As the content funnel becomes less ‘ghettoised’, previously held beliefs about Africa as a uniform strata defined only by telenovellas and Nollywood styled stories are fast disappearing.
African audiences have become more complex in their consumption habits and this has seen interesting trends emerging of which most will stay relevant well into the next five years. With the content space more hyper visual, platforms are scrambling to capitalise on captive audiences using the ‘whenever’, ‘whatever’ and ‘wherever’ methodology.
The African television/content market in particular finds itself evolving towards an adaptation to new habits of consumption whereby the contemporary technological, societal and cultural paradigms are amalgamated.
A young Africa through the lens of TRACE
To date the TRACE music platform has captured the global imagination in its ability to portray African millennials, mainly in the art form of music, as urban mavens with intriguing stories to tell. The channel has 200 million people watching daily and largely exports the continent’s music talent to the rest of the globe.
The role that the channel plays has yielded great interest in the US music scene, whereby American artists are using African inspired productions as well as featuring artists from the continent. This has also seen an explosion in stadium filling concerts in Africa. Other developments include a greater awareness to legalities associated with music and online monetisation of related products. TRACE is set to diversify via a short film and documentary offering known as TRACE PLAY in 2017. This will celebrate urban storytelling as seen through the eyes of young Africans.
Film in a time of the personal politik
Film and documentary within the continent have always been intrinsically different from treatments found elsewhere around the globe. Forefathers of African cinema such as Ousmane Sembene and Haile Gerrima developed a style that gave significance to African life in a way that gave the banal gravitas. Today’s young filmmaker has taken the approach further as seen in some of the features at the recent first inaugural Jozi Film Festival, whereby the personal politik in the realm of LGBTI issues, mental health, protest and drug addiction are crystallised.
Rise of the independent curator
Amid the loss of confidence in the SABC’s ability to deliver on its expected mandates as a national broadcaster, especially after the banning of protests in the run up to local government elections, young South Africa has found social media to be the perfect field of play. The wave of re-imagining issues of representation and language has led to a rise in visually oriented independent curators who have become alternatives to traditional modes of content such as television. One such entity is The Honey, which is a fotonovella series concerned with referencing rarely explored moments and vernaculars that arise from black livelihood through exaggerated re-enactments of memorable shows such as Yizo Yizo and Gaz’lami.
Unlike typical TV storytelling this alternate ecosystem of independent digital storytellers does not operate in terms of centre and margin. As mainstream television becomes more oblivious to the highly nuanced mass markets – the majority being black – the non-aligned curator and tastemaker references an authentic black experience.
The penetration of Netflix and ShowMax – the localisation game
Netflix has set itself apart as a streaming service that purveys thought-provoking content. It generally is a strong contender alongside a resilient HBO and the out-of-the-box approach of newly formed FX.
Streamed shows such as Narcos and Black Mirror are proof that the platform is flexible enough to immerse an audience in stories emerging elsewhere in the world except the United States. This however hasn’t yielded expected results in light of its presence in South Africa.
To the local audience, the inability to localise its offering of homegrown material as it has with Narcos (Latin America) or Black Mirror (UK) has left users disinterested. The prevalence of a below par content offer benchmarked at the same price range as Netflix USA, which has all the trimmings we have come to expect, puts the service in a dicey position in time to come.
While Netflix is at pains with making itself relevant to the South African market, its competitor in the form of ShowMax seems to be getting a few things correct. Apart from its fairly affordable fixed rate per month, ShowMax also offers local content such as the much loved isiZulu telenovella isiBaya.
The rise of adaptable technology amid Africa’s connectivity problems
With the localisation of its offering, ShowMax has simultaneously developed technology adaptable to sub-Saharan conditions, where internet connectivity remains problematic. Having launched internet TV services to 36 countries within the region, the company’s catalogue includes approximately 15 000 TV show episodes and movies, totalling almost 10 000 hours of viewing.
This campaign has led to a few features which are earmarked to leap frog existing bandwidth issues, some of those include adaptive bitrate streaming that monitors connection speeds and automatically adjusts video stream resolution to avoid buffering, download functionality to save up to 25 TV shows and movies in total to Android and iOS smartphones and tablets for viewing offline and user-selectable download quality to limit bandwidth usage.
This trend has also seen some local players trying their hand at modifying video content consumption for the South African mass market; one such entity is a TED funded start up known as Eduze. Through its technology, the mobile content company has developed proprietary technology that allows delivery of digital content – video, audio and e-publications – to mobile devices without the need of 3G or ADSL. All with no data costs.
Kagiso Mnisi is a Johannesburg-based South African writer and independent curator with a deep interest in the evolution of his city. His writing focuses on the intersection between urbanism, technology and urban culture.
This story was first published in The Media Yearbook 2017. Click on the cover to read the digizine.