A South African media entrepreneur has launched an innovative mobile app that will give viewers access to 10 television channels. These will be available, “as free as possible”, across Africa via Apple iOS and Google Android stores.
Tuluntulu’s Pierre van der Hoven says the key thing to get right was a model that works for Africa. “Our model is basically as free as possible (free to download, free to watch, free on WiFi), and as cheap as possible (if connected via mobile, low data consumption),” he says. “The target market is people with smartphones who can download the Tuluntulu app. The service is global as it is based on IP (internet protocol), but the content is focused on people interested in Africa.”
Of course bandwidth is an issue, particularly in South Africa and Van der Hoven says high speed/movement content does break up more on low bandwidth connections. “We are not really a format; we distribute video to mobile devices; there is a huge body of research that supports the view that globally mobile devices are being used to consume ALL forms of content in varying degrees; from YouTube clips to sport and drama,” he says.
Currently the Tuluntulu app distributes full channels such as Al Jazeera, Mindset, and ANN7) which have their own focused target markets. “We have also created some channels ourselves aimed mainly at ‘Digital Natives’ – people who like technology across most age groups. Each channel will have its focused target market such as Fleur, which is focused on African fashion. Our long-term objective is probably similar to most platforms such as DStv or Sky, making sure there is something for everybody,” he says.
“ My real excitement is that this technology will unlock video streaming as an industry in Africa. No licences or new transmitter networks are required, opening the industry up to new players. Of the launch channels, only two are established broadcast TV channels. The rest are new players in the market who would not have had a chance on conventional television platforms. Tuluntulu will open the way for new voices, new content and new business models. The reach offered by this medium can also have a quick and significant impact in areas such as education,” he says.
Van der Hoven says video consumption has exploded globally and that Africa can expect the same “if the eco system allows it (technology, bandwidth, smartphone penetration etc.)”.
The platform, dubbed ARTIST (Adaptive Real-time Internet Streaming Technology), has been in development for over six years. Van der Hoven worked with a consortium of researchers and engineers. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) supported the consortium by providing R14.5 million funding, and a private “angel investor” funded the commercialisation and launch of the business.
“The bulk of the development was done by a contained team at the CSIR led by Dr Ntsibane Ntlatlapa. Taking a ‘prototype’ developed by techies to “an operating business” has been difficult, with good communication the key issue to watch,” says Van der Hoven.
The team cam from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the University of Cape Town (UCT), and East Coast Access (Pty) Ltd (ECA), a BEE Internet service provider. Tuluntulu is a purpose-built company that holds the licence to ARTIST, which has been patented in several countries across the globe.
The technology is rate-adaptive, which means that the rate at which the video streams to the phone adapts to the available bandwidth, which can be as low as 50 kbps. The technology automatically adjusts picture quality to ensure that video does not have to buffer or break. Users can increase video quality with a simple volume-like button, controlling their data costs themselves. Watching video content can cost as little as R5 per hour.
“We have recently commenced marketing by telling people to ‘download the app’ and get ‘Free TV, except for the cost of data if applicable’. The current challenge is to get downloads so that is where we are focusing our efforts. Once they have downloaded the app, the experience should deliver no buffering,” Van der Hoven says, adding that a TV commercial will be launched soon too.
Van der Hoven says Tuluntulu will earn revenue from advertising and carriage fees. “The CSIR led consortium will be paid a royalty. The investor will earn an equity return,” he says.
This means he needs a sales team in place and a media agency too. “Luckily much of the buying is done electronically. We will establish a presence in the major territories in time,” he says.
“The ‘story’ has been extremely well received, especially the focus on “mobile” and “content marketing”. We have not yet set advertising rates, nor have we commenced with advertising sales. We want to focus on downloads / viewers, and then approach a limited number of key ‘partner’ type sponsors before we start selling advertising,” says Van der Hoven. “We have detailed analytics for all aspects of the business (downloads, viewers etc) that will prove to invaluable during the sales process.”
The technology could be used on desktop platforms or other devices, but Van der Hoven says he’s keeping the Tuluntulu positioning clear. “Our initial focus is on mobile only. And we believe Africa is actually a mobile first economy. Let the rest of the new players battle it out in the small fixed line market,” he says.
Right now, the team is looking at personalising the user experience and gathering information from viewers. “This will result in an large and detailed data base in time,” says Van der Hoven.
He believes that because a smartphone is an internet-connected device, this will in time enabled real time connectivity (transacting, commerce, click-throughs visiting websites, competitions, more information, research / polls, etc). “This will make the platform extremely powerful,” he says. There’s also the idea of dedicated private channels that will allow corporates, governments, NGOs, content owners and other people wanting to communicate with the general public to set up their own 24/7 dedicated channels on the app for R50 000 a month. An events channel is being planned and in time, there will be a “pay per view” or subscription service.