Unlocking Africa’s potential is a two-way sell

Guy Kamgaing, CEO of StarNews Mobile, explains the content conundrum facing Africa – how to satiate the continent’s growing appetite for content, repurpose international content for the market, and also unleash and monetise local creativity.

Guy Kamgaing, CEO of StarNews Mobile

Everyone agrees on the huge digital potential of the African market, but the key question is how to unlock it? There’s general agreement here also: the biggest barrier is affordability. What’s often overlooked is that while the demand for content in Africa is strong, there’s huge barriers to overcome to make content affordable and appealing to Africans. It’s these barriers that StarNews Mobile was set up to address.

The first problem we needed to tackle are the issues created due to the source of the majority of current content. The proliferation of video platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube have resulted in huge inventories of video content being created in the West. But this content isn’t always suitable for the African market. Much of it isn’t relevant or appealing, but even when it is appealing the content has been created for the bandwidth-hungry West where data is cheap and sophisticated devices are readily available to stream content on. The price of the service is another issue. Data is expensive in Africa and most Western content isn’t opimised for the realities of African networks or the cost of streaming video. The price expectations of Western creators only adds to this challenge.

Simply put, if you try to push Western video content through Africa as-is, you’re quickly going to run up against one or more of these barriers. My thesis is that if I can create video content people will want to see, this will drive bandwidth usage, and increased demand will mean data prices will go down. This will, in turn, create more demand.

Another issue to overcome is the network conditions in Africa. In Asia, the US and Europe, higher mobile penetration, the affordability of handsets and data, and proven demand for bandwidth-hungry services are combining with new trends such as IoT to push the market towards 5G. In Africa, the situation is very different. In most markets 3G predominates and outside cities this even falls back to 2G. The key here is to find ways to make content more affordable and optimise it for the current mobile channel. If we can get this right, video content will drive demand for 4G (and later 5G), creating a huge new market for international content.

But the opportunity is bigger than that. Increased availability of 4G will also support the growth of local content production in Africa. Africa not only has huge pent-up demand to consume content, but just as much demand to create content. Creators are keen to produce and sell their content because it produces an immediate income stream for them. We provide them with the capability to do that, enabling them to enhance their incomes, which will mean they can afford to buy better devices, better and more connectivity. They’ll then create even more and better content, and in this way we’ll create a virtuous circle.

This two-sided opportunity is what StarNews supports. We’re arguably the only option for video streaming monetisation in Africa, simply because there’s nothing else. We have already made good partnerships with the dominant mobile operators across Africa (see StarNews and MTN bring Black & Sexy TV to Africa and StarNews Mobile expands into francophone markets via partnership with Orange.) and we’re poised to open up the African market to international and local content. Even beyond those two opportunities there’s another: to distribute African content to the world.

It’s never been a more exciting time to be part of the video industry in Africa, and the key to all of this is 4G connectivity, increased penetration of smartphones and, we’d argue, StarNews Mobile’s platform and vital operator partnerships.