Online film and music platform success in Africa

 ·29 Jun 2013
Africa plugged

There has a big upsurge in launches of online film and music platforms since user bandwidth has started to improve. But many are little more than technical platforms as they lack both content in depth and do not yet have significant user traffic. Two film platforms stand out as the exception to this rule: Nigeria’s iROKO Partners and Kenya’s Buni TV.

Online film platform, Buni TV reaches 2 million views in year and uses comedy shorts to drive traffic. This week Russell Southwood talks to the CEO and founder of Buni TV Marie Lora-Mungai.

In its first year Buni TV had 2 million views and 0.5 million unique visitors who watched 100,000 hours of content. 60% of the views came from Africa and 40% from elsewhere (largely from the USA and the UK). This geographic skew is very different to iROKO’s where the larger percentage is in the rest of the world, among Nigeria’s large diasporas.

In terms of content, visitors can see 200 films in the free-to-view area and there are 500 other embedded videos such as trailers and interviews:”We want to enrich the overall content and obviously there is no bandwidth cost to embedding.” In due course there will be many more films available on a pay-for basis.

Soon Lora-Mungai wants to offer pay-for movies but at the moment she has only working assumptions that will be tested by piloting different price levels. With the fremium model, you are subject to the “law of circles”. Imagine if you will, the outer circle is your free users and the inner circles get progressively smaller, the more you charge. Elsewhere it appears that 10% of free customers will pay something.

It is often said by the “wise heads” that Africans don’t pay for content. On the last session of Broadcast, Film and Music Africa 2013 last week, I was moderating a session on mobile TV and asked 70 or so audience members, how many of you buy pirate DVDs? 80% or so of the audience raised their hands.

Disclaimer: This is not a sound methodological market research survey but it does make the point – when I asked the same question over and over again to individuals during the event – that Africans buy content on a regular basis on pirated DVDs. So the only question is really what price point will produce the largest number of users and revenue?

“The general assumption from elsewhere is that with a fremium offer 10% of the free users will pay. We’d like to make that bigger and to do so by making it make more accessible on mobile. The exact price range for users is complicated because we will be offering the content at so many prices to different markets globally.” However, the working assumption is that US$5 a month for unlimited access may turn out to be the “sweet spot”:”The prices we have in mind are just the working idea and we will firm them up in partnership with Safaricom.”

So what sort of deal will you have in terms of the split with mobile operators?:”We’re looking for better than the existing deals out there. At present, we’re putting the channel together and the operators keep all the data revenue so there ought to be some leeway in the split of revenues. We want users to be able to pay for videos using their mobile airtime and this will be a first in Kenya. If it works well here, then we will roll it out in other countries”.”

“We want to make it so that if anybody subscribes, they can access it wherever they are across a range of devices.” So whether you are on a smartphone, tablet or your work computer, all you will have to do is log in.

Buni TV has Gado’s XYZ Show (it is part of the same company) for 6 months of the year to drive traffic. XYZ Show is a “Spitting Image”-style political satire show with puppets. But it has also launched a 40 episode long comedy shorts series with improvisational sketches.

The humor both laughs at Africa itself and at how people see Africa from outside:”We wanted to experiment but do something for as little money as possible. The format is improv sketches against a white background. Some of the sketches are just one person or two people, while others are ensemble. There are some recurring characters and some one-offs. Each clip is a sketch. I just bought African comedians together in my living room. They loved having the freedom to tackle whatever they wanted”.
Examples of sketches include:

  • A wealthy African women going to the USA and adopting a baby from a poor hillbilly family.
  • A sketch called White Saviour Inc about a preacher who thinks Africa needs him and he has found his purpose in doing this.
  • A female comedian spoofs a show on K24 where a middle-aged women gives sex advice. Being a conservative society, the sex positions can only be illustrated with reference to two women.
  • One features an American who wants to learn Swahili but makes some terrible blunders that alter the meaning of what he’s saying. Inevitably the altered meanings have sexually suggestive and romantic meanings.

It is just about to release another series of 40 sketches and these will look at things like the police and the behavior of people queueing in the bank:”We gave freedom to the comedians to experiment and brainstorm sketch ideas. So they are the things they want to do and say and this freedom has produced great performances”.

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