Start-ups want to be the ‘African Net­flix’

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY YAS­SINE KHIRI

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.

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