300 million people,” said Bakang.
Afrostream got support from French telecom giant Orange and is currently raising cash at the renowned San Francisco start-up hub, Y Combinator.
With elegant, easy-to-use websites and the latest video-playing technology, these new services have nothing to envy in comparison with their Western competitors.